Speed_419
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New compost pile

Hi all,
I was going to start a compost pile using my grass clipping from my yard. What I was wondering is this; If I mow every week, won't that be to much grass that needs to break down? Secondly, what else should I add to the pile to balance it out? I really have no idea what I am doing, but feel that if I am going to start a garden this year, I might as well try to do the whole deal and do it right. :D
Also, if I wanted to start a worm deal, what does that en tale? I am sure that it is different than a regular compost pile, but what are the benefits of having one over another?
Speed... 8)
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Kisal
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There's a Sticky at the top of this forum that has lots of information regarding compost ingredients. :)

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rainbowgardener
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new compost pile

Definitely don't make a compost pile just of grass clippings. They compact and shut the air out and you get a slimy mess. As noted do some reading in this forum, there's a ton of info here already. The basic idea is you want variety including some balance of wet/green and dry/brown ingredients.

Your grass clippings are definitely a green, so you want some browns to balance it. Good ones would be if you have any of last fall's leaves still lying around somewhere. Otherwise, I keep a compost bucket with a tightly sealed lid under my kitchen sink and put all the kitchen scraps in it. The kitchen scraps are also mostly greens, but I include in it the coffee filters with the coffee grounds and any paper towels we use (as long as they weren't used with any chemical cleaners). We have a paper shredder for anything that has like credit card numbers on it, etc. The shredded paper can go in. Tear up brown paper bags, etc. You get the idea. Also throw in a handful of good garden dirt that plants are successfully growing in now and then--you will be adding soil bacteria and fungi to help get the process going.

Don't worry about your pile getting too big, it breaks down (and therefore reduces in size) quickly. Do water your compost pile if it's hot/dry enough to need to water your garden.

This kind of composting is easy and requires no special equipment. Vermicomposting (worms) is a lot more specialized. Do a lot of reading before you try it. You have to have the right kind of worms and the right kind of box for them and the right ingredients in the box. I've never done it, so can't advise you about it. I think one reason people do it is you can keep your worm box indoors. It's a way to do composting even if you don't have outdoor space. Also the resulting worm castings are a very rich material.

WannaBeGreen
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I just joined this forum and I just want to make sure I know what I'm doing before I try to start composting. So the whole idea of a compost pile is basically a pile of browns and greens in equal amounts that degrade and help make compost that can be used as fertilizer for growing more plants? I'm really interested in doing this and I just recently trimmed a few bushes so I have lots of greens and I'd like to start one instead of buying fertilizer. So if this is true, do branches and roots work well too? If so, do I need to break them up into chips or just small pieces?

Are there any books or articles that I can read to help me get started from the very beginning? Thanks.

cynthia_h
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Please read the Sticky (the topic which remains--sticks--at the top of the Compost Forum) as well as other threads in the Compost Forum about starting compost, bins or no bins, etc. There have been dozens of "beginner" threads, many of them fairly extended, in the past three months, and even more in previous years. Some of the posted information is from members who haven't posted recently, so looking at their advice in earlier threads is the only way to find it.

Not until you have done some of this will my discussion of "seven levels" in https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12488 make sense...that state of being overwhelmed with information is, it seems, a true necessity in deciding what will work for *you,* the individual gardener, whoever and wherever *you* may be.

Browns + Greens + Air + Water :arrow: Compost (eventually)

Cynthia H.
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Speed_419
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Thank you Kisal for pointing out those stickies that I have already read. It was extremely helpful.

Wannabegreen, Kisal is right. There is a lot to read before you start asking questions. If you don't read a lot first, you tend to get the always polite and ever appreciated responses as noted above. Heck, even when you read you still tend to get them... :roll: Definitely read the stickies and the links that are apart of them. You will find most of your answers there. To try and answer your question about sticks and not just be rude and tell you to read when I know the answer let me tell you what I have read so far about composting and sticks. As far as sticks go, you need to break them down. The smaller the pieces, the faster they decompose. About 1-2" pieces are the best from what I have read. One thing I did read though is that saw dust is to small and tends to compact. Hope that helps.

Thank you RG, I have read so much of what you have said throughout the forum and your knowledge is always appreciated. I was worried about grass getting nasty. Have seen it before and was wondering about it being a problem. I was going to use the shreddings from my paper shredder to give me browns. Thought that I would use table scraps of veggies as well, but since I am single I thought that it might take a while without using the grass from the yard to get any type of quantity with regard to compost for next years garden.
My plan that I think will work is to use grass clippings from time to time to help balance out the paper waste that I can generate from my home office with the shredder. I was going to dig a hole about 6-8 inches down to start the composting in. Thought it might help to encourage worms and the like to join in the fun.. :wink: Since I don't bag all of the time, actually never if I can help it, I thought that it would be an easy source of greens. I also figure that I will have to turn it a lot so that it doesn't start to get nasty. Thanks again for all of your great knowledge. Any other suggestions are always welcomed and appreciated! :D
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rainbowgardener
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brush trimmings in compost--wannabe

Brush trimmings aren't greens, they are carboniferous browns (but your grass clippings are greens, so that's ok). You do need to break them down considerably to put in a compost pile, unless you want to keep a separate brush pile somewhere. The brush pile will collect leaves and be good critter habitat and will very slowly break down over a period of years. To put branches and roots and other woody stuff in your compost pile, it needs to be well broken down. I have a little chipper-shredder, I got cheap on ebay. It's not high powered enough to run thick branches through, but it's great on all the woody stems and tough vines (tomato plants at the end of the season), heavy roots, etc. I let them pile up for a little while and then get out the shredder and chip them up to go in compost pile

The classic book on the topic is Let it Rot! Gardener's guide to composting by Stu Campbell. But pretty much any good gardening book will have a section on composting.

Speed - thanks for the compliment. It's nice to have a place where I can pass on some of what I've learned from 17 years or so of doing this stuff, even though I don't have any certificates etc in gardening (maybe someday I'll take the master gardener classes).. Don't dig your hole very deep, just a little to loosen up the top layer if you want. If you make a pit, then you are doing pit composting, which is anaerobic. You want air to get through. And your compost wants to stay slightly damp, but not wet. If you dig down to where the ground is really hard, then rainwater will pool down there.

Shredded paper + kitchen scraps (including used paper towels, coffee filters with the grounds, egg shells, etc) + grass clippings is a beginning. Pulled weeds are good for more greens and coarser texture to keep things from compacting, keep air channels through the pile (surely you have weeds!? :? ). Fall leaves. If you don't have a lot of weeds and leaves, beg some from your neighbors -- they will think you are nuts, but gardeners are used to that. :) Watch curbside for bags of yard waste put out and steal them (works well in the fall when people are getting rid of leaves, you don't necessarily want people's branch trimmings). Well composted manure is a big plus if you can get some and those handfuls of dirt I mentioned earlier. Variety is the spice of life and compost!

rot
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a few notes

 
Notes: Unless otherwise indicated:

1. Not to scale.
2. All terms are relative.

Greens vs browns - Ignore the colors. The term for greens is for material high in nitrogen. Greens are usually relatively wet. Grass clippings are going to be the highest nitrogen content material you probably will ever come across. Browns are dry woody materials with a lot of carbon. Basically the basic components of trees and bushes. The leaves may look green but in the end they are basically browns or carbons. Green leaves mean they have some nitrogen. Dry brown grass clippings are still high in nitrogen or 'green'.

Think green, or nitrogen materials as beverage and brown dry woody stuff as the meat and potatoes. You need both to enjoy your meal fully so make sure both are present.

Someone else can explain optimal ratios of green, nitrogen, vs brown, carbon, materials. I guesstimate. Roughly half and half by volume and I fudge and adjust from there.

All things need water and so do the little micro critters that do all the work in the compost pile. Make sure things don't dry out.

Aerobic vs anaerobic = oxygen vs no oxygen. Think anaerobic as something like a septic tank - not too pleasant. Aerobic is more like letting things just rot on top of the ground - soon there's no smell. Generally speaking, relatively speaking, we are talking about an aerobic process, one with oxygen or simply, air, when we talk about composting.

Composting is mostly the making of an ideal environment for composting critters - bacteria being the most present and active - to thrive and digest things into simpler things. They like their brown, meat and potatoes, with
a lot of greens, beverage, and they need things to breath while not drying out altogether.

You can provide this ideal environment in bins, piles, windrows or, holes in the ground. Can't speak for holes in the ground because I've never done it and I worry about the oxygen part. I use bins so I can keep things contained in a controlled amount of space.

Hot vs cold is all about what critters are going to do all the work. Hot composting needs oxygen so you're working it by turning. Optimal turning I'm told is 4.5 days. Some folks turn more frequently and some less. Once a week will still get you a couple of weeks of at least 120 degrees F minimum when you've got the mojo of the mix and moisture right. Hot composting is bacteria driven.

Cold composting is inviting other critters in like fungi, worms and bugs. It takes longer but less work - let it sit and add water while it makes it's own sauce.

Generally speaking, manure, a high nitrogen source or green, is generally the manure of herbivores. Carnivore and omnivore manure is to be avoided unless you want to deal with haz mat issues. Nothing casual about composting carnivore or omnivore manure. Pathogens, varmints, smells - things like that.

Mix your greens and browns together and keep moist and provide some air. You will get compost. Optimal set ups will be in weeks. Good but more casual affairs will return results in months. Slow, cold, pile as you go operations without much attention will be closer to years.

Hot compost will kill pathogens and seeds (like those from weeds). That is why folks strive for the hot stuff. You also get your stuff sooner than later.

For a list of ingredients showing their nitrogen vs carbon (green vs brown) values (remember grass clippings high nitrogen and saw dust for high carbon for comparison), c/o Cornell University try:

https://compost.css.cornell.edu/OnFarmHandbook/apa.taba1.html

For good basic nuts & bolts about composting try, c/o the state of Florida:

https://www.compostinfo.com/

For turning the whole thing into a sciene project with more information than I care to look at:

https://compost.css.cornell.edu/Composting_homepage.html

Two cent advice: Make it work for you and don't work to change your life around in order for it to work. You can make it as complex and elaborate as all get out or you can make it as casual as a surf bum. It works when it works for you - no other criteria need apply.

Pick up all the tips you can from rainbow gardener and others. Just remember, a lot of that advice is what works for the source of that advice. Your lifestyle, climate and, geography will have a few things to say in the matter.

let it rot.
 

WannaBeGreen
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Wow thanks for all the replies, I'm really glad I signed up to this thread. Definitely plenty for me to read and digest and I'm definitely gonna come out of this smarter. Time to get started thanks again.

2cents
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All the great advise said.
I suggest a dictionary or google at your finger tips.

I have 40 yrs experience before coming onto this site.
With the help of those on the site and all the reference guides and Webster's Dictionary. I feel very comfortable in the knowledge of how and why these processes work. :D .

Good luck

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applestar
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:lol: Don't take offense when asked to read the rest of the info on the forum :lol:
I've only been here just over a year but with nearly a 1000 posts under my belt, I get tired of answering the same ol' questions over and over again, too. :wink:
If you check, dear cynthia_h has posted 2000+. :clap:
Great info coming your way from rot and rainbowgardener. I only had time to scan them and didn't check the links provided, but let me just add that my fave brown addition when in a pinch is a bale of STRAW (not hay). Usually $5~$8 at a feed store, a bale lasts for a good long while, breaks down easily, and earthworms love it.

Have fun composting, and good luck!

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"browns" for compost

This is a season where there's lots of greens and browns are harder to come by. I'm still using last fall's leaves, because last fall when people were putting their leaves out at the curb in yard waste bags for pickup, I "stole" bags and bags of them, brought them home. I used them all winter to cover my kitchen scraps on the compost pile when I didn't have weeds to pull and I still have some that I'm mixing in with all the weeds and stuff now. And when the bags get emptied, I tear them up and throw them on the pile too. By now the bags have been sitting out in the weather for many months; they are pretty softened up.

cynthia_h
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Re: "browns" for compost

rainbowgardener wrote:...I "stole" bags and bags of them,....
[clearing throat] Ahem...we are ethical people here; we do not "steal." But we may...liberate, rescue, rehome, tidy up...the poor, lonely, unloved leaves while simultaneously relieving neighbors / city workers / private company solid-waste workers of the heavy burden :lol: of said leaves.

As for me, last Thanksgiving weekend (leaves drop later around here, I discovered...) we drove around with yard bags and rakes in the back of the car and...

yep...liberated many, many maple and oak leaves directly out of the street gutters! Just raked 'em up and gave 'em a home. They're public domain so long as they're not on anyone's property, and these were in the (clean, non-oily) storm gutters. So we didn't trespass, either... :wink:

I'm still working on the Rescued Leaves, but I have a BioStack bin and not a large-ish pile. I think I ended up with 6 or 7 yard bags of leaves; there are still at least 3 left.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

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applestar wrote::lol: Don't take offense when asked to read the rest of the info on the forum :lol:
I've only been here just over a year but with nearly a 1000 posts under my belt, I get tired of answering the same ol' questions over and over again, too. :wink:
If you check, dear cynthia_h has posted 2000+. :clap:
I totally understand and agree. I have been a member longer than either of you have and haven't posted hardly at all (on this forum) because I was busy reading and getting to know what is going on. :hide: All I was trying to say is that sometimes someone just wants to ask to make sure that they are thinking in the right direction.
I find it annoying when someone just joins a forum and starts posting questions, especially in the wrong threads! :x But I also find it just as rude and honestly even more annoying when someone just posts "Read the sticky." :evil: If the person actually follows the forum rules they have already done that. If not, then the moderator should delete their post and send them a message about reading before posting or that they need to follow the rules.
After all, I don't want to chalk up a bunch of posts when all they say is "Read the Sticky."
:lol: :cool:
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rainbowgardener
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rescuing leaves

I've been known to do that too.... just rake up piles of leaves in the streets. One person's trash is another's treasure and to me those are treasures. I'm glad to still have some fall leaves around.

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smokensqueal
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applestar: Wow staw for $5-$8 a bail? You might just want to drive up to a farmers house and ask. Around here there are $2-$3 at a farmers house. But I guess if you are buying one it's not that big of deal.

As far as having browns and greens this year I'm really short on greens. I'm having a hard time getting my compost pile even warm. We've had lots of rain but this spring was very cool and the grass didn't grow much. I'm now in search for greens. I never thought I would be in this position. I'm about to go to the local store and ask for some of their spoiled veggies and fruits. I've already asked our local fruit/veggie stand and they give them to a guy to feed some animals. :( Guess I'll see what the big box stores do with theirs.

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rainbowgardener
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compost greens

Do you really not have weeds in your garden? How do you do that? My compost pile has plenty of greens this time of year--lots of kitchen scraps because we are eating a lot of fresh grown stuff and tons of weeds. Our cool rainy spring has been great for growing weeds which are massive....

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smokensqueal
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As far as weeds in the garden they are minimal. I usually get them when they are only about an inch tall so there isn't much to throw into the compost. Now the lawn is a different story with the weeds. We have so much clover if I let it go for to long and let it flower it looks like it just snowed. Good for the bees bad for the bee stings. :( We always eat a lot of fruits and veggies so that hasn't gone up much since winter. It's definitely not enough to keep the pile warm. I've resorted to sneaking out in the dark of the night and giving the pile a little "natural human" juices :wink: for a little nitrogen boost.

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applestar
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Around here, there's so much development going on that there are no longer many local farmers growing the stuff. Add to that the fuel costs and the cost of a bale keeps going up. I saw one of the farms harvesting a couple of weeks ago, so maybe the price has come down a little, but I doubt I'll see prices like $2~$3. :roll:

Weeds -- Didn't I say before something along the lines of "I no longer have weeds. I have compost greens dynamically accumulating until I'm ready to harvest them" ? I let the "weeds" grow when they're not bothering anybody or stealing anybody else's nutrients/water. Then when they're just starting to flower (when nutrients are at their peak) OFF with their... well... roots! Cut them off at the ground level and into the compost they go. (I bought a hand sickle for this purpose -- it works really well: Grab a handful, a quick pull stroke, and you're done!) The roots are left to die and add humus to the soil.

The weeds and long grasses are also used in the bottom of sheet mulch layers or as mulch around plants. Who needs to BUY mulch, just let them grow! :wink: The "weed" flowers attract TONS of beneficial insects too. Any flowers past peak that are iffy in terms of spreading seeds go in the Drowned Weed Bucket. Nothing wasted. :cool:

Clovers are an exception. I told DH NOT to mow down the clover. :lol: But where he would not listen to me -- in the front yard -- and mowed anyway, the clovers are back in flower. I have to be careful of the bees when not wearing boots too. :D

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smokensqueal
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Well I mowed the snow I mean clover Saturday. I guess I didn't realize how thick the stuff got. I was unable to mulch it back to the grass (clover field) so I actually got some greens for my compost pile. Got about a wheel barrel full of mostly clover leaves. Might help a little in the compost bin but I'm sure it's still not enough.

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Re: new compost pile

rainbowgardener wrote:This kind of composting is easy and requires no special equipment. Vermicomposting (worms) is a lot more specialized. Do a lot of reading before you try it. You have to have the right kind of worms and the right kind of box for them and the right ingredients in the box. I've never done it, so can't advise you about it. I think one reason people do it is you can keep your worm box indoors. It's a way to do composting even if you don't have outdoor space. Also the resulting worm castings are a very rich material.

my granddad had an outdoor worm pile, his whole life. just a 6x6x6 cube of cinder blocks, minus the top, filled with vegetable matter and worms. he never researched anything, never was an "expert", never really "tried". he just threw EVERYthing that could compost in there, and turned it all over and over every few days. it never had problems, helped him grow amazing veggies throughout the years, AND had one more HUGE benefit, that noone ever seems to mention.

WORMS.

for a fisherman, there is nothing quite as nice as a big stinking pile of dirt filled with healthy earthworms.

so, it helped him provide food for his family in 2 ways. fertilizing his plants, and catching his fish.


:)
-Zone 7b
-Veggies, succulents, cacti, flowers, and houseplants!

rot
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rolling in clover

 
Doesn't clover return nitrogen to the soil? Exactly what grass needs?

Seems to me way back when you used to be able to buy grass seed mixes with a certain amount of clover in it.

I've got some of that pseudo clover, oxy-something-or-other. It doesn't return nitrogen to the soil but I like the color and it covers the bare spots. It stays low as long as I mow the grass regularly. I believe some consider it a weed and an invasive. It has shallow roots so my infrequent watering doesn't let it get a foothold.
 

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Oxalis (wood sorrel) leaves have a nice lemony/sour flavor that really adds a kick to salads. Flowers aren't as flavorful but are pretty. The leaves are delicate and turn brown easily so add just before serving. High in oxalic acid, it's not good for ... huh, just drew a blank :oops: ... people with kidney probs?

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smokensqueal
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White clover is able to pull nitrogen from the air and not from the soil I'm not sure if it actually returns nitrogen to the soil. I'm sure once you cut it and it breaks down it does. Which explains why it grows so well in moist clay. Being that my yard is only about 2 years old I'm assuming the fertilizer hasn't kicked in quite yet so the grass hasn't taken off. It is actually and invasive "weed" that was brought over from Great Britain. It was at one point in time included in grass seed mixes. I don't mind it for the most part because I know my yard doesn't need to be perfect and it is green and covers the bare spots but personally I don't like it when it get's so aggressive and starts crawling all over the flower beds. At least weekly if not more often I have to pull it's little legs out of the flower bed. :evil: And the kids and wife don't like the bees to be right under the swing set.

To stay on topic here after adding mostly clover clippings to the compost on Saturday. The compost was actually a bit warm last night when I checked it.

rot
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again, rolling in clover

 
I seem to remember from my dim memories of history of an agrarian revolution about Elizabethan times where farmers would rotate crops and leave one third of their fields fallow. This was later facilitated by planting clover in the fallow field because it returns nitrogen to the soil like legumes (beans). Somewhere in there a character named Jethro Tull is involved but that's a digression.

It made a lot of landed people rich as it bumped up yields and that's where the old saying of rolling in clover or something like that became a remark of prosperity.

Grass is nitrogen hungry. There are places in Texas where they have fields for high nitrogen waste water to collect full of grasses. They don't like the prairie dogs there because prairie dogs dig holes and burrows allowing the water to drain past the grasses and then the water tables have too much nitrogen.

Mow grass high to crowd out other plants and shade the soil from wind and sun. You'll need less water that way. Grass-cycle to reduce water requirements further - it breaks down in days - and reduce the need for fertilizers too.

Out here between the Mojave and the ocean, I'd like some clover in the lawn.

I'll have to try that salad mix some day. Thanks.

Come on everybody let it rot.
 

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