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My first compost pile is cooking!

Category: Composting | Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:54 am

According to all theory, it shouldn't be big enough, but it's working. :-D

I bought two plastic trash bins, without lids, for $2 each at Goodwill. They measure 20" wide by 32" tall, which calculates out to about 5.7 cubic feet, or about 42 gallons. I filled one of them to 14" with collected food waste, garden waste, the contents of the one-gallon Kitchen Compost Bucket (already well-rotted), coffee grounds, shredded newspaper and cardboard collected for the worms; about 1 part "greens" to two parts "browns." I moistened it a bit, left it overnight (Sunday), and didn't feel any heat in it Monday. Then I added some commercial compost, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, and vermicompost from the worm bin, just to make sure it had a "jump start." I moistened it to the point I try to keep the worm bin at, "like a wrung-out sponge." I mixed it all up *good* and sprinkled the top with a couple cups of garden soil.

Yesterday (Tuesday) it had heated up *good* -- I don't have a compost thermometer, but I could feel by hand that it was hot enough that if it had been a worm bin, they'd be dying or fleeing.

One thing I'd forgotten about was that I'd planned to feed the worms again today, and I've given all their well-rotted food to the compost bin! The bigger bin seems to be still working on their last feed, anyway, so I scooped a double handful off the top layer, not very hot and already developing some nice fungus, and gave that to the smaller worm bin, with a bit of bone meal.

I still want to fill the compost can, so today I put some more food waste, garden waste, coffee grounds, newspaper and cardboard in, with a bit of bloodmeal and some soil from the area near the wormbins that has caught a lot of spillage from the garbage bucket over the last two months. I mixed all that up with the top inch or so of the previous batch. Hopefully, this will not interfere with the cooking going on in the lower batch, and will start up heat in the upper batch, too. If this works, I'll top off the bin tomorrow.

At that point, I can begin tossing new waste into the second bin, but I won't fret so much about getting it "cooking" right away. Keeping it covered in several inches of damp, shredded paper should be enough to keep it from stinking and attracting flies.

It's been tough to keep myself from charging out every few hours to poke at the pile and see how it's heating up. I don't want to "kill" my first compost pile like I killed my first batch of worms. :)

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eileen wrote on Thu Aug 16, 2007 2:11 pm:

Ahhh there's nothing better than home-made compost. We have three large compost bins. One is 'black gold' and ready for the garden, the second is half rotted down, and the third is still being filled. This way I always have compost ready to be used. Good luck with yours - you're doing all the right things by the sound of things and when you see the quality of your very own compost compared to what you can buy in the shops you'll never look back.


desertflower wrote on Fri Aug 17, 2007 3:17 pm:

I can never get mine to "cook". Wonder what I am doing wrong?


Anitra wrote on Fri Aug 17, 2007 10:13 pm:

Eileen, I'm going to keep an eye out for a third can -- but I may not have space for it! Our garden space is in the back half of the parking lot, and with worm bins, compost bins, and planting containers I've been edging it out further -- and I've been told to pull it back. At least I have three worm bins and two compost cans to work with. :D

Desertflower, I'm a rank newbie at this, but the key elements that helped mine "take off" were:
1) Getting the moisture level right. The ideal moisture level has been described as a "damp mop."
2) Enough nitrogen. I had too much "brown" at first. Luckily, I had some bloodmeal and cottonseed meal on hand. I don't plan to make that a regular addition, but it did help "kick start" the first pile.
3) Source of initial bacteria. I had a gallon of already well-rotted gunk from the Kitchen Compost Bucket, plus some compost from the wormbin, some commercial compost, and some garden soil. I've read of using urine, but the neighbors might object. ;)

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