Want to Start Composting - Have Questions

Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 fAugust 21, 2013

Hello,

I am new to this forum and have been researching composting. I live in Las Vegas and my sandy soil is void the adequate levels of organics. Adding compost once or twice per year is required. I thought, why not begin using my kitchen waste to create compost? The thought has crossed my mind previously, but here are my issues that I would like to overcome:

1. My garden is small, so based upon my research those duo models and large tumbling models will not fit into the space that remains in my garden.

2. I would like a composting device that can produce compost in 4 - 6 months. It seems that having a spinning or tumbling unit factors into how quickly useable compost is created?

3. I would like a unit that keeps as many crawling critters/bugs out as possible.

4. I do not know where to start in making compost. I know that rinsed egg shells, banana peels, vegetable remnants can be used to make compost, but it seem like it would just turn into some weird liquid like sludge.

5. I checked H.D. and it is the big box store that I will likely purchase from.

6. I grow a lot of roses, lavender, lantana, rosemary, thyme ( as shrubs), have an herb and small veggie garden.

Any advice or suggestions you can provide will be highly appreciated. The closest I have been to any compost machines are the ones being sold in Home D.

Thank you,

Lynn

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lisanti07028(z6NJ)

Here is the link to the Brief intro to composting from the FAQs - most of your questions are answered here.

The problem I see is that if all you are using in your bin are scraps from your kitchen, you are not going to end up with a goodly amount of compost unless you are preparing food for an army.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brief Intro To Compost

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 9:33PM
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sunnyside1(z6/SW Mo.)

Las Vegas -- can you get hold of old palm fronds (for browns) -- use torn up cardboard (browns), even torn newsprint, shredded paper -- don't get in a hurry, because it all breaks down, eventually. I predict that once the Compost Bug really bites you, you will be as squirrely as the rest of us -- and it's really fun and like making a good pot of stew. Try to keep the proportions of greens/browns in your favor and you will have good results. And don't forget to water it to keep it like a "wrung-out-sponge." Check out the Compost Tutorial -- let us know how it works out.
Sunny

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 11:11PM
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florauk(8/9)

How small is 'small'? Maybe trench composting would suit you better? That said I have a compost bin in my tiny back yard approx 15 x 20 feet.

Like the ads say 'Just do it'. Don't waste composting time or materials while you research, that can be done as you go along.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 6:07AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The web site linked below is the best composting tutorial I have found.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 6:27AM
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TXEB(9a)

If you want a smallish bin that will work, the Soil Saver Classic, available from Amazon for under $80 is pretty decent - it has a 28" square footprint.

Just be sure to have a useable source of brown material to go along with your kitchen scraps. Otherwise you stand to end up with a stinky, wet, gooey mess. See the references others have provided above, follow the guidelines, and you should be set to go.

This post was edited by TXEB on Thu, Aug 22, 13 at 21:19

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 9:26AM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

The biggest difficulty with composting in the desert is moisture. You can add water but that probably is not a wise use of a limited resource (unless you use graywater). I think for your situation, trench composting (or digging a hole near the plants and adding the kitchen scraps) is likely your best best since you have a small garden as well.

Another option would be to consider worms. You can have a small bin in your garage to deal with the kitchen scraps. This will not produce enough compost for all your needs but the quality is very, very good.

This post was edited by tishtoshnm on Thu, Aug 22, 13 at 11:10

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 11:09AM
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luckygal(3b)

I agree with the above posters who suggested trench composting. I first used this 30 years ago when I had a small garden with poor soil. Every day we buried the accumulation of kitchen scraps (fruit and veggie peels, etc) between plants and within 3 years the soil throughout the garden was rich and dark. It's so much easier than making a compost pile/bin and a method I have used this year exclusively in my much larger garden. Just dig a fresh hole each day, bury, and cover. Move shovel to next space so you know where to dig next time.

BTW I have never rinsed an eggshell. Is that recommended somewhere?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 8:14PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

Hi,

I am thinking that the compost bin will be 60 - 75 gallons and no more than about 3 feet wide and two feet deep. I prefer the more upright bins as I can accommodate the size better.

Composting in the ground has not been considered because I do not want bugs to find a way into my home. The area for the compost bin would be near my home.

Items that I can think, also suggested by members, that I can put in a compost bin except for food (veggie and fruit scraps) are palm tree fronds. I can get the gardeners to bag up the leaves they dispose of. I have a lot of computer paper and letters that are to be shred, but I do not know if these statements and letters can go into a compost bin. I do not have lawn so there are no grass clippings. I also have access to a lot of coffee grounds. We drink three cups per day and the local Starbucks bags their grounds for customers.

My biggest concerns is getting the right mix to result in good compost, and the bug issue once I find the most low maintenance, small , but quickly yielding compost bin. Am I being unrealistic?

I forgot to mention that i live in suburbia ( master planned suburbia)...

Lynn

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 8:22PM
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TXEB(9a)

Before you add eggshells, check your soil for calcium levels. Eggshells can be added to compost, but they don't really add anything for the process. They are essentially crystalline calcium carbonate. If your soils are already high in calcium, you'll probably want to leave the eggshells out of the compost.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 9:23PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The lack of rainfall that Nevada experiences means the soils will usually be somewhat alkaline, but unless you will be adding several hundred pounds of egg shells they will not be of much concern. Some people think that rinsing egg shells before composting them will eliminate the potential disease pathogens that egg shells can carry. Since the composting proves will do that there is no real reason to rinse them.
Paper can be used in the compost but many of us prefer to stay away from paper that has been printed by a computer or copy machine because those inks are not very environmentally friendly.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 6:24AM
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florauk(8/9)

"Composting in the ground has not been considered because I do not want bugs to find a way into my home ..."

I'm not sure that argument holds up. Firstly, you would be burying the material in trench composting and you would be opening up a new hole regularly. So there will not be large amounts of material in any one spot. Secondly what 'bugs' do you think compost will attract? Thirdly, why would 'bugs' that are attracted to compost go into your home ? Fourthly, if the compost bin is going to be near the house then any 'bugs' will be there just the same.

Finally - those leaves the gardeners are taking away are invaluable to your garden. By removing them the organic matter in the garden is being constantly depleted.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 9:50AM
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toxcrusadr

Lots of good advice here. I'll just add:

Most people find the tumblers are expensive and not that easy to maintain and get good compost out of.

Speed is governed by the green/brown balance + moisture + how often you turn it, much more than the container you use.

Insects and microbes will be part of your compost pile as they are already part of your yard. Maintain it well - cover food waste with browns each time and make sure it doesn't get too wet - and don't locate it right under the kitchen window. Don't be afraid of nature's cleanup crew. It'll be fine.

This post was edited by toxcrusadr on Mon, Aug 26, 13 at 10:47

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 12:22PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

Florauk,

Because a lot of Las Vegas was developed in the last couple of decades, and my current home is in a master planned development that began 8 years ago; there were so many bugs etc. here before we arrived. Most homeowners spray for bugs, it is a part of the process. The bugs literally would take over if we did not. I had dug a hole and placed a five gallon nursery pot in the hole. When I removed the nursery pot, bugs etc. galore were under it. Water bug, crickets, bugs that look like cock roaches, spider, earwigs etc. and more than I cannot identify inhabit the soil and my yard. I do not want to create a party or a place for them to reproduce and thrive by planting food in my soil. I do like the concept of just dig a hole and put it in the ground, or planter bed that is away from the house, but the bug issue is a concern. I am new to the idea composting overall.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 7:51PM
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TXEB(9a)

DG - if you have the space, trench-composting is probably less bug prone than an above-ground pile, even in an enclosed bin. From what you posted previously about space, that ma be the greater consideration. However, if you can make it work, and you are willing to do the regular dig and cover routine, it can be a very neat way to go.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 8:37PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

How does one trench compost? I have placed bananas in the soil; actually for the first time today, and I placed them down about 4', but what else goes in the soil. I have a raised planter bed made of sand that I have been adding compost and other organics to for about two years. This is where I would start. It is also running along the perimeter of my house and not next to it.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 11:18PM
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TXEB(9a)

Here's a pretty thorough overview, with options (link below).

Here is a link that might be useful: Trench Composting

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 11:31PM
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barb333(5)

To: desertgarden. those "bugs" you speak of are a natural part of your and Earths environment and are essential to soil health and your ultimate existence.. They were under your container because it was moist and dark, and they were doing their jobs as Earths keepers. Appreciate your natural world and do not fight it, as you will lose the battle.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 1:40AM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

Barb333,

We fight it because we have black widow spiders, brown recluse, in some areas scorpions. My neighbors just changed their spraying service after going out finding more black widows than would be tolerable, if any are, when you have a 2 year old who plays in the yard and an elderly mother who often visits for prolonged time periods. In a previous house, newer development too, we could not use our pool at night because we wouldn't make it there without stepping on a cricket with bare feet. They thinned out or re populated the vast areas of desert that still remain were they can thrive. Unfortunately some beneficials are collateral damage. I am glad there are vast areas and specific conservation that remain so all in nature can live in its natural habitat as undisturbed as possible, but some things I do not want in my garden.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 8:22AM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

TXEB,

Thank you for the link. I believe I am going o give it a try.

Lynn

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 8:27AM
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TXEB(9a)

DG - if you're on the TX side, El Paso County, you might want to talk with the County Extension folks (link below), There is also an El Paso Master Gardeners program to which they can connect you ( http://txmg.org/elpaso/ ). If you're on the other side of the line, there may be similar programs from NM. They are usually a very good resource to tap into (both for growing things and for managing pests).

Here is a link that might be useful: TAMU Extension in El Paso

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 8:31AM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

TXEB,

I am in Las Vegas, NV, but we have a decent County Extension. I am going to give them a call.

Thx

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:44AM
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TXEB(9a)

Doh! I confused you with another who is wrestling with a new garden in the desert conditions around El Paso. Sorry for my error (apparently not enough coffee, yet). But, a good step on your part.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:47AM
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lazy_gardens

Composting in the ground has not been considered because I do not want bugs to find a way into my home. The area for the compost bin would be near my home.

If the kitchen scraps are buried next to the plants, or between the rows of your vegetable garden ... the bugs will not be attracted to your house. A compost bin will attract "bugs" that will in turn attract predators.

Trench composting is the fastest way to handle small quantities of mostly "greens".

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 11:18AM
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luckygal(3b)

I have placed bananas in the soil; actually for the first time today, and I placed them down about 4'

Do you *really* mean 4 feet? If so it's not necessary to bury things that deep! I only bury things a shovel depth at most. In part of my garden where the soil is the natural heavy clay I have only raked back the mulch, placed the peelings on top of the soil, and covered with the mulch. The advantage of trench composting is that it feeds the worms and they tunnel thru the soil and leave their castings which greatly enriches and lightens the soil.

Banana peels are very good to bury near roses as they contain potassium which roses require.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 4:33PM
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TXEB(9a)

...but unless you will be adding several hundred pounds of egg shells they will not be of much concern

Just for grins, I did the math. The shells of 1 doz. large eggs per week taken over a year amounts to ~ 9 lbs of crystalline calcium carbonate (7 grams per shell, 94% calcium carbonate), which is a variation of lime. Basically adding eggshells to compost is the equivalent of adding lime in the same amount.

Whether that's a concern or not should be based upon the the pH of your existing soil, the need for lime on your existing soil, and the area over which any compost with egg shells would be spread.

If you need to raise the pH of your soils, then adding eggshells via compost might make sense. At a maximum recommended application rate of 50 lbs of lime per 1,000 sq. feet per year, compost made with eggshells at a rate of 1 doz large shells per week should be spread over not less than ~200 sq ft.

My situation, which is common in much of TX and the western U.S., is such that I don't want even a single eggshell in my compost. I have alkaline soils (pH 7.8-8.0), and high calcium levels (~5,500 ppm) to begin with. Adding eggshells will only make a challenging situation worse. As I have learned, know what's in your soil before you add anything to it. Then, know what you are adding.

This post was edited by TXEB on Sat, Aug 24, 13 at 21:16

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 5:29PM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

Luck gal,

Oops, I meant 4". Oh my, a 4 ft. Hole here would likely lead to caliche.

Lynn

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 12:33AM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

TXEB,

Thank you so much for the egg shell information. My soil pH 7.8 so egg shells will not go in my yard.

Lynn

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 12:40AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

TXEB, I think your calculations are in error. There has not been a soil scientist I have talked with in the last 45 years that supports applying 50 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet per year since that will do little to nothing to change a soils pH. How much depends a great deal on what yuour soil type is and other factors so a broad general statement about quantity cannot be made. People do that every year and wonder why their soils pH does not change and it is because they have not added enough nor have given the lime enough time to do its job.
Even though I crush the egg shells I put into my compost I still find bits of shell 6 months to a year later as I move that compost around. They are tough and do not get digested very easily so any Calcium they do have is not all that available to the Soil Food Web.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 6:57AM
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TXEB(9a)

kimm I believe the calculation is correct. Let's try it slowly:

Average large egg shell = 7 grams.
12 shells per week = 7 x 12 = 84 grams per week
52 weeks per year = 52 x 84 = 4,368 grams per year
Eggshell composition is 94% calcium carbonate or lime (CaCO3)
4,368 x0.94 = 4,105 grams CaCO3
4,105 grams = 9.04 lbs CaCO3

Please tell me, kimm, where is the calculation wrong?

Now, for application rate of lime, many soil authoritarians recommend a limit on lime application of 50 lbs/1,000 sq ft for residential applications, and no more than one application per year, unless the current pH indicates a need for more than 100 lbs per 1,000 sq feet. When current conditions indicate a need of more than 100 lbs per 1,000 sq feet, then up to half of the amount indicated may be applied in the first year alone. Subsequent years should be limited to the 50 lb per 1000 rate, or less. The reason behind the recommendations is because, as you indicate, it is slow acting and it is easy to overshoot and end up adversely affecting pH in the alkaline direction. Also, as you suggest, the rate of availability will be strongly influenced by the particle size. But don't take my word for it, how about that of the Ohio State University, linked below. MSU also recommends a limit of 50 lbs per 1,000 sq feet per year on residential lawns.

edit added - Different soil authorities will allow for different maximal rates for lime applications. Some will allow for as much as 100 lb per 1000 sq ft per year, but not more than 50lbs/1000 sq ft per application. Regardless of the varied maximal liming recommendations that may exist, the point was to know what you're putting in your compost, and in turn your soil (1 doz eggshells per week equals 9 lbs of lime per year), and make sure that's what you want. kimmsr, is there any part of that with which you disagree?

There is nothing wrong with using eggshells, provided that you want the lime they bring. I don't, and there are many others in the U.S. who are in the same position as me.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lime and the Home Lawn

This post was edited by TXEB on Mon, Aug 26, 13 at 11:17

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:07AM
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toxcrusadr

I hear a lot of questions (here and at composting workshops) about attracting bugs. There's no simple answer. There were bugs there before humans moved in, and you may indeed see more of them around the compost. Is this because they were already there and simply find it a good place to hang out (and eat), or is the extra food leading to a higher population? Probably a little of both.

I'm of the opinion that shutting out nature is an impossible task, so we have to work with it as best we can. Every situation is different.

The desert is a harsh environment and a pile of food waste is probably an oasis for insects. Burial would limit the access - harder to get to and not all insects are diggers. If you're really concerned about insects I would go that route.

I lived in Albuquerque and I really hate those huge camel crickets. But they never bothered me in the yard, only in the bathtub at 11 pm. :-D

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 10:57AM
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Desertgarden- NW Las Vegas Z9a @ 2300 f

I am thinking of digging a 12" hole and burying waste systematically in my yard. Are browns and greens still required or just greens and all the coffee I have?

Lynn

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 12:41AM
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TXEB(9a)

If you bury it in a trench, added brown are not needed. Just the greens from the kitchen.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 2:43AM
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rev477

I'm a Master Gardener who is passionate about Composting who has also solved the "bug" issue using Permaculture methods (which have been replacing my traditional gardening methods). Every critter has a very important job to do. Our poor attitudes are what are causing their population growth. If they get what they need: Water, food, shelter their numbers don't grow. I had an ant problem in the house & instead of poisoning them & my family I gave them what they needed. I left some agave i was going to throw away outside. They never came back in. They only come looking inside when they can't get what they need outside. If your garden is in harmony with nature (most aren't) critters won't have to show you how out of balance you are. Mother Nature has a wisdom way beyond our understanding.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 3:56PM
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robertz6

My suggestion would be to take your time in considering a compost method. I find the biggest mistake in composting, people get in a hurry and become disillusioned.

That happened to me in the beginning. Wanted to grow tomatoes, knew nothing. Bought a plastic bin for $65, nothing special. Bought a tumbler, lots of work for the modest amount of compost.

Only on my third try did I get the right method for me
I've also noticed a tendency for people to recommend their method of compost, even when it might not be the right choice for the OP.

A cheap, DIY, mesh bin works great for me. I have two 4'by8' by 24 to 30" high. Holds lots of compost, holds lots of leaves for the future. Big enough for hot composting if I wish to make hot compost. I use 1/4" mesh hardware cloth, takes 5 minutes to put up. The tumbler took me 3 hours to assemble.

The first question or two I would ask the OP (the OP never provides enough info for a proper opinion IMHO, sorry, but true)

1) Why do you want to compost?
2) How much compost do you think you'll need?
3) What are your available material? i.e. Do you have leaves?

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 6:17PM
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