How to speed up compost?

slowjane CA/ Sunset 21June 17, 2014

Hi -

I have an Earth Machine bin that I've been filling for about 6 months with kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, some lawn clippings, some brown leaves, bolted/finished vegetable plants pulled from the garden.

It's finally about 16 inches deep and pretty solid with material. It seemed like for a long time I just didn't have enough material to really get it going, and during that time it has been suffering benign neglect, though I think it's finally doing its thing at the bottom - I just aerated it yesterday for the first time in awhile and gave it some water. It's in the shade, and it's very dry here.

My understanding is that what I've been doing so far is basically cold composting, and I'm wondering how I might convert it to hot composting. What would that mean?

My main purpose for composting is to feed and/or mulch my veggie garden - two 4'x4' raised SFG style beds - so only 32sq ft.

Any advice is much appreciated!

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Keep up the moisture, correct ratio of greens and browns. I would'nt worry so much about it. It is hard to do it all by the book. I have a tumbler. After about 2 yrs, it is ready. I have put the next batches ingredients in a big barrel. I live in the sticks though. In the Burbs, there is a need for neatness, maybe a better system exists.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 12:51AM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

Okay I will monitor more closely and see what happens. I'm still not clear what makes "cold" vs "hot" composting - or how to raise the temperature - just by having the proper ratio of C and N? Is it possible to do hot composting but be using the stuff at the bottom or do you make a pile and then leave it until you use it? Is there a method where I can keep adding while I access the finished compost?

I'm also a little confused about turning it and adding new materials - my bin has a door on the bottom that you can slide up and get compost from the bottom - so it seems like you don't want to turn it too much so that you can access the finished compost at the bottom?

Yes, my yard is small and we are in the city so I have to keep things (somewhat) tidy though that's probably not a word my neighbor would use if he peeked over the wall. ;) Mostly I just don't have a lot of room for multiple bins....

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 3:24PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Get coffee grounds free from starbucks.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 11:06PM
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Well it seems like you stuffed the bin with a lot of green materials; it may be fast. But in my opinion Earth Machine arent that great, you could just pile up the materials and make a larger pile and you could also aerate the pile easier for the price of free. For fast compost you need to do hot composting which needs a compost pile that is 3' x 3' x 3' big, proper brown to green ratio, proper moisture and a lot of aeration. With your set up, it might take a few months to get some compost unless you pile on a lot of green materials to make the pile hot fast with the small pile you have (but this may become slimy/smelly and it dies out fast if the brown to green ratio is off, which it most likely will be)

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 11:48PM
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davids10 z7a nv.

i make a couple of big compost heaps a year. i use my electric rotary lawnmower to grind the stuff, water it down and turn it every couple of days(much easier with an open heap than a bin) the compost heats to between 160 and 175. i dont worry too much about green and brown balance-the key i think is the finer the grind the hotter and faster the heap-my compost is ready in 14 days.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 12:01AM
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davids10 z7a nv.

ps-if you want to get your compost heating add about 20% by volume fresh grass clippings thoroughly mixed in. make sure the clippings dont have weed killer on them.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 12:42AM
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davids10 z7a nv.

ps-if you want to get your compost heating add about 20% by volume fresh grass clippings thoroughly mixed in. make sure the clippings dont have weed killer on them.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 12:44AM
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Most everything I have seen about composting says one needs about 27 cubic feet of material, a 3 x 3 x 3 pile, for the bacteria to have enough volume to generate the heat needed for fast composting. Your Earth Machine simply is not large enough to do that.
There may be some valuable information in the linked Composting Tutorial.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 6:30AM
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The Earth Machine is a good composter for people who need to keep a neat appearance or who are composting kitchen scraps and have either varmints or neighborhood hounds. I have an earth machine, and it can certainly heat up, but only when it's filled with a big batch of fresh well mixed greens and browns all at once. Any compost pile or bin is not going to heat up with regular small additions of kitchen scraps and trimmings from the average suburban house and yard. The important thing is it doesn't need to. You'll get compost anyway. If you want compost faster, yes you need more greens and the right ratio of browns to compost. Greens are like fuel, put in a small amount, the fire is not enough to produce much heat, and is gone by the time you add more. Fill up the tank all at once, you get heat. Think of lighting one candle per week, vs. a whole bonfire at once.

I save my fall leaves and layer them with kitchen scraps all winter. By spring the bin is full. I move the bin, turn the pile into it, and use any finished compost at the bottom Then mix any remaining fall leaves with spring cleanup trimmings and grass clippings if I have them, and refill the bin. That will get hot and sink down. Keep adding what you have. Midsummer, move and turn again. You'll have some more finished compost at the bottom. Return the top of the pile to the bin to keep working.

The doors are fairly worthless, you can't reach the center of the pile. I pull off the side clips, remove the two halves of the bin, set it next to the pile, clip back together and begin refilling.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 3:05PM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

I got the Earth Machine through an LA County program - so it was only $20 - and I have a tiny backyard in an urban neighborhood rampant with skunks, possums, squirrels etc so having an open pile isn't possible for me. One day maybe I'll move back out to a rural place somewhere like I grew up so I can stretch out but for now it is city gardening for me. ;)

Thanks for outlining your method toxcrusadr - I might be able to manage that - and I wish the door was more useful. But when I opened it I saw lots of big material - not like the center of the bin....

I will work on getting more grass clippings - problem is that the gardener buries them at the bottom of the green bin under all the other detritus from the property (loads of shefflera leaves, bougainvilliea blossoms/cuttings)- and I think it's combined with the neighbor's clippings - who I'm sure use god knows what kind of chemicals on their lawn. Our lawn is pretty ugly comparatively - I keep it on the brink of death basically to save water in the drought (it's rained once since we moved here a year ago) but they weed and feed and water every other day. Ah which brings up another problem: weed seeds in the clippings since I don't napalm the yard....

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 2:07PM
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