I’ve never actively composted until recently. While we spent the last year hauling manure out of the pig pens to a pile behind our shed and threw kitchen scraps there, it wasn’t intentional. The manure needed to go somewhere, and I simply didn’t think we should throw vegetable scraps in the garbage. Last summer I was cleaning out the pens and happened to climb one of the piles to push the wheelbarrow over and noticed that it was scorching! (Yes, I was wearing flip flops!!) Hey, what do you know, I was composting! This year, since adding goats to the mix, I’ve decided that it’s time to get serious about utilizing this resource.
The start of my project – The material to the left is old manure from last year. The pile on the right is the start of the official compost.
What Is Composting?
Composting involves creating the optimal environment to break down organic waste into rich, fertile, soil-like material. Composting speeds the process of decomposition, providing you with natural fertilizer in a controlled manner.
Besides producing a free source of soil amendments; additional benefits to composting are reducing the amount of materials shipped to landfills, improving the quality of soil and reducing the need for additional chemicals to amend soil. This rich, humus compost adds necessary nutrients to clay soils and improves the ability of sandy soils to retain moisture.
Composting can be done entirely hands-off (as I’d been doing) or with additional assistance. Organic materials, such as leaves, can be placed in a pile and left for several years. This will decompose into a nice, loose soil. This is called “cold composting.” Today we’ll cover “Hot composting” which is the fastest way to produce compost with minimal effort.
There are several ways in which hot composting can be done. The first and easiest to maintain is a simple pile. Piles are easy to access with a wheelbarrow and simple to work with. Leaves, grass, and manure are easy to toss in a pile. Other options are to use a bin or turning barrel. Once you begin to add additional green materials, such as vegetable scraps and other household items such as eggshells and coffee grounds, it may be desirable to use a bin or barrel to limit rodents or other animals from disturbing the compost.
Hot composting requires 3 ingredients to cause it to “percolate.” Microorganisms feed on the materials. This process produces heat and speeds the decompensation that occurs.
Image courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:How_Compost_Happens.gif
Moisture is necessary for the bacteria to break down the organic material. The moisture of the pile should be the consistency of a “wrung-out” sponge. If the pile dries out, compost will occur, but it will occur at a much slower rate. Compost may be covered with tarps to preserve the moisture. Compost that is too moist will smell and will slow the process of decomposition.
Oxygen also aids the process of composting. The microorganisms require oxygen to do the work. The compost should be turned with a pitchfork or other tool to move the materials from the edge of the pile to the middle. This adds oxygen to the compost. You can monitor the temperature of your pile and once the temperature drops to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, turn the pile. The decrease in temperature means that the oxygen is getting depleted in the center of the pile and decomposition is slowing. Typically the pile can be turned every 2 weeks.
Organic material provides the source of the compost. Brown materials, or the carbon component, supply the base of the humus. Green materials provide high nitrogen levels which stimulate bacteria to increase the breakdown of the brown materials. It is the nitrogen component which causes temperatures to rise in the compost. Organic materials should generally be used in a 1:1 ratio but some sources indicate up to a 4:1 ratio of brown material to green material.
Brown Material (Carbon)
Green Material (Nitrogen)
Temperatures of the compost can range from 113 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Raising the temperature kills weed seeds, odors, fly eggs, Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes that can be found in organic materials. If the pile gets too hot, decomposition will again slow as healthy bacteria die. If this happens, reduce the size of the pile or make holes in it. This will decrease the amount of material or increase the amount of oxygen.
Tips for Success:
- Don’t make it harder than it should be – Seriously, it’s easy to “accidentally” compost as I did last year.
- Keep your compost close to the source of materials – Who wants to haul manure or kitchen scraps for miles.
- Start your pile in a spot that you can easily access from all sides – You;’ll want to be able to turn your pile over several times & will want some room to move around.
- Keep a “slop” bucket in the house to capture all your kitchen scraps – Again, save yourself the hassles of running your scraps out after each meal.
- Beware of snakes! – They love the warm piles! Keep your eyes open, so you are not surprised!
- Just Try It!
“Manure vs. Humus Compost.” Home Guides | SF Gate. Web. 29 June 2017.
“North Dakota State University.” Animal Manure Management. Web. 29 June 2017.
“US Composting Council’s First Young Professional Scholarships Awarded.” US Composting Council. Web. 29 June 2017.