First compost.. couple questions

ongodsmountainDecember 7, 2011


I just put together a composting box yesterday afternoon so that I can start taking advantage of all the good garbage and what not I've been throwing out...

Basically it's just a box made from stacked cinder blocks, two rows high 4'x4' with a cinder block cap on it.. I set it up under a stand of doug and white fir trees, where there is a good bed of fauna and the snow doesn't get so deep... I put a 4' x 4'sheet of 3/4" OSB subfloor sheathing on top..

I threw about a half a bucket (5G) of sawdust in there,a bit of ashes, and then dumped a bucket full of spent brewers grain and some hops, then a couple hand fulls of oak leaves and covered it with a bag of steer manure...

I have a 5G bucket in the house I've been building up for about a month that is made of some brewers grains, coffee grounds, some vegetable scraps, shredded coffee filters, diced apples and potatoes, sawdust, dog hair, lint, a little bit of ashes, etc.. It's been getting worked through with a couple hundred earth worms that I saved from the dirt when I dug a new flower garden at a customers house...

I've been reading the rodale book of composting and it says that peanut shells are a good addition to the pile.. But I buy salted peanuts in the shell and salted pistachios.. The book doesn't mention if the salted kind are a problem or not..... Is it safe to use the salted shells, or should I just burn them in the fireplace? Or can I use them if I rinse them first?

Secondly, we've been having a very nice December here in the mountains of nor cal...daytime sunny and reaching up to the lower fifties and upper forties, with overnight lows in the upper twenties.. no snow, ground mostly dry on the surface.. looks to be like that for the next week or more anyways.. If I add that bucket of compost I have in the house with all the earthworms in it, will they survive? Or is it too cold at this point to add them to the pile?

Next, do I need to insulate the compost pile in any way? I was thinking maybe I should pile up some oak leaves around the outside of the compost box and then if necessary buy a bale of hay or two and spread it around on top of the leaves.. Is that necessary? Winter temps are generally in the teens to thirties during the day, and single digits to teens at night...

Ideally, I'd like to use the compost this next spring/summer, so is there anything I need to do to make sure it is working as hard as it needs to be to be ready then?

Any other tips?



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compogardenermn(4- Twin Cities, MN)

First of all, that is a great book- I own it too! I wouldn't worry too much about the peanut or pistachio shells (unless all you eat is salted peanuts or pistachios!) I throw them in my bins. I live in Minnesota so my piles are usually pretty frozen in winter which is no big deal- I just keep tossing stuff in and by early spring when my bins are full they unthaw and start cooking, I turn them a handful of times and have a finished product! I pile up leaves on the N,NE and NW sides of my bins (with the south sides exposed to the sun) to insulate mine. It seems to get things going sooner in the spring.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 2:43PM
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I don't know the nature of your fir tree roots but when I tried to compost (cold) under red maples the tree roots got more of the compost than I did. Put HD sheets of plastic under compost bins and problem solved.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 5:41AM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

I agree with all above. Throw the shells in and they'll be fine. Ditto with the roots coming up into the compost pile if it's too close to the trees. At least that's what happened to me when mine was to close to a shrub. Made it really hard to turn the pile.

About the worms...I would put them back as soon as I could so they can get to the level of the soil that they need to survive for the winter. All worms are not created equal.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 8:09AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I was going to mention the worms too: generally, eathworms won't live in compost and compost worms won't live in earth. although I've got so much compost/mulch on my soil that the compost worms are thriving there.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 11:04PM
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I have never insulated my compost piles here and have not had them freeze uo except when I made them too wet and the temperatures stayed down near zero for weeks. The outside material will provide some insulation even if your average temperatures drop into the single digits for several weeks.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 6:46AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I think you have red worm/compost worms in your soil, you have too much compost in your soil for the average plant.
I love lots of compost, but there can be too much a good thing.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 11:49AM
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Worms will come to your pile if conditions are right. When I add vermicomposting to my outside composting, I'll try adding a few worms to a cold pile when I have extras.

I have two Rodale books with the same title. One from the 1950's and one from the 1970's. Quite a few changes over the years looking at the same subject for each book.

In most climates, just make the pile the right size and forget the insulation. I have two 4'deep by 8' wide by 2' high piles, and they have been between 100F and 145f for six weeks. Of course when someone gives temps they have a compost thermometer and are citing the center or core, which is the highest temp in the pile. I'm in zone 6.

If I lived in Alaska, or cold parts of Canada, maybe my bin would be bales of straw (for insulation) instead of just hardware cloth.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 1:50PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Sorry OP, hijacking alert...tropical_thought, are you replying to my post? I've tried to find info about any issues with compost worms in the garden, but nothing.
I added an inch or so of worm-filled unfinished compost, as it seems to hold moisture better in my sandy soil. I also mulched very thickly with pea straw/grass clippings. I'm assuming once the worms have broken down the compost they'll die off. The plants are fine and a recent soil test good.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 2:36AM
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Worms require a pretty moist environment, one that is too moist for the bacteria that normally digest organic matter to do that. Many times I have found some earthworms in soils with little organic matter, usually curled up and dormant, and adding enough organic matter will reactivate them just as it will the rest of the Soil Food Web.
It should take quite some time for tree roots to move into your compost, it is not something that will happen overnight, so more than likely your compost will be finished and moved before that will happen. Where I have seen tree roots invading compost that compost pile has been there for much more htan a year.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 7:20AM
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Good to hear that the tree root thing takes some time.. Because I certainly don't plan on moving it all this winter...

How do I tell if I've got the right blends of stuff going into the compost pile? Or is it really that critical? Do I just throw all the compostable stuff I have in there mix it up every week or so and not worry about it, or is there danger of overdoing or under doing certain things?

I'll probably be throwing a 5 gallon bucket of wet brewers grain in there every 3-4 weeks, plus some wet hops... the next things I have in large amounts are sawdust (but I'll probably just use that to the degree to needed to control moisture content.. I have one 2 dollar bag of steer manure mixed in with it all now, and have two more at the ready throughout the season... I have two dogs, that shed some hair, almost never use up all the potatoes in the five pound bags I buy before they start going bad.. Often have two or three left over tomatoes every other week, cilatro stalks, lettuce never gets finished before it goes bad.. onion skins and ends.. cucumber skins, broccoli stems and ends, etc... egg shells, the aforementioned peanut and pistachio shells, daily coffee grains, I dry out and cut up the coffee filters from each mornings coffee.. I have lots of fireplace ash, but I understand that is to be used minimally... There's tons of pine, cedar and fir bark on and off the property.. lots of black oak leaves.. small pine cones, and a whole forest full of stuff on the ground out my back gate...

I was thinking of buying a bale of straw, and adding some of that from time to time... I have tons of junk mail that comes, and a shredder...

Do I just kinda throw that all in there as it comes, or what?

I'm hoping I don't have to get too scientific about it all...

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 11:53AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Sawdust is a super-brown and would be good to blend in with your brewer's grain which is high in nitrogen. And to layer with regular additions of kitchen waste.

It's hard to go wrong with a range of different ingredients.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 12:01PM
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How important is 'layering?' The initial ingredients (including a bag of manure) are all turned and mixed up together..

Should I not do that and just layer stuff? Or is turning good?

The book is slow reading, and I haven't got to the nuts and bolts how to stuff yet.. just getting through all the 'fundamentals' (ie The science and the descriptions of the ingredients)...

Read a little each morning on the 'throne' and just about to start the chapter on manure (half way through the book).. but winter is here and I needed to get started...

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 10:46AM
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Important? Not sure if it is important. It's a handy way to keep on top of ratios. Mixing is the ultimate for composting so tumblers can be good. If a person layers and uses one of those wing-dinger things the stuff gets mixed not too bad as well. Getting out the old fork and tearing down a pile works and gives a person a nice workout (for sure a win-win). A few of us cheat by using hydraulics and diesel fuel but we do a bit more than the average compost whacko enthusiast.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 12:15PM
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I've just been turning it with a short tined rake...

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 1:22PM
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so when you raked it around was it warm yet? the worms will come when they're ready, (when it cools down). I could turn it for ya once for some of that home brew... lol

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 1:29PM
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I haven't touched it for a few days, but we've had temps with overnight lows in the teens for a bit now, and when I lifted the lid to look yesterday morning, there was condensation (lot's of it) on the underside of the lid, and the pile looked 'anything' but frozen... So it's generating some heat...

I highly recommend Homebrewing.. One of the most rewarding and satisfying hobbies I've ever had... And it saves a lot of money... The product is better than what you can buy... way better IMO...

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 12:47PM
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Mixing is preferable to layering in most cases, IMHO. Layering grass tends to encourage clumping, in my experience.

No one book is perfect, just as no one person has all the answers all the time.

To the New Zealand poster:

Try the Vermicomposting Forum, they may have more thread on worms in the garden.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 4:24PM
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