Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Different Kinds Of Composting

I'm a big believer in using compost. But unlike some people, I don't advocate just one composting method. Depending upon the situation, I think just about all composting methods have virtue. 

"F" recently asked me how do I make compost. Honestly, I use a variety of methods. So I couldn't give him a clean cut, short answer. Some of the methods I use widely vary because I'm looking for a specific result. Other times I use the quickest, simplest methods because I lack time to fuss with making compost. 

Simply digging it in....
When I only have a few small things for the compost bins, I won't bother to take them all the way down to the bin area. Plus I don't wish to store them up by the kitchen because of the plethora of vinegar flies here in the tropics. So I'll just go out to the nearest garden, dig a hole, and bury whatever it is. Usually it's a few coffee grounds, macnuts shells, orange peels, that's sort of kitchen waste that the chickens don't want. 

When preparing a bed for taro, I like to make trenches between where the taro rows will be. Then I fill those trenches with material to cold compost - ground up brush, kitchen waste, garden waste, livestock manure, shredded paper, coffee cherry pulp,  that sort of stuff. Then I put the soil back in place over the compostables and plant the taro. Over time, the material composts down, providing nutrients to the taro. 

Cold piles....
These piles aren't really cold, but they don't get hot enough to kill pathogens. Thus I term them cold composting. These piles are "vegan" in that they contain no manure. It's usually weeds, ground brush trimmings, banana leaves,  yellowing sugar cane leave, waste fruits. These piles tend to sit for several months before I need to use them. 

Hot piles.....
These are my workhorses. Importantly, I use my pallet boxes to make this compost. That's so they don't dry out and all spots get hot. They are also "lidded" with cardboard to retain heat and moisture. I can regulate the moisture level by adjusting the cardboard lid. They process material quickly, often having useable compost in as little as 30 days. But I prefer to let them continue to compost for 2-3 months if I don't need to use it immediately. I make them by layering ground brush and grass (the lawnmower is the tool I use), livestock manure, and any kitchen and garden waste the chickens won't eat. Chicken pen litter goes into the hot compost bins. These piles can also process dead animals and slaughtered waste, but I don't often have that available. 

These piles are turned every 30 days if not used in the gardens. That causes them to reheat up. I often have to add water to the material when I turn the pile in order to bring it up to a sufficient moisture level. Turning a pile (I simply fork it into the next bin) takes work, but it's better than joining a gym. 

These are stay-in-place compost piles made by filling in a pit or hole in the ground. This is where much of my coarse, non-ground up material goes. Plus I can utilize woody material here.....tree trucks and branches not suitable for firewood. It's also a great place for clean cardboard. Because I'm adding quite a bit of woody material, as opposed to green weeds and grass clippings, I have to keep in mind to add a nitrogen source. Manure, grass clippings, and urine do the job nicely. Once the pit is filled in, I wait about 6 months, then go back to tromp it down then tup it up. The material will have rotted down about half its volume. So I'll refill the pit. After another 6 months I will plant bananas or fruit trees. 

Other methods I no longer use: 
... Sheet composting. This is simply laying compostables right onto the soil surface, then planting into it. Often people use the term lasagna gardening. It works, but it doesn't fit well with my soil and situation. 
...Open piles. The tropical wind and sun dries these out quickly. Plus the outside 6" doesn't compost at all. 
,,,Rotary bin. These cannot produce the volume of compost I need. The main drawback even for small gardeners is that the bins get really heavy and are difficult to turn. But if composting small amounts, they really work great. I highly recommend them for the small gardener. 
...Worm bin. These work for a lot of people. But again, I need lots of compost. Plus I don't have a lot of extra material to devote to the worms. My chickens need the edibles. So for the right situation, they work great. It's just not for my situation at the moment. 

Methods I don't use.....
....Silage. This is a method where everything is put into a sealable bag, such as a black trash bag.  Then it's allowed to sit for months. I've only tried this method with oak leaves while living in NJ. Over the winter the leaves rotted down to a black mass. Some bags were too wet and gloppy. Others too dry. I never perfected the method. I once tried a bag of grass clippings and my advice is...don't. It turns into a smelly, gloppy, anaerobic foul mess. 
.....Anaerobic tea. I hear of people filling a trash can with grass and weeds, topping it up with water, then allowing it to sit a week before using that water as a tea to water their plants. I'm leery. It's an anaerobic process, growing the wrong microbes for a healthy garden soil. Thus I haven't taken the time to experiment with it. 

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