Adventures in Country Living

Posts tagged “Hard Work

Composting: Round 1

Sustainability. I remember eating dinner with my grandparents when I was young, I remember grandpa scraping any acceptable scraps into a milk jug that had the top half cut off. The jug was used, re-used then used some more. I remember it being stained and kind of stinky but every morning grandpa walked that jug somewhere and emptied it. This is my first memory of anything compost. Composting out here is going to be a necessity, reading more about what my future garden is going to need to be as productive as I’d like is going to require massive amounts of compost. Liz and I have been discussing the location and size of our compost area for a while now, knowing that anything we put in place will serve for a long time we didn’t want to rush things. After a visit to a friend’s compost site I had the motivator I needed to start this task. This was going to require some serious weeding, earth moving and a bit of construction.

My reading has me constructing a three bin composting area made of wood pallets we got for free. For now only two of the three bins will be constructed with the third coming as soon as I can get the remaining pallets needed. My friend Heath joined us for the initial site clearing, with a sharp machete and a weed whacker things were trimmed down to size in short order. The 8+ft tall barn weeds were piled in a trailer to eventually become my (seemingly) annual 10ft tall bon fire. Once cleared Liz and I arranged the pallets and used screws I had on hand to fasten the pallets together forming the first two bins. To promote air flow we used pallets to form the base of the bins as well as the sides, once fully assembled and in place we proceeded to begin constructing our “hot” compost pile.

My limited understanding of the composting process has led me to attempt a “hot” compost pile which if constructed properly should heat to an internal temp close to 160°F and will break down the materials in short order, if done right this process could take as little as a month to complete. To construct the “hot” compost pile we used the lasagna method by layering consecutive “brown”, “green” and soil/compost components making sure to moisten the “brown” layer each time. Our “browns”, which provide the carbon for the pile, came free from the loft of our barn. Old straw and hay remnants layered with aged pigeon droppings should make for composting gold. This was layered roughly 2inches thick each time, my reading says it can be as thick as 3 inches but this straw/hay has been compacted over the years and I did not want to impede air flow. Before building the pile up we inserted a wire mesh cage (made from left-over deer fencing) in the center with a diameter of ~6inches to allow for additional airflow.

The “greens” which layer after the “browns” provide the nitrogen needed, my information says you’re looking for a 30:1 ratio between “browns” and “greens”. The “greens” layer can be between 1 and 6inches thick depending on the materials used, materials that are loose will provide more air pockets can be piled thicker whereas fresh grass clippings which get matted and block airflow can be only an inch thick.  Having let our rhubarb plants go too long we cut them back to the ground and used the leaves and some stems for the initial couple layers of “greens”. The soil component that can be supplemented with compost and topped with just a bit of manure (if you have it on hand) is layered after the “greens” and should be no more than 1/2inch thick, this provides the needed bacteria and organisms that will break the other layers down. We used half composted sod left-over from the initial garden construction. The proper way to compost sod is simple, layer it with the root side up and make a nice neat pile. I did not do this, rather I picked a site out of view and simply dumped load after load of the into what turned into a huge long pile. Despite my “piling” method I removed all the surface weeds to find a moist, almost composted under-layer.

For a “hot” compost pile to heat up to temp the pile must be of adequate size and depth, we are shooting for ~4ft deep. After the first layers we quickly began running out of “greens”, weeds (that hadn’t gone to seed) were pulled and layered along with some fresh grass clippings to help get the pile closer to the 4ft mark. Liz came up with an easy to install and remove front panel consisting of a handful of 1X6 slats of wood (all from scrap wood we had lying around). This allowed us to build the front edge of the pile up without it spilling over onto the ground. When the pile is ready to be turned we can easily remove the slats and turn the pile into the next bin. With the basis of the first pile in place we are now set to install the third bin and continue adding to the pile we’ve constructed with the same scraps my grandpa toted to his pile years ago. The goal for us is to use and not waste any of the energy we have growing or existing here at the BRB. Now weeds and other seemingly nuisance items can serve a purpose and eventually help my garden. Waste not…