Monday, July 7, 2008

Starting a New Compost Pile

We are often guided by the "less is more" principle here at Camp Ramshackle. In regards to composting this has definitely been our approach. Right now we do our composting sans bin. This method works well if you have enough space and material. You need a pile about three feet high and wide, and you need space to turn it, or mix it up.

We have a large unruly yard, much of which remains untamed. Pruning, weeding and general clean up generates lots of brown and green matter for composting. Our kitchen scraps are at most a quarter of the material we need to dispose of each month. The Western Garden Book, among other sources, recommends you start with about twice as much brown material as green material.

We use a chipper to chip up pruned branches and leaves which we also use for mulch. Chipping pruned green branches and leaves is a great compost starter. We mix in some of the dry leaves that constantly cover the ground around our oak trees and any kitchen scraps we have available. I like to imagine our compost pile as a slow motion fire. The larger the "logs" the longer and slower they will "burn" the smaller, the hotter and faster. Fast and hot is what we are after with our composting (and so many other things).

Here is how we do it.
  1. Gather enough compostable material to make a 3 foot high pile. One third green material including plant trimmings, fruits, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, cow or horse dung, rabbit or bird poop, to two thirds brown material, which includes dry leaves, sticks, chipped up wood, sawdust, hay, etc.
  2. Mix it all together in a big pile and sprinkle it with water. You want it moist but not soaking wet. Try to make the bacteria happy but don't drown it. Adding a handful of finished compost to the mix will speed it up. You can also add some rotting leaves pulled from a forgotten corner of your garden if you are just starting out. I also like to cover the outside of the pile with brown material, as a mulch layer to hold in the moisture.
  3. Each week, mix the pile to get air to the center and the outer layer mixed into the middle. Add more green and brown material if you have it, sprinkle with water to keep it moist. If you live where it rains you won't need to sprinkle it much.
This method gives us finished compost in about 3 months from the last time we add to the pile. If you keep adding, mixing and wetting the pile, it will stay hot and break down material very quickly. Once the pile starts to cool down and the addition of new material doesn't heat the pile back up, we prefer to start a new pile.

This isn't the only way to do it. You don't need work this hard to compost. Make a big pile of organic material, turn it every once in a while to keep it from getting moldy or going anaerobic (when there is a lack of oxygen it still makes fine compost but it gets outhouse stinky) and eventually everything will break down.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.