Compost! Using what you have on hand (and can get free!) to improve the soil…

Composting on the Farm

HOT Composting

One of my biggest challenges I realized right away is the need to build up the dirt to make it more rich soil for planting vegetable and herb gardens.  The end of August, I started reading and doing a little research about the “proper” way to compost…

Taken from The Rapid Composting Method The author is Robert D. Raabe, Professor of Plant Pathology, Berkeley:
For the composting process to work most effectively, material to be composted should have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1. This cannot be measured easily, but experience has shown that mixing equal volumes of green plant material with equal volumes of naturally dry plant material will give approximately a 30/1 carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio. Green material can be grass clippings, old flowers, green prunings, weeds, fresh garbage and fruit and vegetable wastes. Dried material can be dead, fallen leaves, dried grass, straw and somewhat woody materials from prunings. 

I read this book about making compost, Let It Rot!  It suggested the usual ratios of browns, greens and MANURE (as a nitrogen supply) to start your compost pile.  I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it…
 The problem is that I do not have a lot of manure right now.  So, I am looking for nitrogen alternatives.  I read this article about using coffee grounds as a nitrogen source in your compost bin (instead of manure.)  I am all about using s#@t for composting but do I have to even say that the coffee smells so much better!  I had no idea it was a high nitrogen material!

I was at Starbucks one day and I saw a bag by the door that was labeled FREE Grounds for Gardens.  So, I grabbed up some grounds.  
Two closed bins I use for “hot” composting.  I brought one and there was one left on the property when we got here!

The first store I went to had the grounds wrapped up in a nice bag (on the left).  The second store I went to just gave me a plastic trash bag full of coffee (on the right).

I know there are also local coffee houses that put out grounds for gardeners so if you don’t have a Starbucks near you, just ask your local coffee shop to save some for you.
I have been picking up apples that fall on the ground and adding them to the compost bins.  I have lots of browns to add (old hay) but not a lot of greens so I am using the apples as greens and the grounds as a N source to activate everything.

One thing I realized (and also read in the book), is that the hay is going to be hard to decompose.  Putting it through a shredder would help but I don’t have a shredder.  One issue is that by definition of being made into hay, it is very dried out!  Too dry.  Almost hydrophobic.  I pour water on it and it just runs off.  So, I have been putting it into the wheelbarrow with water to get it soaked through and then adding it to the compost bin between layers of apples.  I will probably have to switch to putting it in a 5 gallon bucket…need wheelbarrow for other chores…

Here is a video I put together about making the compost…

Henry made me this nice screen to put the compost through.  Thanks Hen!

These are 2.5 gallon bags of compost that I have collected and will put into our raised beds.

COLD Composting

There is a new trampoline park close to our house and they had a bunch of wood pallets sitting out in front.  I went in and asked about them.  They said I could have all I wanted.  So, I made a 3 bin compost area.  This is more of a “cold” compost process where you pile things in the first bin the first year and then move to the second bin the second year.  Then, the stuff in the second bin goes into the third bin on the third year and so forth…

Picture of 3 bin compost bins when I made them.
Picture of 3 bin compost bins in October.  Almost got the first bin full!

Here is a great Ted Talk about composting…pretty funny and educational…he says all you need to compost is leaves and coffee grounds!  

I had lots of aspirations of collecting old leaves around town this fall but that just did not happen.  Not enough time…maybe next year!