mostaza
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Why build compost piles?

CONS
1.)Compost piles generate high amounts of greenhouse gases.
2.)Where does a compost pile occur in nature?
3.)Is bringing everything to one spot more work than necessary?

PROS
1.)The free energy aspect such as a water heater or greenhouse heater and much much more
2.)Faster breakdown of nutrients(maybe?)
3.)umm

I would love to get some peoples' thoughts on this.

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Ozark Lady
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I am not a compost pile builder.

But, in nature... particularly in hilly land like where I live... nature does in fact build compost piles.

I have a steep ravine, with absolutely awesome soil.... at the very bottom. But it is under a ton of leaves, and man, what a job that would be to try to carry it back up the hill.

Rain, winds, all these work together to move leaves, manure, and topsoil down the hill, where it is haphazardly layered and watered by the rain runoff.

That soil is awesome... But sooner or later it will travel down the ravine and become silt in the lake.
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rainbowgardener
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Sorry, but I have to disagree about the greenhouses gases (GHGs). If organic products like food wastes and the stuff we put in our compost piles are broken down ANAEROBICALLY, they do give off methane, ammonia, and other GHG's. However, the point of composting is to be AEROBIC decomposition. That is why people tumble and turn their piles or at least put sticks and air channels through them. Under aerobic decomposition, not only are GHG's not given off, they are avoided. That is if the food waste and manure went to a landfill (where it would be anerobically digested) it would give off a lot of GHG's. By putting it in our compost piles and aerobically digesting it we AVOID all those emissions. Also since the compost pile is in my backyard and the landfill is somewhere outside of town, I'm avoiding the emissions (and fuel use, etc) of trucking my waste somewhere else.

"The US sent 25 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2005. The GHG impact of composting this mass would be the equivalent of removing 7.8 million passenger cars from the road."

This is from a fact sheet put out by www.compostingcouncil.org: USCC fact sheet : Greenhouse Gases and the role of composting: A primer for compost producers.

That fact sheet also says: "The use of compost provides numerous greenhouse gas benefits, both directly through carbon sequestration and indirectly through improved soil health, reduced soil loss, increased water infiltration and storage, and reduction in other inputs."

The other inputs they are talking about is that we use compost INSTEAD of chemical fertilizers, which are PETROLEUM products.

I'm not sure what alternative you are comparing compost piles too. You can do sheet composting where you spread your compostables across a planting bed or just bury uncomposted waste. At that point you do risk it going anaerobic, so that is worse from the GHG point of view. To me it also seems like much more work, trouble, and mess than my neat little compost pile. To do sheet composting you have to have a bed all prepared to receive the compostables and a batch of compostables all ready to go on it. I can just take my bucket of compost to the pile any time I want.

It's hard to state accurately the pros of the compost pile without knowing what I'm comparing it to.

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gixxerific
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What are you suggesting to do with kitchen scraps and garden/yard waste if not composting? Or are you just against piles?

Not much else to add to RG's post.

And definitely you could replace

Pros
3) Umm
with
Pros
3)
"The US sent 25 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2005. The GHG impact of composting this mass would be the equivalent of removing 7.8 million passenger cars from the road."
Though I have I always sheet composted in the fall. During the growing season I had my grass clipping, leaves, etc piled up in a corner of my garden. This year I am in the process of building a compost bin just so that I have a place to store some and not take up garden space as well as to not a big unsightly pile in my yard for the neighbors to look at. I will still lay my clippings on thick as a green mulch in the garden, the bin will be for the leftovers.

Dono :)

mostaza
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To clarify; I was referring to piles as opposed to sheet composting.

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Ohhhh. NOW I know why you put this thread in the Permaculture Forum. I was wondering why. You have to admit you were a little vague there in the thread title as well as the initial post.

I sheet compost as well as build compost piles, but I'm still a little bit lost as to what you are looking for. Care to elaborate? :wink:

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pro: humus creation on demand if done right.
For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.

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gixxerific
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mostaza wrote:To clarify; I was referring to piles as opposed to sheet composting.
Well than the speed at which you can be done would be the best reason.

About the GHG backyard composting as Rainbow gardener stated is not that much of an issue being mainly aerobic. Though in large scale projects there could be some methane produced, look [url=https://blog.sustainablog.org/an-inconvenient-truth-about-composting/]here[/url]. Though that is better than at a landfill where it will not see the light of day or have oxygen to even have the chance to become aerobic. If you read that last link it states quite a bit of GHG may be existent in large scale composting but info in[url=https://www.compostingcouncil.org/download.php?r=15&f=34b7cbc44f552a8d44606effb3792e07.pdf]this link[/url] states:
This is not to say the composting itself can’t have GHG
emissions. Both methane and nitrous oxide have been
observed coming from compost piles (Hao, 2001, Sommer and
Moller, 2000, Lopez-Real and Baptista, 1996). Methane
forms under anaerobic conditions, often found at the bottom of
piles. In the real world this probably happens frequently, but
the methane is then oxidized as it reaches more aerobic
portions of the pile and before leaving the pile. N2O formation
is less well understood, occurring closer to the surface where
oxygen is limited but not absent and where nitrogen is in
excess. The CO2 released during composting is considered
biogenic, not anthropogenic, so is not considered in
greenhouse gas calculations. Good composting practices that
balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio and provide adequate
aeration and moisture will minimize GHG emissions.
That to me is still better than the alternative which would be a landfill which is totally anaerobic. As we all know any compost is much better than the chemical alternative with the amount of pollution that is takes to produce and use such an application (and the pollution from leeching, plus destroying the microbial life in the soil). Not to mention the fact that compost may actually sequester carbon therefore reducing GHG. [url=https://www.cawrecycles.org/issues/ghg/compost]Look here.[/url]

I know you were looking for an answer for Sheet vs. Pile but your GHG statement got me thinking. Just trying to clarify that point to myself as well as the rest of us.

Peace,
Dono :)

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sheet composting vs piles

Sheet Composting
"Sheet composting is a way to obtain the benefits of decayed organic material without building a composting pile. Sheet composting involves spreading a thin layer of organic materials, such as leaves, over a garden area. The materials are then tilled in with a hoe, spade, garden fork, or rotary tiller. Leaves, garden debris, weeds, grass clippings, and vegetative food scraps are examples of materials that can be easily tilled into the soil. To aid decomposition, materials should be shredded or chopped prior to layering.

The danger of sheet composting as a compost-making method is that carbon containing residues will call upon the nitrogen reserves of the soil for their decomposition. On the other hand, high-nitrogen materials may release their nitrogen too quickly in the wrong form. What may take a matter of weeks in a compost pile, given confined and thermophilic conditions, may take a full season in the soil.

To ensure adequate decomposition of organic materials before planting, it is best to do sheet composting in the fall. Spread a 2 to 4-inch layer of organic materials on the soil surface and till in. A rotary tiller will do the most thorough job of working materials into a vegetable garden. In a flower bed containing perennials and bulbs, it may be necessary to carefully work the organic material in with a garden fork or hoe."
https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/methods.html#4

So disadvantages of sheet composting vs piles:

The material needs to be tilled in... tilling is a lot of work, if you use power tillers it consumes petroleum and gives off GHGs, and it is disruptive to soil biologies (put no-till or Ruth Stout in the forum search!). Shredding or chopping your compostables first sounds like a lot of work.

Materials break down slower and if not exactly balanced may deplete nitrogen or overdo it.

As I noted the first time, it's not especially convenient. You have to have a bed all ready to spread the stuff on and a whole batch of stuff ready to spread. Where do you keep the stuff in the meantime--don't you really need a pile anyway? I have compost pile all the time, year round. Any time I have a bucket full of kitchen scraps, I add it to the pile. When ever I want compost, I can get some. I have compost available to put in planting holes where ever I want it. If you tilled all your compostables in a sheet into one bed, what do you do when you want to plant something somewhere else?

I still do love my compost pile!

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Re: Why build compost piles?

mostaza wrote:CONS
1.)Compost piles generate high amounts of greenhouse gases.
2.)Where does a compost pile occur in nature?
3.)Is bringing everything to one spot more work than necessary?

PROS
1.)The free energy aspect such as a water heater or greenhouse heater and much much more
2.)Faster breakdown of nutrients(maybe?)
3.)umm

I would love to get some peoples' thoughts on this.
Ok let's be straight here. Composting anything you just grew using any method is a carbon neutral process at the very least. In order to get carbon, your biomass had to take carbon from the active carbon cycle. If you are composting fossil fuels, we can worry about carbon emissions.

That leaves us with choices like methane v. CO2. Good reason to turn your pile. All aerobic respiration results in excess H and excess C. The C is mineralized as CO2 (a crucial part of the biosphere, btw), and O is used to accept the H, making H2O (metabolic water). But really it is negligible. A portion of your total C has been stabilized for a little while if you have any humus left over at all. However that's not the point. Not all CO2 release is bad. CO2 is an important part of the atmosphere (CO2 came before available O2, and was first made available by ancient bacteria breaking down protein).

Here in north america, nature used to make compost piles. Massive leaf drifts. Then Europeans introduced the earthworm. Bye-bye nature's piles. But if we want to get philosophical, we are a part of Nature, and we really are just another animal with habits. We constantly assume we are some kind of all powerful overlord in charge of our environment, when in reality we are manipulated everyday by organisms around us to do their bidding. Watch Michael Pollan's "the botany of desire". He makes this point well.

Faster breakdown of nutrients? Actually I want the opposite from compost - sheet, pile, or otherwise. I want nutrients to be assimilated into living beings, in more and more complex chains like proteins. Let other living things break them down.

No, bringing everything to one spot is not necessary, but it is useful and reduces work. It gives a place to collect kitchen scraps and organic debris for conversion into a form that can be stored until it is needed. It also allows for a consistent product. IMO compost is great in conjunction with sheet composting. And let's not forget bokashi. Hey, when did this become an either/or?

Let's worry about the CO2 damage coming from from overnutrification of our waters and forests, and more importantly our use of fossil fuels. Bury some biochar if sequestration is your aim. Sheet composting is great IMO, especially since fungi can develop undisturbed and the soil hierarchy can form sooner. but it's not going to save the planet from the danger of compost pile emissions.
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Toil - great post, I was with you all the way to the end, and liked the part about why is it an either / or. I am philosophically opposed to either/ or anyway.


But at the very end you say: Sheet composting is great IMO, especially since fungi can develop undisturbed and the soil hierarchy can form sooner. but it's not going to save the planet from the danger of compost pile emissions.

What danger of compost pile emissions? Didn't we just all debunk that, including you?

THERE IS NO DANGER OF COMPOST PILE EMISSIONS IN A WELL MANAGED BALANCED AEROBIC COMPOST PILE!!

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I guess I was being a bit sarcastic. too early for sarcasm?

no, there is obviously no danger from compost piles lol. it's like worrying about CO2 emissions from exercise, when the real danger is emissions from meatloaf.
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Re: Why build compost piles?

Toil wrote: Then Europeans introduced the earthworm.
OK I had to Google this, setting aside compost carbon gas emissions for a moment. (I agree with the zero net if anything argument by the way)

Interesting.

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We've just started having a food disposal collection through our local council. Surely a compost pile is better than having numerous lorries coming out weekly just to collect my food waste!

My grandparents, In Israel, used to bury their food waste in the garden rather than having a compost pile. How does that compare?

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why compost, why garden?

rainbowgardener,
to start off, terminology can be enemy to all, causing mass misunderstanding

I may be wrong, but the very first sentence is the only one I agree with("...benefits...without..pile")

The rest is pretty much the exact opposite of my perspective;

It should involve a THICK layer of alternating materials in their whole forms.
The materials SHOULD NOT be tilled in.(perhaps a tiller should not be owned, for permaculture rejects petro)
The growth of a truly successful garden/farm/megaguild is not [apparently] affected by any amount of compostables it's stewart(s) can throw(literally) at it.

Stuff is never kept anywhere, it is put where it's going and stays there.

Wherever I am going to plant, I place whatever is available to me in layers and let old man time do the rest.

Sometimes I think of the entire garden as one huge compost pile.

NOW... for a big twist... Is gardening itself a paradox to permaculture?
It sound like a lot of work on our part; compost piles, tilling, weeding, digging, moving dirt...

Gardening is a verb that I am compelled to, in my life, replace with 'foraging'.... In a food forest. Of course, to build a lush food forest(especially in a timely manner) requires an immense amount of exertion only feasible if the youth are willing(just ask me, I'm building one right now.)

The Designer did not intend for humans to exist in a setting where this is not possible.

Permaculture is a lifestyle, not a garden bed!

Sorry, I have ADD so i hope this made sense

If you disagree with any of this please let me know...I'm just another naive and prideful human being trying to humble myself and fit in with mother nature's perfect and beautiful pattern

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If permaculture is about no rules than why are there so many rules? :? :?:

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Re: why compost, why garden?

mostaza wrote:rainbowgardener,
to start off, terminology can be enemy to all, causing mass misunderstanding -- (Comments from RBG in red)agreed! And in comments below, I am not disagreeing or arguing, just trying to understand better. I am actually a big believer in permaculture, if not much of a practitioner yet. Hard to do on a long narrow hilly city lot with a lot of built in structure and limitations

I may be wrong, but the very first sentence is the only one I agree with("...benefits...without..pile")

The rest is pretty much the exact opposite of my perspective;

It should involve a THICK layer of alternating materials in their whole forms.
The materials SHOULD NOT be tilled in. So you are laying down a thick layer of materials including kitchen scraps in their whole forms and not tilling it in. Why do you not have rats as well as possums, raccoons, and who knows what else coming and eating it? How is it not nasty to have your ground covered in garbage? I know what the inside of my compost pile looks like while the stuff is still being worked. What about all the cockroaches and other detritovores?

(perhaps a tiller should not be owned, for permaculture rejects petro) Definitely agree with this!

The growth of a truly successful garden/farm/megaguild is not [apparently] affected by any amount of compostables it's stewart(s) can throw(literally) at it. I don't quite understand this. Why would you bother composting if it didn't affect the growth of the garden? Well I know why, because you still want to get rid of the stuff with out trucking it to landfill. But still isn't part of the point of composting that it enriches your soil, therefore affecting the growth of the garden. Maybe you meant it isn't negatively affected by having all this stuff all over it? Sorry, I just didn't quite follow.

Stuff is never kept anywhere, it is put where it's going and stays there.

Wherever I am going to plant, I place whatever is available to me in layers and let old man time do the rest. This part sounds good, except that on my small city lot, if I weren't planning ahead and piling things up sometimes there wouldn't BE anything much available to me, except the most recent bunch of kitchen scraps. I think some of this is what I would aspire to if I could live the way I want to. But permaculture is based on having a more complete plant and animal community. By zoning/ ordinance, I'm not allowed to keep chickens, ducks, or pretty much any animals except companion animals and the wild ones that are here already like the possums and raccoons.

Sometimes I think of the entire garden as one huge compost pile.

NOW... for a big twist... Is gardening itself a paradox to permaculture?
It sound like a lot of work on our part; compost piles, tilling, weeding, digging, moving dirt... Well, on my journey towards permaculture, I'm into no-work gardening, as much as I can. I do compost piles, I don't do tilling, I do year around mulching (perhaps not that different from the sheet composting, but more mono-ingredient, and not spreading garbage all over my garden until the garbage has been broken down) so I do minimal weeding....

Gardening is a verb that I am compelled to, in my life, replace with 'foraging'.... In a food forest. Of course, to build a lush food forest(especially in a timely manner) requires an immense amount of exertion only feasible if the youth are willing(just ask me, I'm building one right now.)

The Designer did not intend for humans to exist in a setting where this is not possible. That may well be true, but many of us, probably most human beings at this point in time are pretty well stuck living in ways that are pretty contrary to what the Designer probably had in mind... Eden was a long time ago. I'm doing the best I can to bring my garden and lifestyle in harmony with the Earth and her ways, but there are lots of limitations on that.

Permaculture is a lifestyle, not a garden bed! Agreed!

Sorry, I have ADD so i hope this made sense Mostly all, quite well done and I really appreciate hearing more/ learning more from the permaculture folks so I can keep figuring out what parts of it I can adapt to my situation.

If you disagree with any of this please let me know...I'm just another naive and prideful human being trying to humble myself and fit in with mother nature's perfect and beautiful pattern

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Re: why compost, why garden?

mostaza wrote:rainbowgardener,
to start off, terminology can be enemy to all, causing mass misunderstanding
glad we are clear on this. because much of what follows in your missive is simply playing around with terminology. Not to mention, you are still stuck believing something like keeping a compost pile precludes living your lifestyle, or sheet composting. It's an a priori statement I don't accept.


The growth of a truly successful garden/farm/megaguild is not [apparently] affected by any amount of compostables it's stewart(s) can throw(literally) at it.


I believe this makes no sense. Unless you are assuming we cannot bring organic matter from the outside? Truly "healthy" (read: useful to humans) land can handle more nutrients than the same land in an "unhealthy" state. But there is no magic. Add too many cow carcasses, or manure green or brown, get the right weather, and you are poisoning wells all around you.
Stuff is never kept anywhere, it is put where it's going and stays there.
More absolutism, as if a human being is not able to divide her resources.
Wherever I am going to plant, I place whatever is available to me in layers and let old man time do the rest.
Awesome. I do this with lots of stuff. It's organisms, btw, not old man time doing the rest.
Sometimes I think of the entire garden as one huge compost pile.
well ok. Here is an etymology for the word compost from https://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=compost :
compost
late 14c., from M.Fr. composte "mixture of leaves, etc., for fertilizing land," also "condiment," from V.L. *composita, from L. compositus (see composite).
despite what the composting council likes to say in their bid to narrow the definition of this word, "composting" and "composite" have the same root. The mixing together of diverse elements into a whole, in other words, defines compost. So I don't like your idea that your garden one big compost, in any sense other than the broadest and least descriptive.
NOW... for a big twist... Is gardening itself a paradox to permaculture?
It sound like a lot of work on our part; compost piles, tilling, weeding, digging, moving dirt...
give me a definition of gardening not based on "stuff you don't do" and we can discuss this. I don't weed, till, or move dirt. I barely dig. I am a gardener though.
Gardening is a verb that I am compelled to, in my life, replace with 'foraging'.... In a food forest. Of course, to build a lush food forest(especially in a timely manner) requires an immense amount of exertion only feasible if the youth are willing(just ask me, I'm building one right now.)
to me, this is just trying to feel special through semantics. all the great stuff you are doing should be enough. and sorry to say, enough mainstream gardeners have taken enough aspects of permaculture to create their practice that you are no longer all that well segregated in terms of technology, practice, or attitude.
The Designer did not intend for humans to exist in a setting where this is not possible.
truism.
Permaculture is a lifestyle, not a garden bed!
permaculture is a technology for raising food. I'm sure not every permaculture person lives the same lifestyle. If there were enough of you, it would break into different schools and have all the problems any massive movement develops. nothing new under the sun.
Sorry, I have ADD so i hope this made sense
Not a very small club, that one.
If you disagree with any of this please let me know...I'm just another naive and prideful human being trying to humble myself and fit in with mother nature's perfect and beautiful pattern
Done and done. Actually, from what you say, you are just another human trying to alter her environment so it produces something of value to humans. it's great that you seek to do it in non-harmful-to-later-generations-of-humans-or-your-neighbors kinda way. But I don't see a major philosophical distinction between you and the ones you feel are so different.

All one has to do is watch ants to learn that storing, cultivating, clearing, digging, herding, and collecting are perfectly natural behaviors for an animal. Ants always stick to the techniques best adapted to their kind and their setting. They don't worry about whether other ants will see this as "right" for other ants. It's the ability to imagine the world as different, and by extension permaculture, that sets us apart from other animals.

I agree, permaculture appears to be the ideal way to grow food for humans in harmony with the natural order. But I have also notice that humans need to constantly modify their ideas or even start over, or there powers of reasoning and observation become debauched. We like to see things that confirm our beliefs, and avoid seeing things that don't. Unless we try really hard, in which case we can briefly see with open eyes, until the gauze forms once again.
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'(perhaps a tiller should not be owned, for permaculture rejects petro)'

the permaculture design course i took went to great lengths to explain what is meant by 'appropriate use of technology'...never was it suggested that using petroleum-derived materials (fuels included) is to be avoided at all cost, only that as it's a dwindling, energy-expensive thing, it shouldn't necessarily be the first option...

permaculture is all about stacking functions, though, so i would like to posit that one reason to make compost piles is the free heat that a good hot pile makes. incorporate pipes into it and heat water, use it to encourage sweet potatoes to slip, etc...

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