Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Composting and recycling...an on-going project

We made it through the frost although there is still a 1/4 inch layer of ice on our pool and in the water trough. Just such an odd site in South Texas.

However, if you live in the northern states or the south, this "down time" gives us much needed time to read and learn about our farms. Today, I took time to read more on composting so that I could build better compost piles.

For a couple of months I have become very aware of what we have been wasting all these years. Much of what we have been throwing away can be recycled. And a lot of that recycled material can go into composting....which will help us sustain our lifestyle and continue to give back to us for years to come.

I started my first compost pile a month or so ago intending to add to it over the months until it was full and then starting the next bin. I have carefully been disposing into a stainless steel bowl on the counter-top all the fresh veggie scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds that I use to throw away, then burying them in the compost heap when we went to feed the chickens.

Most of the information I have been reading about is based on having all the necessary materials to layer into a compost all at one time. These same info-sites give carbon:nitrogen calculations based on materials you have on-hand and not necessarily when building an "as you go" compost pile.

The more that I read, the more that I was convinced that I am on the right track but I wanted more information and more explanation on what this c:n ratio means.

Then I ran across a fantastic calculator that I think can be used for building compost piles all at once or for those "build as you go" piles that I think most of us are or will be doing.

Compost Calculator

It asks for cubic feet of material you are adding so I just guessed and I bet I came close. Remember, 1 cubic foot= a box that is 1footx1footx1foot square. Thinking that way I imagined a plastic bin and about how much I have added over the month in that imaginary box of both food scraps and then coffee grounds. I had added some wood chip mulch that was quite aged and have added about five 5 gallon buckets full. Then there were the banana tree leaves, other misc. items that were "green" and came up with a c:n ratio that was very low. I added in to the calculator a "what if" statement....that is "what if" I added some paper shreds? And after a few adjustments I came up with something that according to the calculator will work and now I have added to the compost pile paper shreds. I also mixed it up well to allow more air to circulate as it had become quite compacted. I didn't add any water although I considered spraying it down as the decaying material felt quite damp but not real wet and we have a chance for rain later this week.

Once that was complete, I came back in to play with the calculator again.....what if I added cow manure? What if I added hay? What a cool tool!

So, what is a c:n ration? Carbon:Nitrogen. Carbon materials are those brown things we find, like newspaper, wood chips, leaves, etc. Nitrogen are green things like fresh veggie waste, grass clippings, manure. There is a delicate balance between these two along with air (why you turn it to keep it loose) and water content. And...if done correctly it will attract those wanted microorganisms that will break down the compost materials.

I guess I also depends also how quickly you want your compost to decompose! For me, I think I will have enough essential microorganisms once it warms up again to start the first compost pile "cooking." And my first good compost pile might be a cool one and not heat up as much as it should, however with the microorganisms at work that are present in our soils, it should decompose over time. I am betting that once it warms up this compost pile will start decaying quite well.

It's a learning process, and since I am not starting it all at one time, I will certainly learn overtime what I need to do to keep these compost piles going.

One thing I am sure of, if I have questions there are many answers online...

Composting101.com


Epa Composting Info


Compost Tea

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