Dream Seed Farms

Sunday, September 4, 2011

3-week Compost

Actually, from the research I did, it should only take 18 days to turn kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into nutritious and delicious compost.

We already have our gigantic pallet compost bin, which we will fill up all year and empty out next spring. However, we have a few projects that we would like to start feeding soon with our own homemade compost.

There are all kinds of compost bins, compost tumblers and even electric counter top compost cookers on the market that claim to be able to emulate and accelerate the natural decomposition processes. While a host of bugs, bacteria, fungi, worms, etc., will do this all for free, these products all promise even better results for the bargain basement price of: more than I care to spend! 

Plus I do not like plastic junk that will ostensibly stay around forever. If I end up not liking my big o' pallet compost bin, I can tear it down and build something else, compost the materials or have a nice little bonfire. But I digress...18 day compost you say?

There is an idea called the Berkeley method that requires no special equipment or know how. It basically has you layer brown (dry and carbon rich) and green (wet and nitrogen rich) materials at a ratio of 30:1, C:N. The bigger the pile the better. It sits for four days, then gets flipped on the fourth day and every other day after that for 18 days total.

I started with two week's worth of kitchen scraps (N), dry susuki, a wild straw-like grass (C), freshly cut weeds (N), a pile of dried leaves (C), a bag of my homemade wood chips (C) and some rain water.

Just like baking a cake

A deliciously decomposing layer cake


After layer

After layer

Topped off with a nice electric blue frosting

I watered the ground first and every couple layers so the compost would not dry out. The blue tarpaulin is not necessary but it also keeps the pile from drying out, as well as from being soaked by rain. 

Four days and a road trip (read: once a month shopping spree!) to our Permaculture class later it was time to flip the pile. I had just bought my first ever pitchfork, and while I could have used a shovel or my hands, I really wanted to jab those five shiny metal tines into something!

There is a method to my jabbiness

Basically peel off the outer and upper layers

And make sure they end up on the bottom and inside of the next pile

Water with a blue elephant like a professional farmer

Situate the bottom and middle of the old pile around the sides

And on top of the new pile

My jab here is done

Cover and repeat seven more times

The idea is to create a thermophilic condition that allows certain organisms to metabolize the carbon and nitrogen. The pile can and will get hot. My pile was steaming every time I flipped it. The heat also helps to kill weed seeds and pathogens. A couple times it got white and moldy so I added some more Carbon, and I checked the moisture and watered accordingly. Now it is like black gold.

There are much more detailed resources online, but this one seemed to work on my first batch. I have a second trial going on now that I layered but haven't flipped at all. We will see how that works out. The great thing is that you can't really screw it up. It will all decompose and become nice compost in the end, even if it takes more than three weeks.

Another idea that has been popping up lately is water heating with stationary compost piles. Some folks are running plastic piping through gigantic piles they don't flip and getting scalding hot water out the other end. They have to temper it with cold water for bathing, and one guy on youtube claimed six month's of showers for himself and his farm hands. Down the line, we are hopping to add a spa to our B&B setup. Since there are no natural hot springs on the island, we would have to go solar, wood fired, or, possibly even now, compost heated. Could it work with a humanure compost pile as well?

After mucking around all day in the fields, a nice hot bath would hit the spot, even if it was poo heated!

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