What now?

jrmckinsMarch 31, 2012

My first ever compost pile is breaking down nicely. It stays hot, I turn it often and feed it a little every day (table scraps). My quest is, it's about half the size it was when I started. Do I just let this cook down until it's "done" or do I keep adding greens? Or do I keep topping it off with greens and browns. I figure if I keep adding to it then it will never finish.

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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Don't wait for it to finish, just remove the finished compost and put that in a bin for later, or use the finished at once.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 4:31PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

You just keep the unfinished part in the bin, but removed the finished. You have to sort it.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 4:32PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I use a tumbler to start (sorry tropical), get things mixed really well, then dump it into a regular compost bin. It seems to help get the mixing and break down started a little faster.
I fill the bin all winter and start a new tumbler each spring or whenever it's full. I don't add anything to the "finishing bin" for a few months.
I also have bags of leaves I got from the neighbors (someone gave me a free leaf sucker/composter at a yard sale!)
I go to the neighbors' houses and pretend I'm doing them a favor! Suck up their leaves and make more great compost!
Nancy

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 11:11PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

But, the sorting out is the fun part!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 8:31AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Time to start a 2nd pile.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 11:40AM
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jrmckins

yeah, I have the 2nd bin full of straw. I should add some greens and get it cooking

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 12:30PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I just keep adding stuff to the top of mine and periodically dig finished stuff out from the bottom.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 12:32PM
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toxcrusadr

You're right jr, the whole pile will never get done if you keep adding fresh stuff forever. If you don't want to bother with sorting, start a second pile, give this one a couple months to finish, and you'll be able to use virtually all of it.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 1:52PM
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RpR_(3-4)

I have and my parents before me, have just one pile per garden, of which the main component is leaves from the roses.
When I put the leaves in I add small layer of dirt every foot to sixteen inches.
I add the commercial compost acceleraters, of which the best kind is no longer available, and what ever materieal comes along over the year/s with a lot of coffee grounds.

Depending how full it is, it drops by a foot to two feet, I just keep adding with minimul turning mainly digging a hole in the middle to push they dry edges into.

I now often use the leaves to cover my potatoes so it can be three years before I completely empty the contents and start a new pile.

As I often bury material in the garden that is one reason the compost pile can go as long as it does.

When I put new leaves into an empty bin, rib-cage height by six by a little over three feet, I will get on a ladder jump into the pile to stomp it down so I can cram as much as possible into it if I am not going to use the leaves for covering the potatoes.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 2:19PM
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jrmckins

OK. I'm going to turn the whole pile tonight (I just added a lot of greens yesterday) and add some greens to my second pile to get it going. Pile 1 will now be turned once every 1-2 weeks and I'll actively work pile 2 (kitchen scraps, etc).

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 2:25PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

This is what happens if you keep starting new bins you may end up with too many bins. I know I used to have 6 bins going at once. If you just suck it in and sort it out, you can make it with only two bins. I use disposable gloves, to remove the big pieces but some people use a screen. Screening was more work in my opinion and made my back hurt too much.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 8:09PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I just thought of something else, if you don't really like your compost you get this notion that you want to just forget about for a long time. There is whole idea that it will just magically become compost if you ignore it. But, some items in the bin will take longer to break down. If you allow the compost to just sit there while the last remaining items breakdown, you will lost a lot of benefits. The fast breaking down items are ready and should be used. The longer you wait the less finished compost you will have. When I started out with my first bin. I just put all the kitchen waste in there. I did not know what to do, so I put dirt in there with it. In six months I had nothing but some dirt in there. So, I went to park to collect pieces of mulch. I put those in there and then I had to take them all out. Nothing happened. Finally I started by sheared wood, bagged and then I got compost. I dispelled with the notion that compost should be free. If you want to have good compost you need to add bagged browns. It all depends on if you just want to recycle food or you really want a quality end product.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 9:51AM
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toxcrusadr

The most I ever had was 3 bins. Fresh stuff into the first, when full it's turned into the second, and eventually into the third where there was (almost) always finished compost ready to use. Industrial engineers call it a continuous batch process.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 10:19AM
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molex

You never need to BUY anything to make compost

Bagged Browns = others peoples/your own leaves = Free

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 10:23AM
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leira(6 MA)

I'm a big fan of having 2 bins. Sometimes I think I might ultimately end up with 3, but since things shrink so much as they break down, it hasn't happened yet.

I currently have a "finishing" bin and a "new" bin, though if a certain spouse had been able to tell the difference between "a nearly full barrel of nearly finished compost" and "a nearly empty barrel with a handful of sticks in it" when he we taking out the kitchen scraps all Winter, I'd currently have one empty barrel, on "new" barrel, and a garden full of compost...but that's another matter!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 10:57AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Two bins is the minimum you need. When you remove the finished it has to go in another bin if you not ready to use it. The finished will continue to break down in the other bin. You don't want to stick it in a container with a bottom like a rubber made tote, because it needs to drain out or it will start to get a lot of mildew. If you ever had a bag of mulch that got rained on and then you open it up, you will know what I mean. You want to have some finished on hand at all times in case you get a new plant and you want to plant it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:04AM
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leira(6 MA)

tropical_thought, when I've run out of hole-y bins for storage, I have been known to put my finished bin-made compost into a plain old covered trash barrel for a few months. It does OK if it's not too wet.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:18AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

It might be ok, if it was really very well finished and it was not wet. But, I don't want to have trash bags in my garden. A bin looks nicer, and the worms can come and go from the bottom of the bin. I don't have a shed to put stuff like that in. I would have to keep them in the basement, and that is already over filled.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 1:45PM
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toxcrusadr

"If you want to have good compost you need to add bagged browns."

Maybe YOU do, because you have no free source, but you have to realize everyone has his or her own unique situation. I have a woodshop, so I have all the shavings and sawdust I need for free. I don't assume everyone else does though.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 2:39PM
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LesIsMore1(4/5 - Colorado)

I'm up to my ears in browns, all the time... all sorts. All free. I stockpile browns, so I never get stuck with excess green. Not that I ever would, greens are my limiting factor; small amounts go in existing hot piles, large loads of them are used as an excuse to start another hot pile. (I have room for three piles in my hot cage, with an empty slot reserved for flipping.)

When my hot piles get to a mostly finished state, they go to the *sifting table*...wheel barrow goes underneath, easy on my back. Whatever does not fall through 1/4" mesh, gets incorporated into the next new pile where it will vanish into mix. (also makes a great activator) If its late in the fall, I switch to 1/2" mesh.

Sawdust ROCKS!
(When shopping for a chain saw, nothing beats a Stihl.)

If your pile is still cooking, staying hot...I would let it cook as it is. I would not add any new ingredients. That is a perfect excuse to start a brand new hotpile. But thats me...

(I don't flip until I see the temp drop by a whole degree...but when I do flip, it's treated like a good workout. I especially look forward to flipping the piles...)

And I'm also a fan of continuous batch processing, only mine doesn't go in a straight line, it goes in a circle. I've technically got room for 4 piles, but only keep a maximum of 3 at one time. Pile #3 gets flipped into the empty slot, #2 gets flipped into #3's old spot, #1 goes where #2 was...etc. Always leaving one slot uninhabited. Naturally, the oldest pile goes to the sifting table first, leaving another slot open - which becomes an excuse to start a new pile in the 'old' empty slot. (that way, the unfinished remains of the recently sifted pile have a fresh pile to innoculate...and the piles stay in order, according to age.)

Thats how it normally goes. Right now I've got a monster pile in there hogging up two slots. It was hogging up three slots before, and will be ready for sifting in a couple more flips. Technically, I should wait for the next flip, before starting a new pile. Easier to restrain myself, now that we're having a blizzard... not the best time to be foraging for greens. :/

Les

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:37AM
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