Page 1 of 1

Boo hoo! It's just sitting there!

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 5:45 pm
by petalfuzz
My compost pile is just sitting there after being turned once/week since the early spring. It's reduced in volume, but doesn't seem to be breaking down more. My problem: durned sod! I broke ground on 2 new plots this spring and layered all the sod (torn into small clumps) with old straw, shredded paper and leaves, and greens like weeds and kitchen scraps.

I'm not looking for advice per se, but I'm complaining cause I did everything "right" with the layering of materials, and proper balance with moisture and such. The pile isn't hot, it still has identifiable ingredients, and the sod clumps are just that: clumps! That makes it very difficult to turn, I'll tell you. I was hoping to till it into the garden this fall but now I might have to wait until next spring? At least the worms love it...

BTW are pill bugs a bad thing?

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:57 pm
by alisios
Wet it down more, maybe?

As far a pill bugs, I would think anything living in there is a good thing!

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 7:26 pm
by hendi_alex
Pill bugs will munch on strawberries that touch the ground. I always liked the critters though and let them have their little share of the bounty.

For me, the key to compost is patience. No reason to be in a hurry, and all of that heat is not really necessary unless you have a lot of weed seeds. Just relax and let the rain, worms, and time do its thing.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:37 pm
by petalfuzz
Yeah, I'm just going to let it sit (while continuing to turn, of course). I was just complaining! 8)

Thanks for reading!

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 6:24 am
by cheshirekat
I don't layer my compost, I mix it all in. If pressed for time, I will mix it in just one spot.

If it is difficult to turn I'd stop adding water. I think the biggest mistake I made at first was adding too much water because the instructions I read (numerous from the web and a local compost class) weren't clear in this point. I decided that water was heavy and it had to be harder to turn wet. (Think of a cow pie - you can sling them far when they are dry, but too far it won't get if the cowpie is too wet). So I stopped adding as much water. I found it easier to water the edges, then turn that into the middle. Mine is a wide pile so that might not work as well for you.

When I went to the compost class and saw the difference in the compost moisture, I felt sure I was on the right track. Describing how moist something is with words is not as easy as one would think. But seeing and feeling the compost was like turning on a light bulb.

If you have a very open compost, it will dry out quicker so more water is needed than a closed one. Mine is somewhat in the middle. It's covered with a thick plastic (blue because I couldn't find anything big enough in black) and the sides of the pile are exposed because it is so big. There a few small holes and rips in the plastic, but it is intact. The wind whips up the edges so they will dry quicker. I wet the edges and the ground around when watering my plants even if I do nothing else to the compost.

At the compost class, both of the instructors suggested "eyeballing" your compost to determine how much water to add. I didn't find that advice too helpful. They also said that too much water causes the composting to be slower. Neither one talked about hot and cold composting until I asked about it at the end. But neither of the instructors had successfully composted at home - they only knew the results of the compost done at the community garden by others where the class was held. The gardens had about twenty different compost styles on display for us to examine.

Everyone in the class was new to composting (instructors included, but they had training to talk about how it is done.) and quite a few people wanted answers/directions to correct their compost because it was too smelly, had a lot of bugs, etc. The instructors suggested they start over. Quite a few of the people decided upon leaving that they were more confused. Me, I was more determined to solve the mystery.

Pill bugs are isopods that spend their lives eating decaying
matter almost exclusively. This makes them beneficial bugs. But in large numbers, they can be a problem from what I've read because they will eat some live plants and roots. I don't know if their numbers in the compost is a good thing or not. I do know that when I felt my compost wasn't progressing quite "right" for me, I saw a lot of pill bugs at the top and sides of my compost and a ton of fat worms throughout. Now I see fewer pill bugs and slightly fewer worms, but the worms are still throughout. So I wondered if they would consume too much of the "food" in the compost and leave less for the compost microbes and bacteria if their numbers were significant?

Ok. I'm rambling the thoughts in my head because I've been going over compost questions each time I turn my pile. Last time I turned it is the first time I felt I could pat myself on the back. I've discussed and read compost discussions on different forums and learned that there are a lot of people hoping to get it right. Me included. Some of the most useful ideas I've gotten were from people talking about their compost problems and successes. So, if more of us that are learning talk about it, maybe we can all learn - even the people lurking or passing through. (We all know there are lurkers. I lurked on many compost discussions for a long while before ever speaking up.) It's a confusing topic. The "browns" and "greens" really confused me for a long while because I kept wanting to think in colors. It also confused me when I saw photos of successful compost piles that had weeds growing out of them. Yikes. I don't want weeds in mine if I'm going to spread it in my garden.

So petalfuzz, I think it is good you are complaining and venting. We all can probably learn from it. Especially because some people will give the impression that it is easy. And I might have been a better composter if I'd vented my frustration with it long ago. Maybe some people can offer suggestions on speeding up the compost so you have fewer chunks. For me it was less water and more straw, which I guess is a brown.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 1:57 pm
by hendi_alex
As mentioned earlier, I'm a patient composter. Also am a low tech/unsophisticated composter. Have not watered the compost in over a year. Used to have tons of earthworms in the pile but now the fire ants get in and decimate the earth worms. No attention is paid to green or brown or water. Just a collection of three pretty well made 4x4x5 wooden boxes with removeabel slats on the front. What goes in? Anything that is a vegetable organic: oak leaves are the #1 component, horse manure #2, used potting soil, grass clippings, weeds and spent plants from the garden, kitchen scraps/left overs, hay, wood chips, whatever. I try to keep the bins at different stages of breakdown, but have only been marginally successful at that. So many leaves come off in the fall that all three bins get an infusion of fresh leaves at that time. Perhaps will build a 4th bin as would like to be able to have freshly started, intermediate, and fully composted series of bins. Last year lots of new planting projects were started and the compost was depleted, all except a bit for layering in the next batch of leaves. Since my method does not generate a lot of heat, that starter mix is useful for injecting lots of bacteria/decomposers into the leaves to get the action going.

Though I can respect the meticulous efforts/methodology of the sophisticated scientific composter, I toss out my method for the lazy composter who want compost but does not want its production to become a labor intensive process. Anything organic can be composted, and the compost will form no matter how the material is handled. The process will proceed at a decent rate as long as the material gets a reasonable amount of oxygen and gets a reasonable amount of moisture. If the pile gets too dense or gets too wet then the process gets really slow and also can get really smelly, so those conditions need to be avoided. Otherwise, the autopilot method of composting gives a great product and requires only a modest effort that goes beyond the gathering of leaves/debris which would take place for most of us anyway.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:03 pm
by hendi_alex
Reading/posting on this compost thread motivated me to go turn a bit of one pile that was started late fall or early winter. It was as I expected. Looks like about 30% compost, 50% leaf mold, 20% leaves barley changed. The material is moderately damp with some clumping of leaf mold. This was the first turning since this past winter so decomposition will likely take off now. Was pleasantly pleased to see a few earthworms. My sandy hill had no earthworms prior to my compost efforts going back about 20+ years. Now really fat earthworms are present in many parts of this 2+ acre yard, but only near sites that have had large amounts of compost and organic matter added. Am saddened however, the negative impact of fire ants on the earthworm population, especial those in the compost bins.

My compost bins used to be located on the gound. Had to abandon that approach as the tree roots grew right up through the leaves and made recovery of the bottom foot or so almost impossible. Poured a concrete pad and now have the bins located there. The bins are not in a line and that makes forking from one bin to the next a little difficult. In the near future will build a smaller more efficient greenhouse for my orchids. At that time will likely pour the concrete composting pad a little longer so that the bins can be placed in a row with all opening in the same direction. That should facilitate the movement of transition states of compost from one bin to the next. Would like to have fresh material on the left and finished compost on the right. Will then gradually move material to the right as the composting becomes more and more complete. That will force me to turn a little more often and will also help segregate the more completed compost from that containing newly added material. Sounds like I'm thinking somewhat more like a scientific composter. Hopefully the urge will pass. Maybe will go sit in the rocker and enjoy the breeze instead.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 6:35 pm
by CharlieK
I'm soaking up all this information on composting, a very interesting topic. I want to thank everyone on this thread for the details outlined. Information always gives us raw material for success.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 7:51 pm
by hendi_alex
This thread is going pretty well. Will include a few photos of my freshly (today) turned composting material and of my bin setup.





Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 5:54 am
by cheshirekat
hendi_alex, did you add worms to your compost since they are on concrete?

I used to be into the lazy composting method but I got a hubby that thinks composting is a waste of time. So, I gotta do it right this time around. And since I can't get feedback or help with composting from the hubby, I bounce thoughts to other gardeners in places like this. But we all have our own methods. I like how neat and solid your bins look. My compost pile looks like a pile of junk weighing down lumps covered with a ragged plastic sheet. Not picturesque.

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 11:53 am
by hendi_alex
I bought one or two pounds of earthworms about 15-20 years ago. As pointed out earlier, I always keep a bit of "starter" compost from the previous season, and it always retains some of those worms. In a good year when the fire ants stay out of a pile, you can pick up compost from many areas and there will be hundreds of worms in just one shovel full. Since the fire ants have been so active, when the pile was turned yesterday, there was only evidence of a sprinkling of worms throughout.

I find composting on concrete or some other weed barrier to be far superior to placement directly on the ground. As pointed out in a previous post, I got all kinds of roots from trees growing up through the bottom of the compost, and felt like a large amount of the nutrients were being pulled out of the pile. Plus the tangle of roots makes it impossible to recover the bottom part of such a pile. If a concrete slab is too expensive or too ugly and permanent, then I would use a plastic barrier with something like metal sheeting, patio stones, or other more temporary material to keep roots from penetrating into the pile.

As you say, everyone has his/her own method. With compost I think there is really no "right" method although there are a few no-no's. I do like to hear what others do. We certainly don't all need to re-invent the wheel seperately. This kind of forum for sharing is a great place to pick up new ideas, or to find out about a new plant or product that otherwise may never have been found by a particular individual.

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 4:19 pm
by cheshirekat
I picked a spot in my yard with a dead tree stump, so I chopped out the roots about a foot down. I haven't planned for my compost pile spot to be permanent yet, so the ground works well for me.

I feed worms to my compost all the time. When I'm digging in my garden and find worms, I don't want to chop them accidently, so I move them to the compost sanctuary. I try to keep the ground around the compost moist so the worms will be attracted to it. I never put worms in the compost, I just put them in the wet ground around it - even if I have to dump the bird bath to give them moist soil to go into. I think they all seem to gravitate to the compost from there - I would if I were a worm.

Next year my compost pile will be moved to the other side of the yard where I want to improve the soil for my Chinese wolfberry bushes. I hope the local nursery has more comfrey this weekend so I can plant them this summer in that spot. The comfrey I have now is for my current compost pile at the end of the season.