New compost piles

I have a confession to make: for the past 19 months we haven’t been composting our kitchen scraps. Yes, I know, it’s shocking. We’ve wanted to. I’ve bemoaned the lost organic matter, but something was always in the way. We didn’t have a good spot for a pile outside. We didn’t have a container for scraps inside. Stupid reasons, yes, but we dump our carrot peels in the trash and say “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

Well, tomorrow finally came a few days ago. We were browsing a second hand store and I saw a $7 stainless steel ice bucket that Robin agreed would make an acceptable long-term counter-top addition. We brought it home, and when we filled it the first time with scraps I went out with a hoe and cleared new spring growth of Gallium Aparine from part of the former bramble area behind our house. This spot is sheltered from rain by tall Douglas Fir trees, and should make a good location for composting. I added straw and some horse manure as a base, and started layering on the kitchen scraps. Ahh, the guilt is lifting …

Since the weather on Sunday was calling for days of rain, I decided to compost the rest of the horse manure that was still sitting in my truck. I layered it with old straw into a large pile next to the one for kitchen scraps. I’m going to turn this one regularly to keep it hot. We’ll use it in the garden as needed, but even a few weeks of active composting will make a difference. You can see from the photo that I missed a step. It got too dark to work, but I should have covered the pile with a thin layer of soil. Soil dwelling bacteria capture stray ammonia that bleeds off the pile, thus preventing loss of nitrogen value.

Note that if you have the room for it, it’s not necessary to build composting bins. They’re just going to rot eventually. That said, we plan to eventually build bins for three reasons. 1.) This area borders on our back yard area, so a bin will keep the area tidy and prevent dog snacking. 2.) Bins allow you to use a aerating tool to turn the compost without physically moving the whole pile. 3.) When composting animal carcasses and butchering remains, bins allow you to more efficiently use your carbon materials (such as saw dust).

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3 Responses to New compost piles

  1. Lynn says:

    Congrats on your new compost pile! Don’t tell anyone, but we don’t have one, either!!! We’ll have to work on it!

  2. Ron says:

    Ahh, yeah, the guilt thing. No worries, man… progress is progress.

    Just wanted to mention a couple of things. I don’t know if appearances are very important there or not, but you can make a decent bin just by tying pallets together with some baling twine. Sure, they’ll rot after a couple of years, but then can be repurposed for other things (i.e., paths through the strawberry patch, etc). I went without a bin for a long time, but then the chickens discovered my compost. 🙂 Now I let them scratch all they want, but have a bin to contain it (they leveled a 5′ high heap before I built a bin).

    The other thing I would mention is that I don’t turn my piles, ever. If you pile it up, as you mentioned, and make regular additions of N (i.e., pee on it), and then just build a new pile next year… using the first one next fall… I bet you’ll be quite happy with the results. Research has shown that turning, although helping to make the mix more uniform, really only has a short-term impact on the amount of air available.

    In any case, congrats! It’s a good feeling to have a place to put the scraps.


  3. lee says:

    Lynn – Thanks, glad we aren’t the only ones. 🙂

    Ron – Well, it’s not a go-join-the-Sierra-Club sort of guilt. More of an I’ve-always-composted before this sort of guilt.

    Yeah, I was thinking about turning the horse manure pile just because I want it to cook really fast. We’re going to use all of that in the next month or two in the garden. (And probably another load from my in-laws too.)

    Not turning the pile seems to fit my least-effort strategy just fine! I’ve seen people put aeration pipes in their pile, but all that does is encourage the nitrogen to burn off really fast. I’ve read a bit about composting from my gardening hero (Solomon has a whole book on it available for free online) and he is also in favor of minimal turning and year-long batches. I hadn’t thought to add nitrogen that directly though …

    Actually, being in this class on pasture management makes me realize both how expensive commercial nitrogen is becoming and how essential. Sending all that urine to your septic tank is just p___ing money away. 🙂

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