new compost bin + what am I doing wrong?

autodidactApril 23, 2008

I'm very pleased with the new compost bins I built my very own self out of free wood pallets I got off Craig's List. I just used some metal hardware and screwed them together, and hinges so the front pallet swings open. Three of them all hooked together. Nifty.

When I shifted the compost from my old jury-rigged straw bales, the stuff I started last summer still wasn't done. I turned it once every week or two and watered it once a week when it hadn't rained. Contents are: lawn clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, shredded office paper. The stuff is not longer recognizable, but isn't compost either. Maybe half way in between. Also it looks like I don't have any worms in there. Advice? Thanks.

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I almost never see worms in my compost because it gets too hot. If your compost was cold and there are no worms, it could be that it's too dry.

There are a number of things that could cause it to take longer to turn into compost. Too dry, too wet (not usually a problem in the intermountain west), not enough air (not likely if you turned it regularly), too much carbon/not enough nitrogen, etc.

However, if what you've got is no longer recognizable, why do you say it isn't compost? If it's no longer recognizable and you're getting ready to start the garden, I'd go ahead and use it.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 3:29PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi AD,

Ditto everything BP said, including that if you canÂt recognize anything anymore, itÂs about time to mix it in wherever youÂre gonna use it! IÂm just posting to link the below How to Compost site in case you might find something on there that you didnÂt know before, but it sure sounds to me like youÂre doing everything right. If some of itÂs still too big to use in the garden, maybe you just need to screen it to separate the fine stuff. Have you checked out the Reflections on Compost thread which is on page 2 now?

Is your compost directly on the ground? If so worms should just naturally migrate up into it unless, as BP said, itÂs heating up too much for them (which it might be if youÂre turning it that often) or else itÂs too dry and they just donÂt like the accommodations! I have the lazy kind of compost pile, which means I never turn it so it doesnÂt get hot, and it gets watered a lot in summer, and parts of it have turned into a virtual worm factory.

Check out the compost site and the compost thread and let us know if you have any other questions.


Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Guide

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 1:45AM
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AD, I very much appreciate having my piles start about 8 inches or more below ground. Then, the bins are made of concrete block so that there's a solid wall on all sides. I also make compost in the open. Either way, the outer layer is drier than the inner - there's just substantially more outer dryness in the open. But, digging a "pit" helps since moisture seems to be retained better. Additionally, the soil is then available after the initial digging to be used in building the pile.

Soil seems important for my compost. The compost is at least 18 months old before it comes out of the bins. I've got 2 bins so there's one for each year. It's definitely a "cool" process.

Worms (red worms) have shown up with the addition of manure. Right now, the red worms have migrated out of the 2006 compost and into the 2007 compost. They are THICK in there amongst all that coarse material!

I think your pallets can work just fine but not without some turning and mixing. I would also incorporate some soil and manure either now or in the future piles.

I have seen some folks build bins above ground . . . ! I guess that might help in a rainforest where otherwise the "compost" may be in danger of turning into coal. In my climate, it looked like those folks were trying to preserve their compostables thru dehydration.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 11:50AM
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Hey, that's a new idea, thanks. It is on the ground, but I could dig a hole there. Of course, that would require--yuck--work. I don't even dig my beds; I lasagna. Also now I'd have to move ten feet worth of wood pallets to get under there. I do have some manure and dirt in there; I got the manure free :)

Maybe I'll mix some of it in when I plant stuff next month.

Or maybe I'm just a bit impatient; none of it is a year old yet.

Thanks all for help and suggestions.

How long is it taking people to get compost? What is a reasonable expectation?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 12:21PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

IÂm not into yuckÂI mean, work, either, AD! My compost pile is the very simplest kind you can have. I just attached sheets of galvanized steel to the inside of my fence on one corner and started piling stuff up on top of the ground. (Pictures are on the Reflections on Compost thread.) I started it 3 years ago, and this is the first year IÂve gotten a really worthwhile quantity of useable compost out of it. But, since I do throw woody stuff and large pieces of stuff on it, I did need to screen it to separate the smaller, useable compost from the stuff that had to go back on the pile for a while to finish up.

Since my pile is immediately adjoining my veggie garden, it gets watered a LOT from spring thru late summer, and it never seems to get TOO wet. I suspect that if you water yours a lot more, the worms will be more likely to migrate up into it. When I just went thru my pile, I was surprised to see that the majority of the worms were in the wettest parts. I donÂt have any source for manure, so there isnÂt any in my pile, but the worms seem to love it anyway. More on the compost thread. IÂve found watering by hand with a hose doesnÂt seem to accomplish much at all, and I water mine by just placing the sprinkler for the veggie garden so it hits the compost too, and letting it run for a half an hour a couple times a week. As long as itÂs open to the ground underneath, I think itÂs probably pretty hard to keep it too wet out here in our dry climate. And if it is staying too wet, itÂs going to start stinking pretty fast, and youÂre going to know about it.

How long it takes really depends on how much of a "proper" pile you have, meaning how much you tend/turn it and how much itÂs heating up. The hotter it gets, the faster stuff breaks down. I was surprised to find, after I went thru the whole pile and then replaced it back in the "bin area," to find that when I stuck a thermometer into it a few days later, the temp (only about 7" in) was up to 110 degrees. As far as I know thatÂs the first time itÂs ever heated up, and, since I have no intentions of turning it regularly, probably the last time!

Start using whatever you have. Pull out anything thatÂs still too big and throw it back on the pile. The rest will finish the decomposition in the soilÂand help attract worms into that area since they seem to thrive on the decomposing stuff.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 2:24PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

The next big thing I would LOVE to have would be a chipper/shredder. A nice gas-powered one that can chop up branches and stuff. I keep hoping I can get one someday and then do some serious composting. If I had one of those, I could get some great compost with all my tree trimmings and those thick London Plane tree leaves that don't seem to break down ever when left in their original state!

Right now, I have a lot of branches in a pile, and I'm probably going to burn them just to get rid of them. My city gives out burn permits for this month only, and I got one the other day. But last time I did that, I melted one of my drip irrigation lines -- duh!! I'll have to watch out for that this time.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 3:22PM
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Steve - I have been dreaming of a chipper/shredder, just like the ones I used to know... Ok, gardners version of a x-mas song. Anyway, a chipper/shredder is on my wish list too but for a different reason. I want one to cut up all those woody cabbage stems and corn stalks (I am in the Kansas part of Colorado, no trees). I keep thinking up new uses for all those cool toys.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 6:43PM
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I bought a small chipper a few years ago. It's electric and small, so it only does branches up to about 1.24 inches diameter, and clogs on the really little/green stuff if I don't mix some dry stuff along with it. OTOH, it was just over $100, if I remember correctly. I've run quite a bit of wood through it. This is the one I bought.

A larger one would handle larger (and smaller) stuff, and would probably be easier to run, also, but I don't have a need for it often enough, so this does the trick for me.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 11:16PM
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foxes_garden(Z5, CO Front Range)

I've also been dreaming of a chipper/shredder, but on my 1/4-acre lot I can't justify the expense vs. carting my prunings to the recycling center. Maybe I can locate some other local composters who would be interested in going in on one.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 12:33PM
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One idea would be to keep an eye on Craigslist. Sometimes people have an old one that they don't really have a use for.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 12:50PM
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Thanks all for the useful info. skybird if you're in Denver metro I can tell you where to get great manure free. Also you see it on Craiglist free a lot.
I also yearn for a chipper/shredder but can't justify. Seems like something that a group of people should buy; like if there was a club consisting of the people on my block. If anyone has one in Denver and would like to loan, I would love to borrow. I have a bunch of branches from last year's storm.
I've been putting the hose on it to sprinkle around once a week when it doesn't rain, and it sounds like increasing that would make the difference.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 2:24PM
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