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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/26/2012, 11:10 am

Seasons greetings everyone!
I am new to this forum and the square foot gardening system. I am wanting to make some compost and it frustrates me to hear you folks say how easy it is. I have not been able to make it work.

I have a 55 gal plastic barrel that I have considered to make into a composter, or would one outside in a fenced in type be better? Which one would be faster?

I have access to some old straw which I was thinking of using by running over it with a lawn mower to break it down a little. We have been keeping our coffee grounds for awhile now and also egg shells. I figure we can throw in some kitchen scraps, some newspaper and grass clippings when its grass mowing time again.
This would be a somewhat silly question, but when and how do the worms appear. And if I have weed guard fabric on the bottom of the boxes, do they find a way through the bottom when it starts freezing?

Got more silly questions, but don't want to over burden you folks.

Thanks

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Re: COMPOST

Post  sfg4uKim on 1/26/2012, 11:25 am

Hi deriter. to the Forum.

I'll let others tell you about composting, but I just wanted to say HI.

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Compost

Post  tomperrin on 1/26/2012, 12:16 pm

All your ingredients look good. Avoid animal based kitchen scraps like grease and meat. Stay away from woody plant stems - put those where they can decompose over a longer period of time, or cut them up into very small pieces. The lawn mower mulcher works great. Grass clippings need to mixed in with other compostables less it go anaerobic.

I would love to have a 55 gal drum with a lid that I could roll around. I don't know what's better, but the drum might be faster for batch loads.

No need for a weed barrier on an outside bin. Worms need to migrate up or down according to the compost temp. They will want to head south when the compost heats up above 95F.

While it's not necessary, I find that the addition of a compost thermometer to one's tool kit is helpful for understanding and monitoring the process.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  camprn on 1/26/2012, 1:15 pm

@deriter wrote:
I have access to some old straw which I was thinking of using by running over it with a lawn mower to break it down a little. We have been keeping our coffee grounds for awhile now and also egg shells. I figure we can throw in some kitchen scraps, some newspaper and grass clippings when its grass mowing time again.
This would be a somewhat silly question, but when and how do the worms appear. And if I have weed guard fabric on the bottom of the boxes, do they find a way through the bottom when it starts freezing?

Got more silly questions, but don't want to over burden you folks.

Thanks
Hi there ! to the SFG Forum. Have you had a chance to read the All New Square Foot Gardening book yet?


Questions are good and very welcome. I don't know if you saw the search feature, but you may find some answers there.
Regarding the compost question... I have managed to make useable compost in about 4-6 weeks using an open pile method. You can see it in my personal album through the gallery link above. More than likely there are some answers to your other questions about composting here in this thread Compost 101. and

Are you a Hottie?

Again Welcome to the forum!!!

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http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t3574-the-end-of-july-7-weeks-until-frost

There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Re: COMPOST

Post  littlesapphire on 1/26/2012, 3:11 pm

Welcome! Don't feel bad about your compost confusion. I'm still pretty confused about the process, and I've been I've been making compost for two years. I started out making it in a large garbage can with holes drilled in the side and bottom to let air in, but to be honest, it seemed to take forever (about a year). Having an open pile seems to be working out much better for me. I have a large pile that I started last summer and was almost done in the fall.

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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/27/2012, 12:30 pm

Yes I have read the book. I got the book for Christmas this last year and I really wasn't that impressed with it until I started reading it. Once I got into it pretty good, I had trouble putting it down.

I have tried to grow a garden here at this location for something like 8 years now and it has been pitiful at best. Heavy clay based soil. It rains and packs the soil and it becomes like rock and then it quits raining and veggies have trouble growing in the hard dry soil. Or it rains too much and they die from too much rain. I have lived in a location that was loam soil and gardening was easy then but certainly not easy with the soil I have now. But I am thinking with this sq ft system & mm, I think I can do this!!!

The compost is an area that I have not been successful with either. But after reading about it here, I am determined to make it happen also. I believe I did forget to mention that we have chickens so I have some of that stuff also to add to the mix as well which may help it work.

I thank each of you for welcoming me to the forum and I thank you for your advise.

I am just so anxious, well its just hard to contain when its still winter outside.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  tomperrin on 1/27/2012, 2:06 pm

@deriter wrote:

I am just so anxious, well its just hard to contain when its still winter outside.

I think that statement describes most of us waiting for spring.

I named my garden "Clay Gardens" to thumb my nose at the clay that was underneath. The major problem I have now is that it does not drain well, so I may have to punch some holes in the subsoil if the clay isn't too thick. Fortunately, the SFG method neatly sidesteps the problem. Just think, dumping that planned rototiller purchase this year will save you a ton of money, to say nothing of your arms, legs and back!

I deal with my impatience by a) buying seed, vermiculite, peat moss, mulch months in advance, b) building and maintaining my compost piles, c) reading almost every new post on this forum, d) reading seed catalogs, e) exchanging ideas with fellow gardeners, f) building new squares, g) planning the garden, h) watching my 1 sq ft window box and wondering if the plants I have in there will make it to the garden.....

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Re: COMPOST

Post  plantoid on 1/27/2012, 6:19 pm

Welcome Deriter,
Looks like you and I have a connected garden of clay and water. I've only recently moved over to the All new Square foot gardening besides getting the beds sorted out I'm composting anything and everything that's suitable

whilst winter is here you compost your chicken litter as soon as you can it works well when you add a bit of water , you can add it to the other four parts of the reccommended composted stuff later and mix it in in equal parts .
I have a large conical poly bin composter that was almost full of chicken shed muck & bedding 14 days ago , now it has dropped to about 2/3 ful , it's lovely & warm when I take the lid off.
It's going to get turned over at the end of next week to aireate it and have a bit more water sprayed on the layers as I put it back in the composter.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  rod champion on 1/27/2012, 10:58 pm

Dang T.Perrin, we do sound a like.. I thought I was the only person that got obsessed with stuff.... Patience.. can only be cured by working you behind off and getting too tired to be impatient:D

I went to garden today 3 times to look at the first plants pop up... just little sprouts of either lettuce or spinach[ don't remember which row had what]... now remember I had regular gardens on and off during adult life. And I go running to the garden three times to see if more sprouts came up..now is that crazy or what. ..... but am going to plant some peas tomorrow. The worst thing they can do is not come up.

Hang in there young man.. it will happen for you. And use that chicken manure... you got some hot stuff there... sorry for the pun

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Re: COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/27/2012, 11:45 pm

Let's not talk about the rototiller too much. Just bought a real nice Troy Bilt last year. I suppose I can still use it for the corn patch. I now have three 4x4 boxes and am planning on three more. Hoping this is enough for the wife and me and wanting to raise some sweet corn for selling.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  rod champion on 1/28/2012, 9:32 am

That's right deriter...or you could sell it and get 1/2 of what you paid for it:Very Happy

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Rototiller not needed

Post  tomperrin on 1/28/2012, 9:58 am

@deriter wrote:Let's not talk about the rototiller too much. Just bought a real nice Troy Bilt last year.

Went to a NJ farm auction a few weeks back. Their vintage original, made in Troy, NY, USA, rototillers went for $350 + - I bought a USA-made manure fork for $6. and considered myself way ahead of the game.

This year I'm planning on doing a few squares of corn for home consumption. Just not enough land to even think of doing much more - but then there is the front yard. Hmmmm.

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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/28/2012, 11:14 am

@tomperrin wrote:

Went to a NJ farm auction a few weeks back. Their vintage original, made in Troy, NY, USA, rototillers went for $350 + - I bought a USA-made manure fork for $6. and considered myself way ahead of the game.

That hurt.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  tomperrin on 1/28/2012, 11:34 am

@deriter wrote: That hurt.

Ooops. Sorry. Had I not known about SFG I would have bid on one of the old Troy-bilts myself.

But, If I had the land, and I had a Troy-bilt:

Remember that corn is a field crop. It has a tap root that goes down 4 feet. I would use the roto-tiller to do what it is supposed to do. But I would then divide the tilled soil up into squares or longs. Every year I would add whatever Mel's Mix I could afford to the tilled area, being sure to rotate my crops. Eventually, the whole area will be turned over (pun intended) to the SFG method. I'm not too sure what I would do for a crop rotation plan. I haven't got much past potatoes and corn for my field crops. Third year I'll might do root crops: onions, carrots, beets plus squash, peas, and beans.

Once the whole area has been converted to the SFG method, the roto-tiller can be sent to the local auction house or sold at a yard sale. If you bought it right second-hand you should be able to get a few years worth of free usage out of it.

Tom

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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/28/2012, 7:51 pm

We moved out here something like 10 - 11 years ago and we have about 2 1/2 acres. I have one area in the back of my property that is on top of a hill which ends up being close to being flat ground. That area is about 40 x 70 feet. I don't think my pockets are deep enough to add MM stuff to that even if I left walk ways. I can raise fairly good corn up there but again the clay base soil does pack down in the rain and sometimes takes awhile to dry out. The other issue is raccoons and deer. They like my sweet corn. I suppose an electric fence would fix that. My land joins some other fields which are crop fields, so corn is about the only thing I can grow up there because they spray their crops and it affects my garden. It doesn't kill the veggies outright, but stunts them to where they just don't do much. So I move the veggies down by my house, but in smaller quantities. I believe this sfg will solve that delimina that I have. I thought I would grow the sweet corn to sell a little bit, but maybe I could sell the tiller and just forget the corn. You know you can retire, but you still have decisions to make. Hmmmm,,, what to do?

I plan to start my compost pile Monday! Anxious!!! And then I hear some talking about planting already. I still have snow on the ground in places. Can't wait!

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One square at a time

Post  tomperrin on 1/29/2012, 3:00 pm

I started with two, doubled it to four, added another 3 for a season total of 7. This year I will add at least another 11 squares or their equivalents.

Once you understand how well this system works, you will not look back.

Simply defined, compost is letting plant material rot, then using the results. I'm just now figuring what I did wrong this winter with my piles: I turned them over when it was too cold. It's taken me until today with a couple days warmer weather to get them started back up.

Here's an informative compost link:

http://compost.css.cornell.edu/Factsheets/FS5.html

I'm going to be uploading some photos tomorrow to the Garden Gallery under the title Evolution of a garden. In the meantime, you can see them here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/11987465@N00/6782721383/in/set-72157629083424651/

Tom

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Re: COMPOST

Post  martha on 1/29/2012, 3:10 pm

Tom, great photos! I love the outside furniture in your garden - that's one of my goals, but I'm not there yet.


ETA: I checked my two oldest compost bins today, and it seems like they are 90% compost. I was first exposed to the idea of composting in the late 60's or early 70's. I have been composting at the restaurant for 3 1/2 years now - (the slow-leave-it-alone-and-eventually-it-really-will-become-compost method). When I saw what looks like actual compost underneath the top layers of almost-beautiful old leaves, I have to confess I thought something must be wrong! I was thinking to myself, "I must have put a lot of garden dirt in there."


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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 1/30/2012, 7:10 pm

I looked at your pictures Tom and all I can say is - just way cool. Hope mine can look half that good. And I think I can tell that you are having a very good time doing this!

I did get my compost started today. 60 some degrees today! Had some old straw, not as much as I thought I had but used it anyway. Had some coffee grounds, egg shells, shredded newspaper, chicken stuff, and a few very few kitchen scraps. I suppose it made a pile like 2 h x 3 w x 3 w. Much more to follow though. Its a start. I have to pick up some old straw that a friend of mine said I could have. Some of the strings are broke but I said I could still make that work.

Best wishes and thanks for sharing.

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Compost learning

Post  tomperrin on 1/30/2012, 7:41 pm

Thanks for all the nice words.

My second compost pile, the one with the straw on it, has been monitored daily since I screwed it up by turning it over when it didn't need turning over. I turned when it was 55F and the ambient temp was around 40F. Big mistake - the pile went to 35F and stayed there for weeks.

That is when I figured the straw and chicken manure combo would heat things up a bit. It did, but the outside temps needed to be high enough to give the pile a kick start. When the outside temp reached 45F on Saturday, the pile started to heat up. At noon today, the pile had heated up to 70F despite the outside temp being just above freezing. I put a piece of black weed barrier cloth over the pile to retain heat, and help the process further along.

The moral of the story is that when it's cold outside, don't turn over the compost pile unless the pile reaches 140 F. That's to lower the temp so that the Bio-Beasties don't kill themselves. If the temp of a mature pile falls to 70F, and its warm outside, the pile might need some aeration to get it back going again. If the pile doesn't heat up again, it may just need to sit and cure for a few months.

That's what I've figured out this week. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

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Re: COMPOST

Post  plantoid on 2/1/2012, 5:38 am

Tom ,
The heap waxes & wanes in temp as the microbes take up their food , turning early like you did wouldn't have hurt the pile much as all you will have done is put more oxygen in it to stimulate the bacterial action again . Keeping it moist with a spray hose as you rebuild the pile will help speed up the new heat rise once you have finished

Apparently according to the composting stuff I've recently read, most of the oxygen is used up in the first few hours ( that surprised me )and as the bacteria get going they produce the heat as they break things down.

It comes to the point after the third or fourth turning that you will see little or no rise in temp after a few days , the compost is now cooked and needs to be set aside to fishing off with no further turning needed . ( you seem to have covered that angle in your post )

Adding new materials to the cooking heap will just prolong the time required to make the compost once you reach the dormant stage .

I emptied out , turned , refilled & watered every 6 inch layer of the contents of three of my Daleks yesterday , they were all nice and warm under the lids four hours later yet it barely rose above freezing point here yesterday

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Re: COMPOST

Post  Lavender Debs on 2/1/2012, 6:28 am

@plantoid wrote:....snip.... most of the oxygen is used up in the first few hours ( that surprised me )and as the bacteria get going they produce the heat as they break things down.

It comes to the point after the third or fourth turning that you will see little or no rise in temp after a few days , the compost is now cooked and needs to be set aside to fishing off with no further turning needed . ( you seem to have covered that angle in your post )

Adding new materials to the cooking heap will just prolong the time required to make the compost once you reach the dormant stage ....

That makes sense, it fits the observations made over the years BUT I've never heard it before. Who are you reading P?

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Re: COMPOST

Post  littlejo on 2/1/2012, 9:48 am

Your garden looks great! Love the furniture. I didn't hardly leave room for a chair. I use an overturned bucket.

I do hope you got those leaves raked and into the compost pile!

Jo

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Winter Compost & Heat loss in the pile

Post  tomperrin on 2/1/2012, 10:02 am

The way I figure it, and I'm supported by some of the literature, is that you don't want to facilitate heat loss in the pile until you get to the point where the heat in the pile will kill off the bacteria. In my case, I'm pretty convinced that I turned it over too soon and when it was not necessary with the pile at 52F and the ambient temp being in the 20F area. The pile temp fell way below the dormancy threshold of 50 deg F to 35F and flatlined there for eight days. I then confused the issue by adding chicken manure, straw, and then more horse manure w/sawdust bedding on day 2 of the dormancy period.

When the ambient temp rose to 50-60 deg F, the Bio-Beasties immediately woke up and started working hard. The pile went from 35 on 1/26 to 46 the following day. On the 30th, 66F, yesterday 90F, and this morning at 9:15 AM, it was 110F with the ambient temp being 52F. Just perfect, and the height of the pile is visibly diminished.

So my conclusions are as follows:

1) construct the pile in the approved fashion.

2) monitor pile temperature and ambient temperture daily (and record them)

3) do not turn over a new pile or aerate it if

1. the ambient temp is below 50F and

2. the pile temp is close to the dormancy threshold of 50F and

3. the pile has never reached 100F.

4. If the pile goes over 140F, then by all means turn it over so that the pile can cool off and not kill all the Bio-Beasties.

With summer's elevated temperatures, mistakes in timing are easily forgiven by the Bio-Beasties. The same might hold true in UK's damp, but steady state winter climate, I suspect. Here in Central New Jersey, the daily temps in January fluctuated wildly, from the teens to the sixties. Had I turned over my pile when the ambient temp was in the sixties, I probably would not have kicked the pile into the cellar.

The pile is working very nicely now, and won't get any additions other than coffee grounds and veggie scraps. I'll continue to monitor daily, and will turn it over when the temp reaches 140.

I don't think that the compost literature makes it clear or explicit about the cooling off process when you turn or aerate the pile. Yes, it adds oxygen, but if the oxygen has not been consumed, all you are going to get is a colder pile.

Turning over the pile has two consequences: 1 aeration, 2 cooling off.

Thoughts and comments?


Last edited by tomperrin on 2/1/2012, 10:03 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : fixed a typo)

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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 2/1/2012, 10:20 am

This stuff is just fascinating. What are you using to check the temperature of the pile, a meat thermometer? (Another silly question.)

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COMPOST

Post  deriter on 2/1/2012, 11:22 am

Ok, I should have done some research before doing that last post. I see that they do in fact indeed manufacture a compost thermometer. I was not aware of something like that. Now you all out there can have a good laugh at my expense. Got lots to learn. Now to find one of these rascals.

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Re: COMPOST

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