Apples in compost

lovestogrow(6)September 5, 2012

My uncle has about 85 apples trees that are loaded with apples. He does not spray or prune the trees, just picks the apples for friends and family and gives them away. There are literally thousands of apples on the ground now from some storms we got here in southern Illinois. Thankfully along with over 4 inches of rain this past week. What would be the best way to go about using these for composting?

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How much compost do you make now? How large is your composting area? Do you have family or friends that could use the apples as livestock feed?

If you have a lot of space to place piles (away from homes) and a source for material that is going to go to waste if you do not grab it right away, just placing the material in a pile to cold compost or to wait until you have need of it is IMHO a good idea. If you have the room don't limit your composting to a very small area for no reason (people do this for gardens too).

I think that the best composting use for the material would be to help to compost the fall leaves that will be coming soon.

I personally would run the apples through a goat or a chicken before composting (they would have to be introduced into the diet gradually). - Actually, if I had that many apples I would make my first batch of hard apple cider! If that was not an option then I would try for apple cider vinegar - both good projects for the winter - especially if you are in a very cold climate- energy free slaking.

Hope this helps. Best of luck to you!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 5:48AM
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You'll definitely need some dry browns to go with those, since they are relatively high in both nitrogen and water. Layer or mix them with leaves, shredded wood or paper, sawdust, straw, etc. Should make some great compost.

If the piles are big enough to get hot, it should help kill off some of the worms that would otherwise procreate to infest next year's crop.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 3:24PM
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I am lucky to have access to truckloads of shredded leaves also. So the browns will not be a problem. Along with the apples I was wondering if that would be enough to make good compost.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 3:32PM
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You could do as I do/have done, put them in the ground.

I have found that apples can take a long time to break down.
I bury them eight inch to a foot deep and have found, if buried to green, even after being under-ground through a hard freezing winter, some can still be hard and crispy in the spring.
This year I have buried at least three bushels in the garden but left the holes open for weeks for the heat to soften the apples first, plus I buried cut apples and other kitchen scraps with them to hasten their breaking down.
If you have thousands of apples to use, you will find that you do not have a compost bin big enough to compost them.
One of my two bins is four by four by four and had I put them in there it would be at least one-half full from the ground up.

These apples came from just ONE tree.

I have been burying apples for years and they make wonderful garden soil, especially for roses, just put in the ground.

Sadly our seventy plus year old apple tree snapped off in a storm this summer, probably from old age as the wood showed no disease, so no more apples till the sucker tree that I left grow eight years ago is big enough for apples.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 5:45PM
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I am thinking about mashing the apples first, would this help them?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 4:02PM
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I would mash, squash, or cut them into slices before mixing with leaves or other material. Otherwise they would likely take a long time to break down, and would form wet clumps.

Burying in a hole or trench would be an easy way to save time and effort.

For a few years I had a access to a grocery dumpster, and piled 500 pounds of veggies in my hatchback. But it was too much work cut it all up when I liked hot composting.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Mashing would make them break down the fastest, but would be an awful lot of work for compost. You could just whack them with the back of a shovel to break open the skins, or chop with a machete. This usually speeds things up quite a bit and is very quick and easy.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 4:23PM
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Actually I was thinking of using a shovel and just giving them a whack. After posting I thought that mashing was the wrong word to use. I just hope I can get the apples balanced with the leaves so they will compost ok.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 7:06PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

lovestogrow, I'm very much into using what's around and I say you can absolutely make compost with apples and leaves, although the more ingredients the better the compost, in my opinion.
I'd highly recommend making a batch of cider vinegar. My method's really crude, but effective: that shovel you mentioned...flatten enough apples to 3/4 fill a food-safe 44 gallon drum in the shade of an apple tree, top up with water, loosely cover if you feel like it, ignore for a long time.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 6:15AM
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Making cider vinegar sounds pretty cool but tell me what I would do with that many gallons of it?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 4:18PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I use vinegar for cleaning pretty much everything. Best glass-cleaner around.
It's very good for the inside and outside of animals, including birds, dogs, people...
A hot drink made with cider vinegar, honey and ginger is not only tasty, it's really soothing if you're sick and will arguably speed up recovery.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 12:31AM
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I would like to hear more about the recipe for the drink you were talking about. Also a bit more on how long you let the apples and water sit etc. This has me thinking I really want to try this. I am also going to use them for the compost also, I can't see just letting them drop to the ground when they would be good for the compost pile.

Any other comments are still welcome on the use for the apples. If anyone ha recipe for hard apple cider or just plain cider, I would appreciate that too.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 2:09AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I'm happy to take the thread off topic if you are LTG!
Cider vinegar is traditionally made by fermenting apple juice in a vessel that allows oxygen (and vinegar flies) in; pretty much the opposite of making hard cider.
Juicing a quantity of apples is quite a drama, and something I save for making cider.
I've had good results using unwashed windfall apples, roughly cut up with a cleaver and tossed in a foodsafe barrel. Your shovel idea sounds waaay better, although I think a spade would be an even better apple-basher.
Just cover the apples with water, drape an old net curtain over the mix and leave.
It's not a fast process... I'd say a couple of months, minimum. The vinegar will develop a 'mother', a rather freaky-looking translucent-ish floating plug. It's part of the process and I just dig a jug under it.
You can keep the same barrel going for years, just sift out the old apples at harvest time and throw in a new, squashed batch and top up with water.
The drink quantities are very dependent on individual taste and the vinegar's strength, but it's basically grated fresh ginger, honey and vinegar to taste. Lemons are a good alternative to vinegar.
Cider vinegar is apparently excellent for people with circulatory problems.
I use it a lot for cooking, especially vinaigrette.
And I'd definitely try to put apples you're not using for food in the compost: apples left on the ground can increase disease and pest problems.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 1:23AM
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Lol well it was my thread so I figured it would be ok.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 3:41AM
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Earlier this year I read a post on another forum - sorry, I don't have the link - by a guy who composts horse and cow carcasses in big farmyard-sized compost piles. He said that in about 6-8 months, there's nothing left but hooves and bones. You can compost ANYTHING organic under the right conditions, and if you're willing to wait. I'd suspect that mashed apples would attract critters, but other than that, I'd go for it. As long as you have the space and time, there's nothing to lose.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:32PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Apples do not take a long time, if you are hot composting, but it can help to poke them to allow the bacteria to go in. You can crush them, a lot of work, or just poke them with a knife. If they are not rotten to begin with and not poked, they will take a while.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:33PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Cornell has some connections with something called Farm Services which composts, among other things, orchard waste. It appears one may have to contact them to get more details.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 1:01PM
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Does the vinegar have to be pasteurized before use? I tried to make some once with some cider that sat in the fridge too long. Left it out on the counter with cheesecloth over it for a week or two. I tasted it, and it tasted like vinegar, and I barfed an hour later. Pretty sure something other than acetobacter was living in there.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 1:13PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I put moldy stuff in all the time, it's good for the compost, the more spoiled the better.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:32AM
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I agree with RpR, I'd bury them. I'm sure you don't have a rodent-proof aerobic compost system that will handle fruit from 85 trees.

I'd bury them in a series of parallel trenches that are about 3' wide and 3' deep. Dig one trench, set the soil to one side, fill with apples (preferably alternating apples/leaves, but even fruit alone would be OK, IMO), then dig another trench adjacent to the 1st trench and about a foot away, piling the soil on top of the 1st trench, and repeat this until you run out of apples. The soil backfilled over the apples will prevent rodent or insect problems. Try not to walk, use heavy equipment, or otherwise compact the area while they're composting. I would cover the top with mulch, if possible (leaves or arborist wood chips would be perfect), to maintain soil moisture. In 6-12 months, after the mounds of soil have settled, I'd plant a deep-rooting green manure crop over the top.

I wouldn't go to the trouble of crushing them but piercing the skin would definitely speed things up. Should make great soil after the worms have done their magic.

Some gardeners would argue that burying green waste causes anaerobic decomposition and generates methane, a greenhouse gas. I would agree but I don't know of any alternative or how to quantify the problem, e.g., how much methane. I think that commercial vermicomposting operations also produce methane.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 4:34PM
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Well I am not going to use all the apples from 85 trees, just the apples that are left or what I am willing to pick up. It sounds like it might be a good idea to dig the trenches but I am wondering why dig them 3 ft deep? Wouldn't it be better to dig about 18 inches them fill them to about 6 inches from the top then cover with dirt?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 11:45PM
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We've only got 2 trees remaining from a mixed orchard that was mature in the early 1950's. 1 is a Duchess apple tree. A number of years when my mom was the sole resident here and she was older, the fruit would all or mostly rot where it fell. The yellow jackets had a field day and a fallen apple was gone in less than 2 weeks. Now 85 trees might tax those little bee tummies but I'd think just leaving them exposed for a couple weeks (the fallen apples - not the bee tummies :-)) would really get the rotting process kicked into high gear.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 11:56PM
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@lovestogrow, you could go down only 18 inches. I suppose it depends on how much area you have available for this, the number of apples, and your tolerance for digging. I said 3' because that gets organic matter down in the zone of most of the food crops that I would normally grow (I've dug out roots of grapes and small fruit trees at that depth). But I wouldn't argue with a 2' trench either. I would fill them all the way to the top since you'll be putting plenty of soil over them.

@theresamh, I agree that leaving them on the ground starts the rotting process, but it also attracts insects and rodents. In my area that means houseflies and rats, both of which I try to avoid.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 12:53AM
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I have left the apples on the ground and even mowed over them to help slice them but at time when I raked them and put them in a wheel barrow, I was surrounded by wasps.

Now they left me alone but those who have fear of having dozens swarming around them might have a problem.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Just piecing and adding to the bin is as good as being on the ground or better. I added some last month, and I they are almost all finished, only the less rotten ones remain and if I squeeze them they fall apart in my gloved hand.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 9:35PM
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Would a local food bank be able to send volunteers out to scavenge them? Phoenix hyas something called "Local Harvest" - a group that will come pick your overloaded citrus trees for local food banks.

If you know anyone with cows or sheep, turn them loose in the orchard to eat the windfall apples.

And while you are gathering them, watch out for bears. They will gorge themselves on apples in the fall. (if shot after they have fattened on apples, they are very tasty.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 7:24AM
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If you've got the truck, why not wrap the apples in a tarp (loosely) and drive over them a few times first? This will dramatically increase the compost speed.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 7:39AM
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I second the idea of mashing them or just driving over them first. If small kids are available, have them jump up and down on a tarp full of apples. Last year I put out a trash can marked 'Recycle Pumpkins can'. Then got out a large tarp and told the neighborhood kids to throw them up in the air and have them land on the tarp. Saved me some work cutting them up.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 4:36PM
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