Compost Bin Starter

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Compost Bin Starter
Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Tuesday, October 04, 2016 - 7:10 am
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I use Joe's method for composting waste food from a restaurant. Using two bins, each 1.8 meters square (6ft), following the guidelines as for humanure, I have regularly achieved temperatures of 60,65,70 degrees Celsius. After 6 months maturation, following close-off, the compost is very good and gets dug into the vegetable-growing garden. The humanure heap gets matured for an extra 6 months, just to keep everyone happy. I don't combine the two because I want to be able to use the food waste sooner.
I just want to encourage you to keep going and not to get disheartened if the heap does not get those high temperatures immediately, or for continuing lengths of time. There are occasions when no explanation seems to fit....when you have been doing everything you regard as "correct." Yet still the damn thing stays cool!! So, just be patient, let nature take its course, and provided you have constructed sufficient insulating material (hay, etc.) around the periphery of the heap, it will pick up in time. Keep an eye on all the essential parameters like moisture, collecting urine in the bucket as well as feces, layering, etc...you will succeed.

Author: Gengwall (Gengwall)
Monday, October 03, 2016 - 4:49 pm
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Well, I picked up some straw and my Ash tree has already dumped its leaves so I can get a couple bags of leaves too, so I think I will be in good shape mixing in straw and leaves with the grass in the bottom of the bin.

Author: Hoopy_frood (Hoopy_frood)
Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 9:40 pm
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Greetings! I'm brand new to the board, too, though I finished the book a little while ago and I'm about three months into my first attempt at backyard composting. I also have not finished our humanure toilet, so we're still using the flush toilet and septic. This will change, I'm just not sure when yet (long story).

So I'm new and a novice. I'm a little surprised to see how little activity is here given the material in Jenkins' book and it's importance. Oh well. So even though I don't know much I'll offer my thoughts to another fellow beginner.

- Bottom Fill - I would think you would want a mixture of grass clippings and something a little more rigid to allow oxygen to remain in the pile. In my admittedly limited experience grass clippings (especially ones with a fair bit of moisture) compact VERY quickly. If you can mix in anything more straw-like that can aid in keeping oxygen available.

- Layering - Brett Markham also has written a fair bit on thermophillic composting and he recommends limiting a layer of a single type of thing in a "continuous" compost pile to a couple of inches. This seems reasonable to me. Alternating leaves and grass certainly sounds like a good idea.

- Pine - Needles certainly fits the bill for "rigid" items! I've heard they can drive finished compost pH a little to the acidic side, though. Don't be afraid to use them, just keep that in mind.

- Soil Permeability - Consider your rain patterns and whether you cover your pile or not while you try to maintain the desired moisture content of the pile. In dryer climates it's very rare for a pile to leach moisture into the ground. I keep mine covered and manually water it as we get random, large dumps of rain. It would be safest to prevent leaching in to the sandy soil by lining the bottom of your pile with a plastic membrane. This will prevent macroorganisms from entering your pile from the ground. But once you've completed the pile and are ready to age it you could move it to a bare patch of ground so the bugs and worms can get into it at that point. Or, if it's cool, shovel some active top soil (with the macroorganisms) onto the pile in the bin and let them set up shop that way. Just don't put copious amounts of dirt into an active compost pile if you're hoping to get a thermophillic reaction with it.

Good luck and hopefully you'll get some better info from more experienced people here. But I've learned a LOT in the past three months and I figure even a tiny something is better than nothing.

For the record I have not yet achieved a thermophillic reaction. I attribute it to lack of nitrogen. I was watering too much. Fixed that. I'm manually "fluffing" the pile with a spading fork gently every few days just to make sure air is in there even though the temps aren't that high. So if O2 and moisture are good lack of thermophillic action has to be due to C/N ratio being off. I'm hoping the humanure will correct that.

Regardless I'm running 30-40 degrees over ambient temperatures (my record is 110 degF) in a pile that's ~0.5 cu yd. So there is action and it has shrank TREMENDOUSLY. So even if I'm not killing pathogens, it is working! I've dug through it to analyze my "failure" and it's amazing the things that vanished in just two months! Two chicken carcasses used for bone broth and a crap load of citrus rinds - all gone! And I've been using shredded wood fiber as a cover material. I would NOT recommend this without also having a fair amount of urine (or chicken manure) as it's C/N ratio is hundreds to 1. The wood fiber was inoculated with wood-digesting fungi and it's AMAZING how even the wood fiber is breaking down and resembling humus. And sticks. Sign. Humble beginnings, but it's far from a failure :-)

Anyway, low temperature not providing assureance of pathogen eliminations means I'll just age it for a year longer than Jenkins recommends. I need those pesky sticks to break down anyway.

Good luck!!

Author: Gengwall (Gengwall)
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 1:01 pm
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Just finished the book and we are very excited to start composting on our 40 completely off-grid acres in central MN. The cabin isn't finished yet so we are a ways from having the toilet side set up, but we want to get the compost bin built before winter. The book recommends 18 inches of fill on the bottom of the bin. Right now I have more than enough to accomplish that in grass clippings. Can that fill be all grass clippings or does it need to be more absorbant - i.e. leaves and sawdust? I'm about a month away from having all the leaves we will need for a year for both the bin and cover material for the toilet, so I could wait. But if I don't have to (and if I can have more leaves for cover material), it would be better.

Other info about the property.

Planted with 20 year old red pine, interspersed with a few ancient white pines, so plenty of pine needles including decaying under-layer.

Also lots of scrub paper birch. I have just one small patch of oaks and the occasional maple but it is mostly pine.

Soil under the apx 1 ft of topsoil is almost pure sand. I could literally build a beach next to.....

This is interesting - half the property is part of a huge Tamarack swamp, so I'm thinking I have an unlimited peat supply, but have no way of knowing how to harvest it. Any thoughts.

Lastly - compost area is maybe 6 feet above the water table and will be far from, and downhill of, the cabin. We are not at this time planning to put in a well (collecting rain water), so ground water (and well water) contamination isn't an issue for us personally, but I want to be a good steward. Any additional measures I should take with the compost bin given the sandy soil and close proximity to the water table?

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