Composting in Utah

songbirdmommy(UT 5)February 26, 2007

Saturday I went to a composting class hosted by the Master Gardener's club.

I found out something VERY interesting that I wanted to share with all the other composters in this forum.

You know how all the compost books say to watch that the piles do not get too wet... thus drowning the good microbes... well Utah is the 2nd driest state, we have an average of 7-13 percent humidity in the winter(of course that is when it is not snowing)

In the summer it is higher, but still VERY dry.

So what are we doing wrong?

A few things, but the # 1 thing is we are NOT watering it enough... it shuts down if it gets to dry, and guess what... that is why our piles never seem to do what we think they should be doing.

The guy that gave the class gave a great solution. He gets a big pipe, about 15cm round. Then he drills holes all in it where it will be inside the compost pile.

He then runs his hose in there and "soaks the snot out of it"

He does this a couple times a week.

Here are some notes I took there... sorry if they are scattered sounding...

Another thing that I figured out on my own and was brought up in there....

put smaller pieces in your compost pile... small always breaks down faster than big... my kids can tell you that one! LOL

I take my banana peels and put them in the blender with a bunch of water and pour it ontop of the compost pile,

Put a bagger on your mower and mow over your leaves and small branches to break them up smaller.

Egg shells are NOT good for our soil because we already have enough calcium in the ground.

Wood ashes make the ground more alkaline, not good.

Pine needles lower the Ph... good stuff!

Our soil is alkaline here in Utah, so we need to find ways to bring the Ph down.

Coffee grinds are great. They gave us a great idea for those who do not drink coffee... Starbucks... think about all the coffee grounds they go through in a week!

I am sure that they would gladly give you a ton if you just ask.

Most of the Java huts and places like that would.

I know a guy who is willing to haul a huge dump truck of aged (1-2 yrs)steer manure to your home for a nominal fee.

I am getting the first truck full!

One thig to watch out for is weeds introduced from seed in questionable compost sources. I think as long as something has had a chance to heat up for an extended period of time, it should kill off all weed seed.

I have been composting my entire life, I feel like the queen of compost. With the chickens and the cat, I give them any scraps from the kitchen that does not go in pile, ie; meats, anything made or cooked with with fat, oil(like bread or peanut butter), dairy products, and now they get their shells back!

Keys to success...

Good ratio of leaves, grass clipping and kitchen matter.

Newpapers are good too.

You know office shredders? they now make a great garden tool!

Just shred you bills and stuff(everything but glossy ads).... sprinkle in your pile, add something over it to weigh it down and voila....

your bills are recycled into rich compost!

Remember... small is good

And Water, water, water!

Keep the piles wet, no matter what you read!~

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hjust1(z5/6)

Thanks for the tips!
Heather

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 4:20PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Lots of good advice, but I have to throw in a few caveats.

Coffee is acidic, but the grounds aren't. Pine needles also aren't that great at reducing pH, contrary to popular belief.

But coffee grounds are still great amendments. And they make up a big percentage of waste (and cost for hauling waste). So if you encounter resistance, talk to the manager, whose salary may be tied to profits, rather than hours worked. Point out that filters don't need to be removed, since that saves them time.

I frequently point out on the soil forum that not everybody has too much moisture.

I compost lots of things "they" say I shouldn't. I just make sure the compost is good and hot first.

I never bag what I mow. It all gets mulched into the lawn.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 12:13AM
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linda_utah

I haven't visited the soil forum yet, but here's what we have learned to do. We create an actual compost "pile." One that is spread out on the ground. We add any organic matter we come up with, along with any horse, cow or pig manure we happen to have. My husband, who is not in the least interested in gardening, takes the rototiller out to the pile and "turns" the pile with the tiller. Amazing how fast that stuff breaks down if it's turned frequently and completely with a tiller. And, yes, we do set a sprinkler on the pile and soak it quite often. Another plus is that it's amazing how well stuff grows if you move the site of the pile each year. The ground under the old site is just waiting to feed new plants.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 4:13AM
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larafacit

I have been reading ALL of the posts and I love this! I am completely new and uneducated at all gardening. We just moved here one year ago from Oregon and I didn't really have to do anything there. It all just grew. What is the best way to get a compost pile started. It sounds very interesting.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 8:23PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Welcome to Utah! I hope you love it here.

You can find out more about composting and tons of other stuff at the USU Extension website. It's kind of a beast of a website, and I always think things are hard to find there, but I just did a google search and found the page I'll link below, which has links to four publications about composting. The first one, "Backyard Composting in Utah" looks really good.

Here is a link that might be useful: USU pubs on composting

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 12:36AM
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therealshari

Oh boy... Saturday I decided it was time to turn my pile. As much as I had soaked it when I was building it, I found dry spots... and un-composted material.

I also discovered the cardboard strips are breaking down, but have a long ways to go as they're still recognizable.

Here's the really sad part...

Right in the middle of turning this pile, we found a leaking water line (during the construction of our chicken coop). What was supposed to be a "dig, find replace" operation turned into a major project.

I had two options: Leave the pile all torn a part and wait for water, or re-build the pile. As the wind was blowing better than 20 mph, I chose to re-build without the water rather than find my pile scattered all over the desert.

We've had measurable rain each of the last two days, so that has helped. My next move is to insert the hose nozzle and soak the interior of the pile.

More news later,
Shari In Beryl UT

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 10:59AM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Shari--depending on the size of your pile, you may have luck eliminating some of the dry spots by using a bulb auger to mix it up. A bulb augur is like a 3 foot long by about 3 inches across drill bit. It's designed to make holes for planting bulbs, and I suppose it would work for that. I know it does a good job of mixing compost.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 4:01PM
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