Tuesday, November 10, 2015

2015 Composting

If you go through all my blog postings you will see frequent references to composting. I've been an avid composter since I was a kid. My first posting on the subject dates back to 2011; http://eatbettercheaper.blogspot.com/2011/11/composting-101.html
In 2015, using my four bin setup, I created 48 cubic feet of high quality compost. In actuality, that came out of only one bin. I am only using three of the four bins right now. One bin is completely filled with aged compost, 2.3 cubic yards (64 cubic feet). That is a lot of compost for a house garden. That is sort of my reserve compost that I use when planting.

One bin, almost empty. The bin behind this one is filled to the top with finished, cured compost.
This fall, I completely re-organized my garden into three raised beds (3'x10') and one 10'x14' planting bed. I put 2 inches of compost on each of the raised beds and raked it in. The rest of the compost went on my strawberry bed, several flower beds, and around a couple small trees. 

Two beds completed and one almost done, with walkways between them.
What did it cost to create all this compost? Just some time and effort. Each fall I clean out and screen the compost from a bin. This is not overly hard, physically, but it takes time. I made a screen box using 3/8 inch hardware cloth. I shovel the mostly finished compost into the screen box and shake it through. The finely screened material goes into my garden wagon for immediate use. The material that is too large to pass through the screen gets saved to go back into the bin with fresh composting materials. 

This is my screening box. I made it out of 2x2 posts and hardware cloth. One screened bin filled this wagon one and a half times.

The wheelbarrow holds the material too large to pass through the screen. It will go back in the compost bin.
Next I clean out my garden and take all the dead plants and place them in the bottom of an empty bin. This course material creates air pockets under the pile to help oxygenate the pile. Next I run my lawn tractor with the attached yard vacuum to pick up all the dead leaves and they get chopped and mixed with green grass clippings that are also cut and sucked up.
The mix of chopped dead leaves and fresh grass is almost perfect and is already heating up due to bacteria starting to break down the material before I even get it unloaded into the bin. One day later I stuck my hand down into the pile and it was hot; a good sign that the bacteria are active and hard at work breaking down the material.
I filled the bin and heaped it as high as I could without it falling over because I know that this will break down to only about ten percent in volume fairly quickly. To this pile I added the course material that didn't go through the screen box. This material will get another year to break down. At the same time, it imports the bacteria from the old pile and gives me a great jump start on the composting process.
Each fall I hope to get a couple weeks with above freezing weather so that the compost pile can get a good start breaking down. It generates quite a bit of heat, initially, and that keeps the pile from freezing until it gets really cold. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania so once it gets cold the pile will go dormant for most of the winter. Eventually it will freeze solid. But once the warm weather of spring arrives the pile will thaw and start the biodegrading action that makes compost.
Throughout the rest of the fall and winter all the household bio-material (kitchen scraps, mums, coffee grounds from work, remains of animals from hunting, etc.) go into the pile and get mixed in (until it is frozen solid). I will also mix in some wood ash from the wood stove to add minerals and charcoal.  During winter all this material pretty much lies dormant and frozen until spring. When the warm weather does finally arrive, I give the pile a good turning and mixing and add whatever fresh material I can come up with to get it cooking again.
If I desired, I could make compost faster by more frequent turning and adding manure but I have 64 cubic feet of compost in storage all the time so I don't need to expend the added effort. My composting process is slower but creates more than I actually need in any given year and it is relatively low-labor.

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