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February 2018
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Episode 81 Composting

In today’s episode I talk about compost and the act of composting.  I’m surprised it took me this long to do an episode on this!

In actuality I am not very good at composting.  I mean I know the theory.  It seems easy enough.  It just doesn’t work for me as well as I’d like.  But I try to give you all some alternatives that I’ve found to straight up composting.  Though I’ll not give up and I have had limited success with bin or pile style composting I use all the methods I can in tandem to assure success.

Tune in today as I talk about:

*Compost ratios.  Earth, air, water and fire (Carbon, Oxygen, water and Nitrogen).

*How to build or make a simple composter setup.

*Some ways to increase your chances of success.

*Alternative 1 – Vermicomposting.  How to make a simple setup.  Where to buy worms.  How to maintain a bin.

*Alternative 2 – Composting in place.  Mulch and compost and the blurry line between the two.  The benefits of this method.

6 comments to Episode 81 Composting

  • It would seem the source of your troubles is the size of your piles (trash cans and bins).  With compost, size does matter.  The bigger your pile, the faster it decomposes. As a minimum, a pile 4′ x ‘4 x 4′ should be where you start. Mine has grown to 20′ x 16′ x 5’, but I have room for it and generate a lot of waste.  The benefit to a large open pile is that you can turn it with a roto-tiller. I don’t use the tiller in my garden beds (unless removing sod) but it’s amazing for turning compost.  I turn my compost twice a week in the late spring through the early fall.

    On a smaller scale, I use a three stage system. One pile is for hot composting (carbon-nitrogen balanced). Once the pile cools, it moves into a secondary pile, where manure is added and the mixture goes relatively untouched under a tarp for 4-5 months so the worms can move in and finish off the remaining fibers. From there, I add dry grass clippings, shredded straw or peat back into the pile and use it for mushroom cultivation. That lasts until the winter temperature stops the mushroom blooms.  The remaining compost is so fine, it puts commercial potting soils to shame. I mound it up in my garden beds after the first snow fall, where it insulates any perennials and seeds. By spring the beds are immediately ready for planting.

    Also, make sure you’re using small debris whenever possible. Grass clippings are great, and when fresh have just the right ratio of nitrogen and carbon.  If you can pile them high in one cutting, they should hit 140°F by the next day when they’re green. Unless you’re trying to correct an overage of nitrogen, don’t dry the grass. Since it’s pre-balanced it’s just a neutral mass builder in a healthy pile.

    Build your pile near your garden beds. Any run-off from the pile will fertalize your plants, and when it’s time to dress the beds with finished compost, you don’t have to move it very far.  It’s also handy for throwing weeds and excess growth you cut from the plants right in the bin instead of hauling it away to a pile behind a shed or garage on the other side of the yard. Since it’s right there near your plants, it will also not go neglected, as you’ll see it every time you tend your garden. Tending the compost quickly becomes a part of your garden routine. Hidden away in some remote corner of your lot puts it out of sight and out of mind.

    As for questions, I’m interested in learning more about beneficial animals, specifically salamanders, bats, and swallows (usually neglected species in similar discussions). I know that’s not really a question, but a topic I’ve become interested in none the less, and others may benefit from a brief discussion on the subject.

  •  I can’t seem to compost to save my life either.  I decided at the new house I’m just throwing the stuff I don’t fed to the worms in a big pile on the dirt and hope for the best.  So far I think the woodland critters are enjoying it.

    I’ve been worm composting for years.  My current set up is two worm “towers”.  I made the tower essentially the same way you were describing except I have 4 large bins stacked.  The bottom is for collecting the tea.  The other 3 have holes in the bottom (maybe 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch diameter) to drain the liquids and let the worms crawl up.  You put the food in the bottom container until it’s full then work your way up. Once the worms are done in the bottom food bin they move upwards, leaving that bin pretty much empty of worms. It takes a while (maybe 4 months? I wasn’t really keeping track).  But I’d rather wait a few months than dig through compost to save all the worms.

  • Jason

    Thanks for the tips.  I’ve started some large bins at my cabin 5x5x5 but unfortunately here I don’t seem to have a ton of room.  But that makes sense.

    Thanks for the show suggestion.  I’ll try to put something together on that.


  • Jason


    I’d like to see pictures of that setup if you ever get the chance.  I’m always looking to improve my worm bin setup.  I think I understand the concept though and it sounds like something I could use.  I’m always sorting through the bin by hand to get the castings out.


  • Teresa_lyn23

    Wow, I love the idea of using a tiller for your compost pile.  I am turning it with a garden fork and it is soooo hard.  I have two piles but hate getting it bigger then 4 or 5 ft because it is two hard to turn.  I will give it a try in the morning. 

  • Kenny

     I don’t think the worms in my compost pile would appreciate the roto-tiller.