All About Compost

At our Be the Change Project urban homestead we make compost all of the time for the gardens at our site, the Giving Garden just down the block, and for the future gardens at our second parcel two doors down.

We do hot composting in bins I built out of scrap wood that are about 4’x4’x4′ with removable front slats.  Here’s our composting technique:

  1. The collected green waste goes into the chicken run where they hunt and peck for goodies, poop occasionally, and mix it all up a bit
  2. After a week or so we scoop the green waste from the chicken run into our compost bins which are conveniently located alongside the run
  3. We alternate scoops of green waste with horse manure, guano-infused straw from the chicken coop (when available), bedding from the rabbits (when available), leaves or shredded paper, some finished compost for a microbe jump start, a little soil, a little sand from the mountains for added minerals, maybe some grass clippings from our neighbor, and then more green waste.  We are not super picky about the order or the amounts but alternate as we go.  We’ve learned to estimate what works from observation.
  4. We add water as we build the pile – not too much, not too little
  5. In about three days our piles are up to 140-160 degrees.  I keep track of the temps in a little log book at the pile and turn the pile after about two weeks.  In another four weeks the pile is “done” and good enough for our purposes in our gardens.  If we want some fine compost from these batches for seedlings we’ll screen a bit (or just separate some of the most broken-down shovelfuls while we’re loading it into the wheelbarrow).

Below is some basic info on composting but for much more detail I suggest checking out the epa website.

Composting Basics

Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.

Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms. Mature compost, however, includes the production of high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.

Benefits of Composting

  • Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.compost replenish
  • Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  • Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
  • Remove solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff.
  • Avoids Methane and leachate formulation in landfills.
  • Capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
  • Provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.
  • Reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments.
  • Extends municipal landfill life by diverting organic materials from landfills.