mattie g
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First-time (sort of) composter

Hello, all you rotting fruit-and-vegetable-matter lovers!

Just last night, my lovely wife sanctioned the purchase of my first composting unit (a vertical, center-axle style tumbler), which will arrive sometime this week. I've read a lot of stuff in this forum, and realize that tumblers aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I'll be producing mine on a relatively small scale, and the limits of my suburban parcel of land require that I have a nice, tidy composting unit that I can put in an out-of-the-way place (which I don’t have many of). I fully understand the limitations of having a tumbler, but the pros outweigh the cons for me, and I think it'll produce the required amount of compost in a decent amount of time.

As for time, I don’t expect the compost to be ready for my planting of summer crops, which will probably go in somewhere in late April. Because I have a small garden, instead I can afford to use mushroom compost from the local nursery to supplement my native soil (which I started amending with the same mushroom compost last year). More than anything, I hope to be able to use any compost I make this spring/summer for brewed/steeped compost tea, and then use what I've learned to get a good batch going in the fall so I have a nice batch of compost ready for next spring.

As for the "sort of" part of my title, my parents had a compost pile in our back yard while I was growing up, so I'm fairly familiar with how the process works. One thing I'll never forget - that pile would yield some of the fattest nightcrawlers you could ever hope to find, which in turn yielded a good number of bass and catfish from the local ponds. Great fun for a kid!

Anyways, just thought I'd use this thread as a sort of journal to follow the process, and to help me learn from experience and from any inputs you more experienced composters feel might be helpful for a newcomer like me. I'm really looking forward to this!

vermontkingdom
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Welcome back to the world of composting. Congrats on receiving your wife's blessing for the purchase of that first composter. I suspect you will find a greater and greater commitment to composting and its insidious, subtle addiction will amaze you. My wife of more than 40 years gets a certain amount of delight watching me retrieve organic matter to satisfy the appetite of my compost bins!

I started with tumblers and have evolved into a three-bin, 4 x 4, compost wacko. I think the most important thing in all of this is not in what way you compost but in the fact, that you do compost.

Happy Gardening. My God, it may get to 70 degrees this weekend. For an avid Vermont gardener, it doesn't get much better than to have 70 degree weather in March.
"Good gardeners do not have green thumbs. They have brown knees, soiled hands and big hearts."

mattie g
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Thanks, vermont! I've always been a bit of a "greenster" at heart, but it's only the last few years that my wife has come around to really making an effort to recycle and look more towards living a bit more organically (when feasible). Needless to say, it's pleased me to no end!

I'm expecting my tumbler to be there when I get home from work today. And there's honestly no better weather than what we have right now (up near 80 and sunny) to get one in the mood to head outside. I'm going to get that puppy set up and start loading her up with whatever I can get my hands on!

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rainbowgardener
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Congratulations on getting started! The one thing about tumblers is that it is pretty much batch style. That is once you load it up, you don't keep adding more stuff to it. Otherwise, with the tumbling the freshly added stuff and the nearly finished compost are all blended together, with no way to separate them. So you will still probably need some kind of 3 part system -- somewhere to store your compostable materials while waiting to be able to load the tumbler up again, the tumbler, and somewhere to empty the tumbler to, to put your finished compost, until you use it.
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mattie g
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Rainbow - thanks for the feedback. The "batch method" was one of the drawbacks I was thinking about.

I have a decent amount of greens lined up right now, and the browns are all over my yard (and I have woods near me that still have a lot of leaves on the ground). I think I'll have a good amount of material for a first batch, but have been thinking about how I'll handle it once that first batch of materials gets cooking.

My plan is to store greens in a bin (probably a smaller rollable trash can)and have my browns in my shed ready to be added when the greens are ready. I have some 20-gallon bins where I can put the finished compost waiting to be brewed for tea or for use in the garden/flower beds.

Even the best-laid plan gets thrown out the wndow once the proverbial bullets start flying, so I expect I'll find some flaws in my own plan (stinking greens?) and will adjust accordingly. I just hope I make the right adjustments!

mattie g
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The tumbler was delivered today. It took me about 20 minutes to assemble, then I loaded my first batch of "ingredients" to it: a few days of fruit and vegetable kitchen waste and coffee grounds, three rotted out pumpkins from Halloween, some weeds, and a bunch of leaves and other yard waste. The cardboard box it arrived in was torn up and dropped in as well. I'll probably have some more stuff to add in the next week or so, then hopefully it'll be ready to cook!

btrowe1
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Mattie G,
I'm jealous, I just received a tumbler also, only mine took about 3 1/2 hours to set up, I have 2 old tire setups I've been using for composting for years now, , wife hates the way they look, I'm going to use 1 stack now to be a holding bin till my batches are done, My manual says it takes about 12 to 14 weeks. Good luck to you..

mattie g
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Final trimmings were thrown into the tumbler on Friday morning. Getting a little "juice" coming out of the bottom, but otherwise OK by all accounts. Fruit flies are loving it!

btrowe - Good luck to you as well! Sorry to hear it took so long to put together. Mine was pretty simple, and I had already seen a video online of someone assempling one, which made the task even easier. I'm going to pick up a rolling trash can to act as my holding bin. It might be a little messy getting the stuff into the tumbler, but I'll make it work!

mattie g
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Did my daily tumble yesterday, and it seems as if things are starting to break down. For the past week things didn't really move around terribly much when I would tumble, but yesterday you could tell things were moving. Also, in taking a quick look it looked like things had settled and/or decomposed quite a bit more. I'm sure the warm weather has really helped get things cooking.

As much as I'm tempted to add some more trimmings to the batch, I'm going to let this one ride for now. Like I said before, I don't need a lot of compost at any given time, so the few cubic feet of compost I hope to get should be enough for now.

mattie g
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Definitely more breaking down happening as of yesterday. The tumbler was pretty warm on the inside, which is certainly helping to move things along. I think I have a good balance of greens and browns, and a good amount of mositure to keep it going.

There's a slightly musty, but still earthy, smell when I pop the lid off, so I'm pretty happy with it. In the meantime, I've picked up mushroom compost and leaf humus compost from the local nursery to supplement my planting this year. Hopefully the homemade stuff gives me some good tea later in the season.

mattie g
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Update:

It's been an ongoing process in trying to figure out the proper ratios for my compost. I ended up with a bit too many green to start, so I added some shredded fall leaves a couple weeks ago to help balance things out. I also introduced a ton of small sticks into the compost, so I've been going in from time to time to pull them out as the rest of the stuff decomposes/settles.

Speaking of which...I went in today to take some twigs out, and I noticed a bunch of "albino" plants in there. No doubt they're pumpkins, since that's pretty much the only of my greens that had seeds in them. I guess it just hasn't gotten quite hot enough in there yet, but I don't really much much as long as the compost keeps cooking!

My wife and I have been putting all our kitchen scraps, TP rolls, the occasional cardboard, etc. in a 25-gallon "keg container" since we started our first batch in the tumbler. It's amazing how it always seems close to being full, then just a few days later we have just as much room left in it as we did earlier. Everything is settling nicely, and I think it'll end up part of a bunch of stuff (including grass clippings and fall leaves) that'll turn out to be a nice batch of compost in the summer!

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rainbowgardener
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Pumpkin/squash seeds seem to be amazingly tough and hardy. Those and tomatoes are the main thing that sprout from my compost. I do not get weeds sprouting from it, but lots of squash and tomatoes. But it can be very nice compost, whether or not it ever got really hot.
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applestar
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It sounds like you are getting the hang of it and doing well. :D

IMHO the twigs and sticks are good to leave in because it helps in the aerating, separating, and tumbling action. Screening the finished compost before use will remove any larger pieces you don't want, but twigs/sticks that have started to decay are great fungal source of nutrients for the larger containers and for using directly in the ground.

My compost piles are roughly "framed" with stacked branches and sticks and they decompose over time until they easily snap and crumble (stepping on them, stabbing at them with the shovel, or breaking them by hand) and are incorporated into the compost.

mattie g
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rainbowgardener wrote:Pumpkin/squash seeds seem to be amazingly tough and hardy. Those and tomatoes are the main thing that sprout from my compost. I do not get weeds sprouting from it, but lots of squash and tomatoes. But it can be very nice compost, whether or not it ever got really hot.
Yeah - I'm pretty amazed at how well those things have grown in there! Well enough, in fact, that my wife requested I plant one of the seedlings as an experiment. :)

I also found a potato seedling in there yesterday as I was "de-twigging" the batch. I'd cut up some old, soft (and somewhat moldy) potatoes and threw them in there, but one of the cuttings decided to start growing!
applestar wrote:It sounds like you are getting the hang of it and doing well. :D

IMHO the twigs and sticks are good to leave in because it helps in the aerating, separating, and tumbling action. Screening the finished compost before use will remove any larger pieces you don't want, but twigs/sticks that have started to decay are great fungal source of nutrients for the larger containers and for using directly in the ground.

My compost piles are roughly "framed" with stacked branches and sticks and they decompose over time until they easily snap and crumble (stepping on them, stabbing at them with the shovel, or breaking them by hand) and are incorporated into the compost.
Thanks, applestar! One thing I've been shocked by is how quickly the pumpkins themselves broke down. Also, the cardboard I put in there was "gone" in just a couple weeks. Really quite amazing to think of how it all works.

I pulled some more twigs out yesterday, but I plan to leave the rest to their own devices. Good idea on the screening - I may just do that when everything is finished.

denisei
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so tell me about that 25 keg container that is your "holding" area until you put it in the composter. I am gathering information to start my first compost system and was envisioning a couple holding bins as you described, but thought I should have 2 bins (1 for browns, 1 for greens) so that I could mix them into the composter in the appropriate amounts once I have moved the stuff out of the composter. ? or do you only add to yours when you have the right mix of browns and greens? do you turn it? how is it smelling? is it incredibly nasty? sorry, I'm so new I'm not even green yet. :)

Susan W
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This looks like a good thread to post a couple of questions and whatevers.

Set stage, I have a few beds, mostly flowers, a few herbs, not overly organized. Then over 150 containers for the herb business (fresh cut herbs for farmers market)
There is a compost, very casual in the back corner. Veg scraps and coffee grounds and stuff thrown in, turned, and there are some fiesty wormies going. That is on-going, so no real batch of 'compost'. When working in ground, toss a few forkfuls in, including the wormies.
Now, I haven't added this to the containers as it is a mix including some bigger chunks.

Get back to question, thoughts. I have thought about the compost tumbler, and work it, get some real compost, suitable for the containers. And keep the casual one going where it is. The tumbler is batch system, and would get black gold every few months.

In short, I am looking at 2 different systems for 2 different situations, but not totally exclusively separate (hey, we play with plants, there are no distinct lines!)

Make sense? any thoughts?
Have fun!
Susan

mattie g
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denisei wrote:so tell me about that 25 keg container that is your "holding" area until you put it in the composter. I am gathering information to start my first compost system and was envisioning a couple holding bins as you described, but thought I should have 2 bins (1 for browns, 1 for greens) so that I could mix them into the composter in the appropriate amounts once I have moved the stuff out of the composter. ? or do you only add to yours when you have the right mix of browns and greens? do you turn it? how is it smelling? is it incredibly nasty? sorry, I'm so new I'm not even green yet. :)
Well...It's an uncovered container that sits under our carport, so it gets plenty of air - and no water - to keep it from getting nasty and anaerobic. It's primarily kitchen scraps (fruits, vegetables, coffee grinds, etc.), but I also put toilet paper/paper towel rolls, carboard egg cartons, paper bags, etc. in it. I try to layer it if the fruit flies get a little too abundant, and I think it helps keep the smell down. We'll see what happens when we get into consistently warm/hot weather. But, as for now, the only issue I'm having is fruit flies - no smell.

I don't turn it at all - it's truly just a holding bin. Tumblers apparently work best when you fill it all at once, so after my first batch is finished, I'll add these scraps to the now-empty bin, along with grass clippings and shredded fall leaves that are both sitting in wait for now. That should fill up the tumbler and will hopefully give me a nice batch of compost for mid-summer or so. If it turns out like I hope, I'd like to have another batch ready after that for fall planting.

As I mentioned, I have grass clippings and leaves held aside separately - grass in an open bag and leaves in another keg container. I think they'll be perfectly happy staying apart until they're ready to become one in a loamy, nutritious marriage. 8)

mattie g
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Started my first batch of tea yesterday afternoon. Nothing fancy - just put a couple handfuls of compost (in pantyhose)and a couple tablespoons of molasses in five gallons of outgassed, bubbling water. Checked it this morning (12 hours later) and the water was a nice brown color, though not foamy. Also, no foul smell, so at least I have that going for me!

My onions, garlic, and shallots could really use a hit of tea, and I'll also give a nice shot to my container tomatoes.

My wife will be happy to see the vegetable scrap-keg container emptied out into the tumbler once I get the current batch out. It's starting to smell a little bit, and there are more flies hanging around our side door than we'd prefer!

mattie g
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OK...I finally dumped the tumbler into a 25-gallon container and started a second batch of tea yesterday. The first batch - brewed for about 24 hours - turned out OK, but it didn't have nearly as much foam on the top as I expected (actually, there was virtually no foam). I used a bit more compost for the second batch, and also included a little shot of hydrolized fish fertilizer. Hopefully I see evidence of more bacterial growth in this batch. Either way, compost tea of some sort is better than nothing!

In dumping the first batch of compost, I started a new batch. I added a decent-sized bag of grass clippings, a similar-sized bag of shredded leaves, some brown paper bags, and the contents of the "holding bin" and then addded water as necessary.

I played it safe when I emptied the holding bin - I wore a respirator to make sure I didn't retch if the smell got overwhelming. :lol: Tell you what - there was a primordial soup at the bottom of that bin! It was pretty nasty in there - quite a few maggots were sitting in the top couple inches of stuff - but I was able to get it out with no major complications. And, to be honest, the smell in the tumbler isn't bad at all. I'm hoping this batch cooks up quick given the ingredients and the fact that we're heading into the warmer months.

mattie g
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Wow...opened up the tumbler yesterday to add some grass clippings and leaves to top it off, and it was burning hot in there! Looks like I had a little too much in the way of greens in there based on some goopiness I saw, so I added extra leaves and brown paper bags along with the grass clippings.

I thought it may have had most to do with the afternoon sun beating on it, but I went back out this morning to check and it was still nice and toasty. I might have to check the temperature later today just to satisfy my curiosity!

rot
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Thank you for the update.

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I appreciate the updates. Thanks.
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