Composting Plan for a Community Garden

DerffieJuly 26, 2014

I'm seeking some feedback regarding my plan for a community garden where volunteers grow food organically to be distributed to shelters. We are in the Chicago area and so have pretty extreme winters. It's a fairly large operation with about 10 raised beds, I'm guessing each easily 15' X 4'. Currently everything is planted in organic compost donated by a local company.

They have a 3 bin compost system (made with cedar wood and chicken wire. Each bin is about 4X4X4) Essentially, it was used only as a pace to throw trimmings and plants at the end of the season and not really set up to compost.

My plan is to collect leaves in the Fall, rent a shredder and blow that into a 3 sided cinder block enclosure. Also. In the Fall I would start brown/green layered piles, mostly using the discarded pants but supplementing with coffee grounds and brewery waste to get it going. In the Spring I would resume layering and continue until the late Summer and then use the compost to enhance soil in a few of the beds which would then be planted in the following Spring. Our goals would be to keep the garden waste out of a landfill and to teach the community about composting.

Does this timing and methodology make sense? Appreciate any suggestions.

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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

You are currently composting. It's a cold pile, but they happen. The question is whether or not it is going to be worth the expense/work/organization to replace that with a hot pile.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 6:11PM
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Derffie

Thanks. I've sorted through what we have and started to form layers of browns and greens augmenting with a bit of compost starter and blood meal. Last I checked, the temperature was about 120 degrees.

What confuses me the most is the timing cycle for compost. That is, typically is one making compost to be used the next year? This would seem to be the case for folks living in cold climates like ours where, I assume, composting becomes pert near dormant during the winter.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:14AM
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davids10 z7a nv.

at 120 you can certainly use the compost this year. there is a lot of evidence that half finished compost increases soil bioactivity. i think people make too much of a big deal-a big mystery-of compost. years ago rodale had endless recipes for different composts, when they were blind analysed they were found to be pretty much all the same. all leaf piles will pack whether you grind or not, you might want to just layer with regular garden stuff-remember:composting is a natural process all we do is speed it up.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 12:45PM
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Derffie

Thanks davids10. Actually up to 130 today. We keep adding to our piles. Is the endpoint then when the compost looks good, ie., blackish with no identifiable kitchen/garden scraps?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 3:01PM
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davids10 z7a nv.

i make compost when i do fall and spring garden cleanup- some of the fall heaps goes down as winter mulch the rest i spread in the spring to make room for the new heap. i run a very hot heap160-170 and turn it every couple of days so its ready in about 3 weeks-but if i need some im not too particular about how finished it is-so yes use it when it darkens up-if your soil is active it will finish the process within days of your spreading or digging the compost

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 3:56AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

In our area of the world compost started in the fall will not be ready to spread before winter sets in, but it will continue being digested all winter and can be ready for use in the spring. The process can slow down as temperatures decrease, so when in the spring the compost will be ready depends, somewhat, on the winter temperatures.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 6:14AM
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lazy_gardens

"That is, typically is one making compost to be used the next year?"

Yes, or even a couple of years down the road, unless you have one of those hot piles and like turning piles.

" This would seem to be the case for folks living in cold climates like ours where, I assume, composting becomes pert near dormant during the winter."

No, it continues, but the "psychrophiles" (cold-preferring) organisms take over. And the freeze-thaw cycles.

By spring you should have usable compost.

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"In the Fall I would start brown/green layered piles, mostly using the discarded plants but supplementing with coffee grounds and brewery waste to get it going. In the Spring I would resume layering and continue until the late Summer and then use the compost to enhance soil in a few of the beds which would then be planted in the following Spring."

Way too much work, and you would be teaching the community that composting is hard work and requires exotic materials.

You don't need anything to "get it going" ... all you need is organic material and moisture. The bacteria and fungi are all over the garden.

I would show them various kinds of composting ... do a couple of "lasagna" beds in the fall, do some trench composting in a couple of others during the growing season, do a "hot pile with lots of turning" in a couple of bins, do a layered pile, and a "cold pile that sits there until next spring" bin.

Show them that it ALL works, it mostly depends on how fast you want it and how much space is available for the bins.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 10:35AM
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toxcrusadr

With that much of a garden I would use a continuous batch process. Have several piles or bins (maybe 3). When the first bin gets too full to add more, TURN it into the 2d space, and start over in #1. The turning gives you a chance to check moisture and will mix up those layers. When #1 is full again, turn both. The last bin will be finished compost and new stuff always goes into #1. If you make the bins progressively smaller it will accomodate the shrinkage, but not required.

This is the best way I know to have ready to use compost continuously, and it will be easy for the gardeners to use, because new stuff always goes into the same bin.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 12:28PM
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glib(5.5)

If you have the manpower, pile the trash, then bury it in one bed at the end of season. It will nourish and till the soil far more than all the operation you are doing.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 5:49PM
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