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The Art of Composting
Old 02-26-2008, 09:32 AM   #1
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The Art of Composting

Maybe it's more science than art, this composting thing, but DW wants me to do a garden and do it organically. I grew up pouring the chemicals into these red clay Georgia soils and plants, so this organic thing is new to me. I have a few questions for you experts.

I noticed some of you included paper in the stew mix. If I throw out the coffee filters with the grounds (what a mess to separate) will these water-sturdy filters breakdown during the composting process?

Some of the things I've read say to chop up everything in tiny little pieces. Is this really necessary or can I just throw out the banana peels and apple peels and oranges etc just like they come off the fruit?

Are there any types of food byproducts that should NOT go into the compost bucket?

Thanks for the help.
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Old 02-26-2008, 10:06 AM   #2
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Before we sold our home, I would throw filters and all into my pile (can't do composting in this rental)

You don't have to chop everything up, but it will degrade faster. I had a big container that was bottomless and a lid.

I would dump all my scraps in without chopping up. Peels, rotten leftovers, egg shells, newspapers, paper bags, even cotton shirts. Never mixed it, either. Once per year just (when prepping the bed), lifted up the container and started over again.
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Old 02-26-2008, 10:15 AM   #3
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Filters and peels: ok; you can screen out undigested chunks and just throw 'em back in. Chopping just speeds up the breakdown, so it depends on how patient/lazy you are.

Most people say to leave out meat products due to smell/extra pest attraction factor. So bones, etc. go in our regular garbage (after they are frugally used for stock!). Small bits here and there are not going to hurt. Cheese/dairy the same, but we never have leftovers of that stuff. You also don't want any significant quantities of oil/grease, I don't think.

There is a real art to the hot composting (which IIRC yields a more nutritious compost); we can't be bothered, and do it the most passive way possible using wire mesh cylinders we can move around the yard. If you add lots of leaves, you'll want to get a shredder in cases where the leaves could mat down too much and block air/water to your pile, and also to reduce volume. A typical leaf-bag volume of dry leaves can get down to about 1/2 gallon, it seems, with a chipper/shredder. Unfortunately that's an extra pain (and energy cost) so we started a larger leaves-only/leafmold pile. Again, not as nutritious as the green/brown hot compost, but still good organic water-retaining material for your soil.

Other 'organic' (but not vegan) wonders are bone meal, blood meal, and greensand. They release slowly and don't 'burn' plants. edit to add: also lime/sulfur depending on if you need to raise/lower the pH; you can get free soil tests sometimes from local universities for residents in some areas.

I got the Rodale book on compost which is more than anyone needs to know.. diagrams on how to build all manner of compost corrals, percentages of NPK in all manner of obscure compostable ingredients, but there's a lot out there on the Internets, too! Happy composting!

P.S. for true lazy composting in situ (just requires a bit of forethought) Google on "lasagna" "layer" "compost" etc.
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Old 02-26-2008, 10:27 AM   #4
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I use the Envirocycle composter. It's expensive (~$140) but mixing the compost is as easy as turning the wheel a few times. Because it's enclosed, it gets really hot under the sun.

If your compost is too wet, you'll attract maggots. Add some dry "brown" material (paper, leaves, etc.). This also works if it's too smelly.
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Old 02-26-2008, 11:12 AM   #5
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I do the simplest, no-tech method out there.

Put all compost-able garbage into a bucket. When you have a few days worth, dig a trough ~ 6-8" deep, large enough to hold the collection. Toss it in, work some of the dirt in with it. Cover it with dirt from nearby where you start the next trench for the next garbage collection.

By the time I work my through a 5x10' area, the first part is all decomposed. This does not provide you with rich, concentrated compost to use in other places, but it builds the soil in that area over time. I just rotate through a different area of the garden each summer.

-ERD50
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Old 02-26-2008, 11:16 AM   #6
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Thanks for the advice. Is there anything under the sun that this group hasn't had some experience with?
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Old 02-26-2008, 12:01 PM   #7
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A couple more things:

Try to have about 50% green and 50% brown in your compost bin. The brown can be dried leaves or shredded paper, etc. I shred my financial stuff and add to my compost bin. The green is clippings, peelings, old fruit, etc.

Also, if you have your compost bin on the soil it will pick up beneficial organisms and worms. The worms will help to breakdown the composting material and they add worm castings also. My bin looks like a worm bed.

Also for optimum composting,the moisture level should be similar to a wrung out sponge and you should turn your mixture regularly. You don't have to turn it or keep it moist. It will eventually compost. It just makes a difference in how quickly you want it done. Spend more time with it if you want the compost more quickly. Leave it if you are not in a hurry.

Composters.com - Compost Bins, Vermiculture (Worms), Composting Accessories is a good site for bins or info.
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Old 02-26-2008, 12:26 PM   #8
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Almost anything can be thrown into a compost bin.

Just keep layering and don't let it get too dry. If you have sufficient space, time can make up for labor: create a new pile every year and let each sit for three years.

What doesn't break down can be screened/picked out and buried separately: bones, corn cobs. Or they can simply be buried in the garden instead of put in the compost (just make sure the hole is deep enough so the raccoons don't dig it up).
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Old 02-26-2008, 12:36 PM   #9
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I used to compost at my house in NC. I just did a pile of leaves and fruit and vegetable scraps with a mesh fencing around to keep it somewhat contained, and turned it with a shovel or stick every once in awhile. It worked pretty well.

I made a weak attempt to get a pile started after I moved to VA, but I'm not there enough of the year to turn it or make it worthwhile. I was going to start this summer when I'm there full time, but we had a real problem with bears last year and I don't want to attract them. Something like 34 house break-ins in our small community. It would seem better to not make the area around my home any more attractive to bears. It wouldn't freak me out to have bears around my house, but it would seem to increase the chance that they might try to get in, and they can cause a lot of damage.

So, does anyone have experience with composting and bears? I'd love to do it again but I have a feeling it'd take a lot of care and effort to try to keep it from being a bear attraction.
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Old 02-26-2008, 01:01 PM   #10
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Amy (and others), for rentals or apt.s there are also electric kitchen composters. Possibly discordant with the composting ethos, but they claim not to use much juice.. plus it saves you a trip to Lowe's to buy compost in a plastic bag.

NatureMill: How it works

there's also this:
SCD - Happy Farmer™ Kitchen Composter

or you could do the worm composting like Nords (I think).
nyc compost project: indoor composting with a worm bin
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Old 02-26-2008, 01:47 PM   #11
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not a composter per say here but just a post to show how good decay is for life...

when i first bought here there was nothing but seemingly lifeless pure white sugar sand as the house sits on an old dune. though built by the owner of a nursery back in the 40s, it was owned for almost 20 years by a lady who hadn't ever watered or even plant a stick of grass.

i hooked up the well system and planted a jungle where i just let all the droppings lay where they fall. fourteen years later, i now have a good 6 to 10 inches of rich, dark organic soil covering the entire property so that i can hardly shovel the ground without cutting an earthworm in two. so i guess i look at my entire garden as a composter. it's the lazy way but it did a great job.
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Old 02-26-2008, 11:56 PM   #12
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I look at my entire garden as a composter.
That's the spirit!!
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:02 AM   #13
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I made a weak attempt to get a pile started after I moved to VA, but I'm not there enough of the year to turn it or make it worthwhile. I was going to start this summer when I'm there full time, but we had a real problem with bears last year and I don't want to attract them. Something like 34 house break-ins in our small community. It would seem better to not make the area around my home any more attractive to bears. It wouldn't freak me out to have bears around my house, but it would seem to increase the chance that they might try to get in, and they can cause a lot of damage.

So, does anyone have experience with composting and bears? I'd love to do it again but I have a feeling it'd take a lot of care and effort to try to keep it from being a bear attraction.
At my husband's hunting shack there are a lot of bears. A bear even ripped apart part of a shed to get in and get some corn that was stored there. His dad used to keep a compost pile up there which worked fine but no food scraps were thrown in the pile. The pile ran cold (no turning or special effort to keep the nitrogen content up) so it took quite a while to break down. But, over the years that really didn't matter.

If you throw food scraps in the bears will make a mess of the pile. If it is an open pile, skunks and other wild life will poke through too. Maybe that is OK, but I am with you, I don't like to specifically attract the bears or skunks. I would skip the food scraps.

My cousin composts all her food scraps even though she lives in bear country. She has her pile quite away from the house and just ignores the animals who poke through the pile.

I compost with piles here at my place. I also omit the food scraps, mostly because of the skunks and the raccoons. Never have felt like getting a bin to keep them out.
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Old 02-27-2008, 09:56 AM   #14
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I saw an interesting setup about 30 years ago. Composter made of cinder blocks stacked in a square pattern with the openings facing in/out to expose the compost to air all around the sides. About 25 engths of 3" PVC pipe was thoroughly drilled full of holes and slipped through the cinder block holes from one side to the other in various places.

Shovel your stuff on top and let it sift through the pipes. Even when its pretty built up, you have air availability to the middle and bottom of the pile through the pipe.

Rotate the pipes once in a while and spray water on top and through the pipe ends.

The pipes also let heat filter off so the pile didnt get too hot.

Obviously never needed turning or much fiddling with other than the occasional pipe turning and watering.

Also obviously not for small residential composting.
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Old 02-27-2008, 06:59 PM   #15
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Wow - I never expected to learn about composting on this forum but this is good. I have composted like ERD50 for several years. Here's a question for any of you who may be able to answer - what is the best way to use the pond scum (I'm assuming it is spirulina algea) from my pond? I have, in the dryer months, taken it wet from the pond and straight to the single plants but I have an abundance of it.
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:46 PM   #16
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Wow - I never expected to learn about composting on this forum but this is good. I have composted like ERD50 for several years. Here's a question for any of you who may be able to answer - what is the best way to use the pond scum (I'm assuming it is spirulina algea) from my pond? I have, in the dryer months, taken it wet from the pond and straight to the single plants but I have an abundance of it.
Recycled pond scum. There has to be a political joke there somewhere.
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Old 02-27-2008, 10:44 PM   #17
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Maybe it's more science than art, this composting thing, but DW wants me to do a garden and do it organically. I grew up pouring the chemicals into these red clay Georgia soils and plants, so this organic thing is new to me. I have a few questions for you experts.
What, no compost school?!?

The local gardening club or community garden or community college might offer a composting class. The advantage of these is free handouts, free compost-bin plans, and free advice on local conditions in your area. You'll also get the name/number of someone to call for special problems. Some even offer a "starter set" of compost tea or a compost bucket.

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I noticed some of you included paper in the stew mix. If I throw out the coffee filters with the grounds (what a mess to separate) will these water-sturdy filters breakdown during the composting process?
No problem, if it's made from paper and not plastic/wire mesh. IIRC one of this board's members picks up Starbuck's daily disposals for their compost. Coffee grounds make great compost and the filters don't last more than a day or two in our compost bin or our vermipost bin.

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Some of the things I've read say to chop up everything in tiny little pieces. Is this really necessary or can I just throw out the banana peels and apple peels and oranges etc just like they come off the fruit?
What everyone else has said-- it just goes faster/hotter. I think it's a pain and not worth the effort. We used to pile our compost in between two upended wooden pallets, so the termites & ants really sped up the process. CFB's design runs a hot pile, as do the spinning drums. We now use a $50 plastic bin that keeps things hot and empties from the bottom but is not holding together as well as I'd hoped.

Some people freeze their stuff before adding it to the pile. Others make sure that they don't add any seeds that they don't want to have sprouting out of the ground later. In our case our old ground-based compost pile has finally put up a nice crop of papaya trees that I need to transplant to more suitable locations.

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Are there any types of food byproducts that should NOT go into the compost bucket?
Fats & oils are bad, so is human fecal matter. (Hey, I learned that in Asia, OK?) Pet droppings are bad if they're carnivores (fats & oils again) but OK if they're herbivores (like bunnies).

Proteins (meats) can decompose with bad odors. That may or may not be a problem, but we know a local woman who composts in her basement and avoids adding meat protein.

Eggshells can take a long time to break down but they're valued for their minerals. We know one anal-retentive enthusiastic composter who peels the inner membrane off her shells and crushes them before adding them to the pile.

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So, does anyone have experience with composting and bears?
In our case it's mongoose. They're messy but it's great to watch them squabble with the mynah birds...
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Old 02-27-2008, 10:50 PM   #18
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So, does anyone have experience with composting and bears?
Compost piles attract bears and moose. If you make a big pile of rotting food, you're baiting bears. Sorry.
Maybe you could have a vermicomposter in your garage, but only if the garage is bearproof. Bears eat worms too.
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Old 02-27-2008, 11:07 PM   #19
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Compost piles attract bears and moose. If you make a big pile of rotting food, you're baiting bears. Sorry.
Maybe you could have a vermicomposter in your garage, but only if the garage is bearproof. Bears eat worms too.
The bears in our community figured out to find refrigerators in houses they broke into. I think I'd better wait and see if they return again next year. before starting anything. Apparently this past year the main problem was a late freeze that made food sparse on the mountains they normal range in.

I came face to face with one in a dumpster before sun up one morning. I had chased one off by honking at it, and got out to dump my garbage and heard a crunching noise, and saw the outline of the second bear inside the dumpster, about 5-10 feet from me.
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Old 02-28-2008, 08:54 AM   #20
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A new twist to composting. If I could get all the dog walkers to empty their doggie bags into one of these behind my tool shed..........

Turning human waste into energy - Feb. 27, 2008
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