Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Talk Dirt

Posted by Paulette Burton

A few posts back, I showed my new compost system. It consists of fencing stakes and palettes. Nothing fancy, but it's getting the job done. 
Today, I took some pictures to show how our compost system is put together. It's not a permanent structure. The palettes can be lifted off and carted away, and the stakes can be removed, by watering the dirt and then wiggling them back and forth, before being yanked out.

Pay no attention to the man behind the screen

We tried for 10 years to compost using old trash barrels with holes drilled in them and the bottoms cut off. They stank, and grew flies. We got turned into the vector inspector and had to throw out all of the "compost" and get rid of the trash can method. This new method doesn't stink. It smells sweet. And it doesn't draw flies!
palette slid over the top of fencing stakes

In order to have healthy compost, you need water, air and the stuff you're composting.
We buried a bucket of kitchen scraps a week ago, and then left it. When we returned, I turned over the compost pile. Do you know what I found? Dirt, and egg shells and onion skins. No rotting vegetables! In three months, my compost will be ready to use in the garden. 
You can also fast track it. By adding a combination of Coke, beer, and ammonia, the compost will break down faster. The beneficial microbes that protect your plants from pests and illness will be killed off with this process. So add them back in by watering the compost with yogurt, buttermilk, sour dough starter or kombucha. 

The microbiology was explained to me this way:
You have good microbes and bad microbes. They can't live together.
Good microbes love oxygen. 
Bad microbes don't. 
You need good microbes to turn the garbage into dirt. The reason why our old composting system didn't work, was because it didn't get enough oxygen! It was close to impossible to turn it.   

There's also a layering method that works best. 
You need a layer of dirt, then garbage, or green waste, as it's called. This can include grass clippings, vegetation from the kitchen (never any animal products except egg shells or yogurt to increase good microbe growth.), and brown waste. This is the dried out stuff like leaves, straw, dried grass clippings, or even mulched wood. 

So to recap:
Brown Waste top
Green Waste middle
Dirt bottom

Repeat. When you have a good pile of the stuff, let it sit for a week, watering  every day, and then turn it once a week or two. 
In the layering step, you are introducing the microbes to the party. They get to know each other and kinda figure out where they are, and then the start EATING! And the waste they leave behind is dirt. Wonderful, nutrient rich, dirt.  
If you were to reach you hand into the pile, you would feel heat. They're moving around. If the pile gets cold, give them more oxygen, by turning the pile. 
Now you know how compost happens.  

Instead of having a 3 pile system like mine, you may prefer to garden in your compost. Some people make a compost pile where they intend to garden, moving all around the yard, making new piles as needed. Three months from the time you stop adding to your pile, and let it rest, still watering and turning, you'll have a bed ready to plant in.

There are also systems that involve a rotating barrel. Check out my Yard Stuff Board on Pinterest for lots of great ideas.

Until next time, may your knees be dirty, you have grime under your fingernails, your plants grow healthy, and your compost not stink!

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