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compost activator? help

Posted by greengreen 8 (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 3, 11 at 14:21

i moved into a house with an un-contained compost pile out back (yes, it is simply a big heap)
we have a small kitchen bin that we dump out there & fold into the mix. i'd say that's it's mostly kitchen scraps, (i think that's all we ever throw in) and i've heard our neighbors dump leaves & ash over the fence, atop the pile to help as well.
i think the heap has been "going" for about 1.5 years & was told
that some ripe humus was utilized from it last spring for planting.

okay, so i have no experience managing a compost pile & have been trying to drag out/throw away the new growth (onions of various kinds/monster root veggies, etc) as it seems perhaps we should have either completely destroyed the root-systems of things like, say green onions/leeks & chopped-up things like old beets/potatoes before composting them.
is this correct??

it doesn't seem like we should have things growing in the compost heap.
am i wrong?
so now i'm worried the compost isn't going to be "ready" to use because it's got so much un-decomposed matter in it. i went to a nursery and got some *E.B. Whites organic compost maker* with plans to fold some in & cover the pile with a tarp to get things cooking even more. (under approval of nursery worker- of course she didn't see our compost tho)

so now i'm thinking perhaps we don't need more nitrogen (which is what the activator/
compost maker add, i believe) but if anything, more carbon(?) and certainly more time.
i don't know if i should even use the "compost maker" or if that will push the nitrogen:carbon ratio further out of whack. (assuming we have more "green" than "brown")
think i will mix it up a bunch & put some soil on top for now.

i could go on & on. but may be i should wait for some feedback first.

any advice would be much appreciated.
thanks in advance!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: compost activator? help

My zone is much different than yours, although composting is basically the same.

May I suggest the Florida Online Composting website at It's an awesome site and their virtual pile calculator is fun.

Also, check out your "neighbour" Jon E Hughes on YouTube to see what compost can do for your garden in Oregon. If you read this forum much, you'll learn soon who he is.

"Managing" your compost pile can be complicated, or simple, depending on how much of your time you want to take. Nature will, sooner or later, do it for you.

Good luck =:)

RE: compost activator? help

I'm not a fan of paying for stuff, when I can get it for free!. Manure is the best activator, used coffee grounds are great, as are grass clippings.
Don't worry about things growing in the compost, that just indicates it's a cold pile. It won't kill weed seeds and will take a lot longer than hot, but you'll end up with the same stuff in the end.
Your neighbours haven't been chucking pet waste in there have they? That WOULD be an issue.
Do you have room besde the existing pile to start another? Ideally you stop adding stuff and let one break down, while starting a fresh one.
If you can, gather some manure/clippings/coffee grounds, and start forking the unfinished compost into a new pile. Keep adding your manure/clippings/coffee grounds, mixing it in and watering if it's dry as you.
You want your pile to be at least 3.3ish feet cubed, or it won't heat up.
I cover my pile with burlap coffee sacks from a local roaster, which allow me to water through them while maintaining airflow and reducing evaporation.
One thing I find really useful is a keeping a (concealed!) cleaver and an old board by my pile to chop up stalks etc.
Or, it's early spring over there isn't it? You could just spread the whole lot over your beds, mulch heavily and start a new warned that unfinished compost can affect germination, so if you want to plant, say, carrots, I'd leave an area uncomposted.

RE: compost activator? help

thanks so much for the feedback.

- feijoas-

"Don't worry about things growing in the compost, that just indicates it's a cold pile."

- does that mean it would benefit from the "compost-maker" which is supposed to heat it up? i agree about making due with what's around/free for the gleaning, but i've already bought the activator & it is near early spring pretty much here.

*no pet waste added to the compost pile*, although our cats poop in the other garden areas... oh well. not en masse tho.

"Do you have room beside the existing pile to start another? Ideally you stop adding stuff and let one break down, while starting a fresh one."

- that's exactly what i've been doing, tossing the new stuff further down the run area, away from the original heap.

"If you can, gather some manure/clippings/coffee grounds, and start forking the unfinished compost into a new pile. Keep adding your manure/clippings/coffee grounds, mixing it in and watering if it's dry as you."

- could you please explain this more? i *should* continue adding only coffee grounds/grass clippings/steer manure to the original compost heap? and mixing it in?

also, i was going to cover it with a plastic sheet (which i already have) to keep the moisture & heat in more. although it's plenty wet outside here in portland, oregon. a.k.a. puddletown.

i think i will try to advocate that my housemates & i chop up our future kitchen scraps. leaving a "concealed" cleaver in the yard is just too much for my horror-movie mind though..ha ha ::chills::

RE: compost activator? help

Couple of things to remember - the smaller the items added to the compost, the faster they will begin to decompose and decompostion generates heat.

It also sounds like your compost is lacking in 'browns' or carbon sources. Most kitchen scraps are 'greens' or nitrogen sources and you need a good combination of both to achieve optimum composting results (the C:N ratio). Even the neighbors leaves are likely more green than brown if they were added when fresh. Shredded paper, cardboard, chopped-up pruning remains, straw, sawdust, etc., could all be incorporated to help heat things up, which will speed things up also. Turning or aerating the pile will also help.

RE: compost activator? help

No harm in adding the proprietary activator as part of building what will basically be a new heap.
Like gardengirl says, you'll need more carbon .
I use lots of torn-up newspaper: not much in the way of nutrient value, but again, free...
How broken-down is the compost, aside from the things actually growing in it? Laying the whole lot down on your beds is definitely an option.
'Cold' is a bit of a complex one, probably simplest to goggle that one!
"gather some manure/clippings/coffee grounds, and start forking the unfinished compost into a new pile"
Sorry, hard to explain, and terribly written! This any better?:
I envision you basically starting a new pile, where you've been putting 'fresh' stuff. Add some carbon, nitrogen, a bit of unfinished compost, a sprinkle of activator, mix, add water. Repeat lots of times.
The only way to get a heap really 'hot', is to build it all at once.
Plastic should be fine, just remember a hot pile is created by zillions of bacteria doing their thing, so they should keep it warm from the inside out. That's where the dimensions are important: the compost beasties need a certain sized heap to for insulation etc.
You also need to turn it if you want it to stay hot. So ideally you have a spot to 'store' compost materials, a working pile, an empty spot beside it to turn your compost onto, and a finished pile 'maturing'. Envision this all in a row, so collect materials->new pile->turned pile->maturing pile.
Make any sense? And by the way, this is ideal-world stuff, it will compost whatever you do!
I hear ya on the splatter-movie cleaver, but I've got so many things around the place that a nutjob could get me with, I try to not think about it!

RE: compost activator? help

Did you read the FAQ page at the top of this forum. Its pretty darn good place to start for beginners.

You will get compost out of the pile, no matter what you do it. If you do nothing, you will get compost. If you add N and turn it, you will get compost.

The difference is the speed at which it finishes. If you want compost in a hurry then add more N and turn it.

If you don't care how fast you get compost, then let things grow in it. I get the occasional squash or potato growing in my pile, it doesn't bother me at.

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