Alfred
Full Member
Posts: 14
Joined: Mon Sep 06, 2010 3:24 am
Location: Auckland. New Zealand.

Composting 101, for the beginner

My experience with composting is it needs plenty of air,it should be kept moist but not wet and also i give it some lime which contains calcium that is an essential plant nutrient.
Grow food that you can harvest every single day of the year, no matter where you live.

dave.c
Newly Registered
Posts: 6
Joined: Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:36 am
Location: Seattle, WA

composting

I used to live in Portland, OR. That's the first time I saw a compost bin. They had all the warms and everything, it was great. I had a window bin till now, cause we lived in an apartment but now that we FINALLY have a yard composting will be number one on my list. Thank you for all the info!
https://www.irrigationglobal . com/contents/en-us/d178_drip_irrigation_white_papers.html rop by drop irrigation | www.irrigationglobal . com /contents/en-us/d178_drip_irrigation_white_papers.htmldrip irrigation systems

pickupguy07
Senior Member
Posts: 253
Joined: Thu May 12, 2011 11:06 pm
Location: GA

How does a person achieve this combination?
Everything has a C:N value, and here are some values of ingredients....

Leaves (fallen, brown in color) - 50:1
Paper - 400:1
Grass clippings - 15:1
Fruit scraps - 35:1
Vegetable scraps - 20:1
UCG's - 20:1

*Mix ingredients by volume, not weight.....

If you combine equal parts of leaves and grass clippings, the overall C:N ratio would be 32:1

- leaves and UCG's, the overall C:N ratio would be 35:1

- paper and grass clippings, the overall C:N ratio would be 207:1

If paper is your only resource of browns, you will need to add TONS of greens to achieve an overall mixture of 30:1. It would be something like -

1 part paper, 20 parts grass clippings - for an overall combined C:N ratio of 33:1
*Needless to say, paper is not a good choice of browns......
Nice info.. Needless to say that we all have different sources for our compost at different times of the year.
One thing I wanted to ak is about "how" you figure the C:N ratio. I tried several different ways based on your examples.
Could you pass along how I can figure the ratio depending what I have on hand. For example I can get 100 lb of used coffee ground per DAY... but at this time of year very few browns.. only newspapers mostly.

Needless to say I'll have to look over the greens/browns list and see what else I can come up with for browns.

Couple other things.. I see paper is listed at 400:1. Is regular 'paper' and newpaper figured the same. I know that regular 'copy paper' is a lot thicker than newspaper.?? Curious if the ratio was different.

Finally. I know sometimes people get referred to this link..
https://compost.css.cornell.edu/OnFarmHandbook/apa.taba1.html
I have no idea how to figure out what I am seeing... anyone know where I might find a list like you posted above. If someone tells me how to figure out the C:N ratio and the list of items I could probably figure out a decent mixture to keep the pile going with what I have available.
Life is great..... but if you get lemons - compost them :-)
Near Atlanta GA... newbie to gardening & Composting

cynthia_h
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7501
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 11:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

First of all, let me apologize. Such a long passage (the ratios) from an unattributed source should have raised a moderator's antennae when it was posted, and it did not.

I have just performed a limited Internet search on the ratios. You really do NOT want to calculate these yourself. One source is [url=https://www.extension.uidaho.edu/mg/resources/handbook/MGH08.pdf]this one[/url], from the University of Idaho extension service; other detailed C:N lists can be found in the lists and links referred to in the extended threads you've been to and through already, as well as others in the Composting Forum. I believe that, elsewhere, a "rough and ready" guideline of 2:1 is provided, and that is volume of Cs to volume of Ns, not ratios or anything else.

I haven't seen any postings from the OP of this thread since last fall. I understand when people in cold-winter zones take up other activities in the winter, but I'm a little concerned about this OP in particular. His home is (was?) in one of the areas of our country hard hit by the tornadoes a few weeks ago.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Personally, I have never calculated a C:N ratio and I have good compost every year. It isn't rocket science. You want basically some balance of wet/ dry, greens/ browns, but if it is off a little bit one way or the other, it will still compost. I use a little more brown than green by volume, by eye ball. But as noted sometimes of the year that is easier than others, so the C:N ratio of what I add does change a bit through the seasons. As long as the fall leaves I collect last, it's not hard to keep plenty of browns. Last year after the fall leaves were gone (the next summer!), I bought a bale of straw, but I wasn't real pleased with how well it broke down (or didn't) so I may try something different this summer.

But just eyeball it. If the browns aren't breaking down, add more greens/ air/ moisture. If it is wet and slimy or doesn't smell good, add more browns and mix. Nature will take care of it!! :)
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

pickupguy07
Senior Member
Posts: 253
Joined: Thu May 12, 2011 11:06 pm
Location: GA

HI Cynthia
Thanks so much for the reply..
All the folks here are so kind and helpful...
The link you provided is a wealth of information. All very interesting stuff.

In doing other research I did find a few tidbiots about figuring the C:N ratios. Of course finding out what the amounts to figure can be difficult.
I'll post what I found and someone can correct me if I am wrong.
Basically I read that you take the ratios... add them together, and devide by thye number of items.
For example lets say you have 1 part leaves (50:1) and two parts UCG (20:1) SO you take 50+20+20 = 90 devide by three items 90/3 = 30

Obviously I assume the more varity the better - I am guessing you wouldn't want to make compost out of just weeds and wood ashes... even though the ratio comes up to about 28.

I have access to 400 - 500 lb coffee grounds per week (maybe more)... mostly available rigt now is newspaper. Paper had about 175, and UCG about 20. so to use these tow items I'd have to use 9 parts UCG to one part paper -- and I have no clue how long it would take to break down (heard paper breaks down slow)..
So you can see why I have questions. I have some items in great supply, but few of many items util fall comes when I can collect leaves.
THANKS
Life is great..... but if you get lemons - compost them :-)
Near Atlanta GA... newbie to gardening & Composting

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Agree that the more variety the better. We generally say no more than 10% of your pile one ingredient. Part of what makes compost such good stuff is that by the time you have a big variety of ingredients contributing to it, your finished compost will contain all the nutrients, micronutrients, trace minerals and whatever that your plants could need, plus the appropriate micro-organisms to help process the nutrients into forms the plants can use.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

rot
Greener Thumb
Posts: 728
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2008 5:15 am
Location: Ventura County, CA, Sunset 23

Coffee grounds and newspaper - sounds like you want worms

..
Isn't newspaper & coffee grounds about ideal for raising worms?

Yes newspaper is slow to breakdown. Run it through a chipper with some other stuff so it gets shredded well and then mixed well with some other stuff or you'll get clumping.

I once made a bin of 50 percent coffee grounds. It was a dark gooey mess and I worked it for months to turn into something somewhat workable. Coffee grounds if not mixed and spread well through out the pile will smoother a lot of the air.

to sense
..

pickupguy07
Senior Member
Posts: 253
Joined: Thu May 12, 2011 11:06 pm
Location: GA

yeah. Iam figuring I am able to get too much of one thing, and not enough of another..
Even if I did know all of the C:N rations of what I put in the bin,.. you know you always add 'other' stuff... old garden veggies, table scraps,.. so that can skew the numbers

also I was curious.. I know it shows paper at a certin C:N ratio.. I assume that is 'whole'. I am guessing if it is schredded that number goes down some... I am hoping (would anyone know what that number may be.??)

My pile is just a newbie.. lol. My first bin ever and maybe a foot tall.
Life is great..... but if you get lemons - compost them :-)
Near Atlanta GA... newbie to gardening & Composting

rot
Greener Thumb
Posts: 728
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2008 5:15 am
Location: Ventura County, CA, Sunset 23

Surface Area

..
If you shred the paper it won't change the C:N ratio any but it will increase the surface area exposed to air and bacteria. Like a fire, the greater the exposed surface area, the faster the process.

You want to mix the nitrogen materials into the vicinity of the carbon materials because the bacteria draws on the nitrogen to digest the carbons.

I use what I have on hand and if I can, I adjust things as I go along. Mine is more of a digesting process than a compost producing operation. I will build my bins most of the time slowly and just keep adding things until the bin gets full and I start another while the previous bin finishes digesting and reduces. I have some I turn infrequently and a couple I don't turn at all.

The hot process gets you compost faster and kills off seeds and pathogens. It takes more work because you are turning it frequently.

Ideally in the hot process you monitor the temperature and just after the peak temperature starts to decline you turn the pile and monitor the temperature for the next peak. The temperatures decline of course but the turning still gets oxygen into process keeps things moving at lower temperatures because different bacteria are in action then. Without monitoring the temperatures, if you turn once a week, I think you'll find that plenty. Turning also gives you a look-see so you can tell if it's working or not or maybe if it needs water.

In the hot process you want to build the pile up all at once. I can get 17 cu ft going up to 150 F. Once got 160 F. Often it's at 140 F when I bother. It's a little easier to get the higher temperatures when you make the bin a little larger approximating a cu yd or 27 cu ft.

Mix some of this and some of that and see what happens. Adjust things as you go along. If it's done in two months time, you got a good mix and you've been turning regularly and adding just the right amount of moisture. If it takes a long time maybe you've got some stuff that doesn't break down that quickly or too much water or not enough water or not enough air. You're looking at a lot of variables from climate to materials to energy put into it. Slow and dry means to many carbons, smelly and wet means too many nitrogens typically.

Observe and adjust. Don't stress over it.
..

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Definitely agree with rot "don't stress over it"

but re 'My pile is just a newbie.. lol. My first bin ever and maybe a foot tall."

Look around for more compostables... they are everywhere! Your compost pile will work a lot better when it is deeper.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

Ole Dummy
Full Member
Posts: 39
Joined: Sun Jun 29, 2008 7:25 pm
Location: Decatur Alabama

Started my compost pile yesterday. I tried this a couple years ago and got so much bermuda grass growing in it I couldn't do much with it. Moved to a different location but there is still some bemuda there. What do I need to do about keeping the grass from coming up in it?
Rick

Ham and eggs, a days work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig.

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Before you start your pile, cover the whole area with cardboard, which will smother the grass. Put your pile down on top of the cardboard and the cardboard will eventually compost away. But I think you would need to make the cardboard area wider than the compost pile to make it a little harder for the grass to grow back in from the outside.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

Ole Dummy
Full Member
Posts: 39
Joined: Sun Jun 29, 2008 7:25 pm
Location: Decatur Alabama

Thanks, I hadn't thought of that.
Rick

Ham and eggs, a days work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig.

rot
Greener Thumb
Posts: 728
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2008 5:15 am
Location: Ventura County, CA, Sunset 23

A spectrum of feed stock

..

WRT the list of materials link:
https://compost.css.cornell.edu/OnFarmHandbook/apa.taba1.html

The way I use it is as a spectrum. There will be few regular feed stock items for my compost higher in nitrogen than grass clippings and fewer high in carbon than say sawdust. Most other things fall in between.

So if I'm wondering just how green or brown something might be and it's on the list, I can compare it to the grass clippings or the saw dust or the leaves or something I have used and know how it behaves and with that knowledge, I will anticipate how I'll need to adjust things to accommodate any particular feed stock that falls into my hands and pops up on the list.

I find do or don't lists less than helpful when I don't understand the why. Most of the time, stuff on the don't list works for me as don't want to for various reasons. Sometimes stuff on the do list turn out to be don't want to either.

If you want to learn while you're starting out, stick with the sure to compost stuff at the beginning and see how that goes. Once you have an understanding how it works for you, go from there. I think you'll find it's no great leap to draw your own conclusions. You'll notice things like peach pits don't break down so maybe adding a bunch of peach pits won't be a such a hot idea. After you've turned a pile or two, you might get a notion of what you don't want to uncover and that will guide you further.

Start, observe and, adjust.

to sense
..

Jeffross1968
Senior Member
Posts: 119
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:00 am
Location: Western NC Zone 6b

This is a great post. I think if I had to think about it too much though, I'd probably not do it, so I'm glad that it seems it will happens sooner or later, even if it ends up being later :lol:

I bought one of those 115 gallon plastic compost bins at one of the home improvement stores. Every morning it gets what chicken poop and hay stuck to it that I remove from our little chicken coop. I've stopped getting plastic bags from the grocery store and now get paper bags, which I have the kids tear into little pieces and put into the bin. We also add weeds that have been pulled, TP rolls, and kitchen scraps (no meat). I go out and water it every 3 or 4 days, and have only turned it once in the few weeks we've had it. I really don't know how well it's working, but I guess we'll see.

The plan is to have usable compost after growing season to till into my garden, and then another batch to till into the garden in early spring, before planting. We are very clay heavy here, so hopefully I'll see some improvement in the garden, though at least the maters are doing very well this year, having added only a couple bags of manure before planting.

All of this....gardening, composting, keeping backyard chickens is literally new to me this year, so I'm learning lots. We'll see how it all works out :P

To the OP...even if some of us don't follow your post to the letter, it's awesome information, and shows us what direction to move things when we are ready to improve our own system (or lack thereof). So thanks!

User avatar
Tilde
Green Thumb
Posts: 344
Joined: Tue Sep 06, 2011 5:56 pm
Location: Hurry-Cane, Florida USDA10/SZ25

I vote this thread for a sticky - it's done pretty well in deed. I've got my small 6 gallon bin going; not much action yet but I need to get mor browns and dig under a tree to get more soil (started with some 4 yr old worm poop).

Not much around in the way of browns that don't originate in an office right now - but I just trimmed a bunch of bushes and dug up some grass and old leaves from under the ornamental bushes - they're drying in the turtle and will hopefully be usable in a few weeks, about the time I start bin number 2.

Also going to start a micro bin - project for the sprouts using a soda bottle and SCIENCE! I think they'll have fun.

Not sure what kind of mutant ninja grass we have around here - grows everywhere but the channel the neibhood's rain runs through (my side yard). "Put down cardboard, kill that grass" - heh never happens here. Grass finds a way ... every dang time here.
USDA Zone 10, Sunset Zone 25, 16 feet above sea level, surrounded by chem-turfers.

tenderloingardener
Cool Member
Posts: 71
Joined: Fri Jul 05, 2013 11:39 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Very thorough tutorial and a nice segway for my odd ball question:
I live in a tiny space and merely wanted to make some enriched soil- not a real compost pile on my fire escape.
I put some generic potting soil in with a few trimmings from my container garden, but primarily I added UCG, eggshells, and tea bags.
I got a blue fungal growth, didn't care to deal with it as I wasn't well for a while, so I shut the bag (a large thick plastic bag, clear, resused- I think shopping bag), and left it alone throughout the remainder of the summer and through an especially mild winter.
I decide to clean up back there- cleaning out seed flats, used pots and the like, and I opened this bag and found...possibly compost? There is no evidence of any decomp, even the bags for the tea are undetectable and the shells are broken down into minuscule bits.

Is it possible that, through sheer negligence, combined with a low quantity of greens, along with no paper I've made some compost- or at least a nutrient dense stuff I can add in as an enrichment?

It seems like the obvious solution is to mix a bit in with some established plants being repotted and see what happens, but I suppose I'm looking for some reasurance. I'd hate to turn some fungal infection loose in my pots.

I followed none of the rules, so I wonder if anyone can guess if I have something okay or harmful?

Thanks.
Shawna

User avatar
grrlgeek
Senior Member
Posts: 162
Joined: Sat Aug 24, 2013 2:03 am
Location: Southern California Desert

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

tenderloingardener wrote: I shut the bag (a large thick plastic bag, clear, resused- I think shopping bag), and left it alone throughout the remainder of the summer and through an especially mild winter.


Is it possible that, through sheer negligence, combined with a low quantity of greens, along with no paper I've made some compost- or at least a nutrient dense stuff I can add in as an enrichment?

I followed none of the rules, so I wonder if anyone can guess if I have something okay or harmful?
You actually followed the rules for anaerobic composting - which is the exact opposite of a pile that needs to be turned to let in air and kept moist but not wet. Anaerobic composting works on the principle of bacteria that thrive in an environment without oxygen. The key to anaerobic methods, is lots of moisture, about 70%, and sealed up tight. Leave it alone long enough, and it will rot, just like the aerobic method. Sounds like a great alternative for small spaces. Here's a web source with more information: https://www.compostjunkie.com/anaerobic-composting.html

I'd use it in my garden.
Zone - USDA 8b / Sunset 11

JPNguyen
Full Member
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:17 pm
Location: California

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Absolutely great tutorial! I was planning on doing this and thankfully I found this post. I was actually thinking of just tossing everything into a bucket... good thing I didn't or else I would have a lot of goo.

User avatar
Pinehelp123
Full Member
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Aug 04, 2014 11:47 am

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Just what I was looking for. Thank you!
"Absolute freedom is no better than chaos. Society needs laws and regulations to protect it."

bly
Full Member
Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Oct 06, 2014 6:55 pm
Location: Bakersfield, Ca zone 9

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Here is one thing that I didn"t read in this tutorial. After a pile has been composted on the ground, the ground under the pile will be very fertile after the pile is removed. Some water passes through the pile and carries nutrients to the ground. It is a way to boost productivity in an area of the garden.
I did piles on the same area for one year using only lawn clippings and leaves. The cantaloupes that grew there afterwards were amazing.

Zone5Newbie
Full Member
Posts: 17
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2015 2:26 pm
Location: Northern Illinois, Zone 5

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Thanks for the great post! I came in hoping to find out if the ratio was based on weight or volume and BAM there was my answer. 1st time composter, bought first compost tumbler from Menards for $60 and started saving my greens and browns.

jgwhite
Newly Registered
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu May 28, 2015 9:04 pm

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

This is such an awesome compost instructional, EG! I'm really bad with math so the ratio explanation helped me understand it a lot better.

A Happy Seedling
Green Thumb
Posts: 303
Joined: Fri Jan 30, 2015 6:41 pm
Location: USDA Hardiness Zone 7a

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

JPNguyen wrote:Absolutely great tutorial! I was planning on doing this and thankfully I found this post. I was actually thinking of just tossing everything into a bucket... good thing I didn't or else I would have a lot of goo.
Lol, I did the same. Tried to use the goo and it's not completely useless. You can put it on outdoor plants like fertilizer, but not indoor ones; it stinks.
When I wait 3 months for my mango seedling to sprout, and then it damps off.
:evil:

Elly's Garden
Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:37 pm

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Thanks for the information I have tried composting before and never got very far just using kitchen scrap, never knew this much went into composting

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

You're right, doesn't work very well with just kitchen scraps. Did you see the other composting basics thread here? https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/vi ... 35&t=56881

I thought this one was starting to sound kind of technical, so I made the very basic version of it. It really isn't rocket science: browns (hard, dry, carbon rich), greens (soft, moist, nitrogen rich), water to keep it damp, air circulation.

That's it, that is ALL you need. Everything else is just elaboration.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

Beginner_Gardener
Newly Registered
Posts: 5
Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2016 10:40 am
Location: Massachusetts, USA

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

Have started a compost barrel for my garden but my question is about the ratio. I have not been paying close attention to this and have been randomely throwing things into the barrel. Things from coffee grounds, grass, veggie scraps etc. If my ratio is less than ideal, will it have a negative effect? Or will my positive effect just not be as grand?

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Re: Composting 101, for the beginner

The ratio is important, but not precise. This isn't rocket science.

But what worries me is what you said "Things from coffee grounds, grass, veggie scraps etc" That is all "greens." The ratio we are talking about is browns to greens, C:N. But you so far don't have any browns. Browns are things like shredded paper, fall leaves, straw, etc.

Your pile of greens will likely just turn into stinky goo.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

User avatar
ID jit
Green Thumb
Posts: 340
Joined: Tue Nov 01, 2016 2:00 pm
Location: SE New England: zone twilight or 5b... hard for me to tell some days.

Re:

rainbowgardener wrote: Here's my lazy gardener composting:

1) throw everything compostable in my wire bin as it comes along
2) cover greens with browns (I keep some browns, like bags of fall leaves or a bale of straw in the summer, handy for the purpose)
3) if dry enough to water the garden, water the compost pile

that's it!

4) about three times a year, take all the uncomposted stuff off the top of the pile, down to where the earthworms are, to be the bottom of a new pile. What's left is lovely compost!
I wish I had found this years ago. Is good to know that the solution I came to is actually a viable solution. Add what I have when I have it, keep it damp and turn it when I can. One day it dawned on me that my two compost piles were actually very low maintenance pets - need to feed them, water them and pay attention to them on a regular basis. Composting became much easier at that point.

One thing I found very useful, since I am not doing a full-on Berkeley method hot compost is to solarize the black sort of mulchy stuff I end up with. At least I think the term is solarize. Before I use the stuff out of the "curing pile" I spread it out on a tarp about 2" - 3" deep on a tarp someplace sunny and water it well. All the remaining seeds and stuff sprout. I turn them under after a with a hand trowel after a week or so and repeat until nothing else sprouts. Then I store it in heavy black plastic 'contractor's trash bags".

May not be the right way nor the best way, but it works just fine for me.

Return to “Composting Forum”