Compost Recipes: Building A Pile
Today I took advantage of a misty drizzly day to turn the compost and build another pile. If you’ve been around the Daddykirbs Farm for very long you already know that I love building compost piles. I truly do get a lot of Satisfaction In Making Compost.
Luke, my autistic son, loves helping. He reminds me that the compost needs turning. We found a hay fork for him at a local yard sale so he could have his own turning fork. Luke is very proud of that.
Compost Recipes: Today’s Special Blend
In order to build a successful compost pile you need a few things. The important ingredients are Carbon, Nitrogen and Water. Yep, 3 simple ingredients. Now… What is Carbon? What is Nitrogen? and what is … oh never mind, you know what water is.
Let’s use my special blend of the day to illustrate these ingredients for now. We can talk more about the details later.
Carbon is basically some type of plant material that is dead and dried. The “dead and dried” part is what gives Carbon it’s typical name of “Browns”. A lot of people will reference the “Brown ingredients” for a compost pile. Get creative, what types of carbon or brown material do you have available? Right now for me I have a lot of leaves. At this time of year people bag up this valuable resource and put it on the curb for garbage pickup. Such a waste! My little truck and I get a little workout collecting this valuable carbon material.
Nitrogen comes in many forms too. Manures are a great resource for nitrogen, but they aren’t absolutely necessary. You do not have to play with poop to build a good compost pile. Just like Carbon, Nitrogen has a color for reference. Nitrogen is “Green”. It’s not really always green, but we call it that because the plant materials that still have a lot of green left in them also have Nitrogen left in them. Green grass clippings are a very common source of Nitrogen for a compost pile. Today I’m using the scrapings from the Chicken coop floor. The dried up chicken manure is still very high in Nitrogen.
In the photo above you can see my simple ingredients. The black plastic bag is the bag of leaves that was discarded by a person that didn’t value what he had. The yellow bucket (I love to recycle and reuse kitty litter buckets!) is the scrapings from the chicken coop floor.
Right under where the hens sleep on the roosts is a build up of poo litter on the sand. They work it over pretty good during the day so it’s mixed in the sand really well. I don’t mind the sand going into the compost pile. I figure it will just add additional minerals to my finished compost. An old license plate works well for a scoop.
Compost Recipes: Mixing The Pile
I like to mix, not layer. The more contact your Nitrogen has with your Carbon the better the pile will work. When I’m working with ingredients like today I’ll layer it up, then mix it with the turning fork.
You can see the dry layered pile above and below Luke is using the fork to mix it all up.
We build this a little at a time. A little Carbon sprinkled with Nitrogen, then mix, water and repeat. This is done until the cage that I’m using to contain the pile is full.
Compost Recipes: The Best Water
Let me make this easy by telling you what is NOT the best water. City water from a hose will work, but it isn’t the best start for your pile. There is Chlorine in your water that comes from the city utilities. The purpose of the Chlorine is to kill bacteria and other nasties in your water so it’s safe to drink. The problem is that you want the bacteria to live and thrive in your compost pile.
We use rain water or duck poo water (lot’s of added nutrients) in the compost piles. If you don’t have some source of natural water, then simply fill some buckets up a few days early and let them sit out. The Chlorine will off gas making it safer for your friendly bacteria to do their job. Sadly some cities use Chloramines in the water which does not off gas as readily as Chlorine, but don’t fret the pile will work anyway. We are just trying to give it the best start with the best water source.
Compost Recipes: How Much Carbon Compared To Nitrogen?
Before I answer this question I’d like to encourage you to relax a little. People get caught up with numbers to the point of worry. Don’t worry, it won’t make your compost work any better.
The ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen is somewhere in the range of 25 to 1. This is not exact and I think it depends on the ingredients. The pile today was about 2.5 bags of leaves and about 1.5 buckets of litter from the chicken coop floor. There was no math done to calculate my perfect ratio. It’s the knowledge of what is “right” and a lot of guessing to what looks right. Like I said… Don’t worry.
My compost recipes have always worked, but have not always been the same. Each pile has it’s own personality. Sometimes a pile works really really fast and sometimes it takes a few weeks longer. My farm produces a lot of compost so I’m not concerned if a few piles take a little more time.
In the photo below, besides a very handsome hard working Luke, you will notice three piles. The pile is the middle was assembled today. On the left is a pile that is nearly finished. The main Carbon source in that pile is wood chips. This Carbon takes a little longer to break down. On the right is a pile that was leaves, hay and duck manure. It has a couple more weeks to go, but is looking fantastic.
Compost Recipes: Turning The Pile
How often should you turn the pile? Well, once again that depends on a few things. How much time do you have? How fast do you need compost?
I like to make compost within 30 days. These piles stay in rotation so I can harvest about 50 (10 5 gallon buckets) gallons of fine sifted compost every month. Yes, I really do get that much.
In order to achieve that amount of compost, the turning needs to happen on a fairly regular schedule. Here’s the ideal turning schedule:
Day 1 – Assemble Pile
Day 4 – First Turn
Day 6 – Second Turn
Day 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 – Turn Turn Turn
Day 18 – Harvest (resist the urge to roll around in your beautiful crumbly soil)
Here is another opportunity to NOT worry. If you don’t have time to do your piles on that schedule, then don’t. Just know that nature is busy composting all the time with nobody out there turning over the forest floor. It will work in time.
Compost Recipes: How Big Should The Pile Be?
This question is important. I wouldn’t say that you should worry, but do pay attention to size. In order for the Carbon, Nitrogen and all the wonderful bacteria to get to work you need a certain mass. Take a look at my caged piles in the photos. These are about as small as they can be and still work. My cages are about 3 feet across and 2 feet tall. My recommendation would be to use a slightly larger cage. Perhaps make your wire cage 3.5 ft wide and 2.5 feet tall. If you go much bigger you will find it difficult to remove the cage when it comes time to turn. A smaller cage might not ever have enough mass to heat up properly.
Should you choose to not use a cage at all, then my suggestion would be pile the material up in a natural sloping mound that is about as high as your belly. I use cages to keep it all contained and to keep the chickens, duck, goats and kids from spreading the piles all over the farm.
Check out this post from a fellow blogger about:
WINTER COMPOST: MANAGING YOUR BINS DURING THE WINTER CHILL
Compost Recipes: Additional Questions
It would be honest good pleasure to answer your questions about compost. This is a subject that I have some confidence in. I don’t know all the science of it, but I know what has worked for me.
Can I use food scraps in my compost Pile?
Answer: Yes, but I don’t suggest it. My opinion is that food scraps need to go through the gut of an animal before going into a compost pile. We give our scraps to the chickens and goats. If you have no room for larger animals like that, perhaps consider a worm farm or Black Soldier Fly (BSF) container. These small critters can process your food scraps very efficiently.