Gardeners Be Doin’ It Too! Part 3

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From This ………….

Dedicating this mini series to Patti Moore Wilson of Wednesday’s Child

So in Part 1 we asked Why Should We Compost? Part 2 looked at What is Compost and What is Composting and Part 3 will be addressing What Types of Composting there are and which is best?

Gardeners Be Doin’ It Too!

Part 3

There are several composting types/styles available , but this series isn’t looking at the task on a grand scale, but a domestic level – a back yard gardening operation. Not every one has large gardens, some have some very restrictive space and some don’t wish to spend their entire lives composting so are looking for the friendliest eco and environmental efficient unit they can acquire for the job and task at hand.

Here in Kent l have space, and so the twin heaps are right at the back of the garden behind everything and out of the way. I opted for an outdoor system with an aerobic approach so l could hot compost.

Of the many ways you can compost l am only going to discuss here a few ways notably – outdoors and indoors, hot or cold composting and Aerobic or Anaerobic methods.

So really, it is down to each individual to make various decisions before they even begin composting – such as ‘What space do you have available?’, What do you want to actually compost? What do want to use the finished product for? These three questions are the best questions you can ask yourself initially, and once you have those answers then the next step is to look for the method that will help you acquire your goals in the quickest time frame.

Outdoors vs. Indoors …

Now, with outdoor compost piles – it cannot get any easier in so far as waste management goes. Your heap of compost will be produced outside the house.

Now before l started the system l have in place now, l did for a short while utilise the bin system where upon all rubbish, garden foliage and kitchen scraps were placed into a compost bin. The photograph below shows two types of bin: An open to the earth style and a system with a floor [the roundish one] These worked fine for a short while, until l had basically way too much green foliage and general garden waste.

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Very easy to snap together …

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…….. to make up a solid closed unit, no floor, but a hinged lid, so open to the ground.

I also found l could not turn the waste over effectively within the bins themselves through the bottom hatches, so l had to empty the bins onto the ground space and then shovel the waste back in through the top which was a little defeatest, but this is how l learned more about the anaerobic approach to composting in comparison to the aerobic system that l currently employ.

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Hatch work was impossible.

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Pile when emptied out showed the early signs of decomposition starting and the culture within.

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How each bin looked upon opening the bin.

Indoor waste management is very different and whilst it shares some components to outdoor composting, these are quite slim. Two main methods for indoor composting are ‘vermicomposting and bokashi’. The beauty of indoor composting is that because they are within the house or garage or shed, they can be producing all year for you whereas an outdoor compost heap tends to slow down [although more on that later] during the colder/winter months. But also what is good about the indoor methods is that you can place certain wastes into these units that you cannot if using the outdoor system.

These wastes are meats and dairy products, which as we discussed in part 2, do not fare well outside because of the predatory problems that can arise.

Vermicomposting and myself really didn’t get on very well – quite possibly one of the most stressful times of my gardening experience! However what this method entails is the use of worms, and l shall discuss this in more detail in another episode. Bokashi is another anaerobic method that utilises an inoculated bran to start the composting process for you, again l will discuss this in another episode in more detail.

With worms and bran, the results are similiar and different at the same time, both can produce a nutrient rich soup of sorts and of course there is also the very rich compost that is produced.

Hot Vs. Cold Composting …

This method can only be achieved in outdoor composting as there is no real heat in indoor composting. Once you have established your outdoor heap, you then should make a decision as to whether you want a hot or a cold pile? [sounds a bit nasty doesn’t it, l mean no one wants piles!!]

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I opted for a double pen unit made out of pallets …

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Meaning that there would always be an empty unit for the turned heap to be stored in …

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With one side having the waste going through the composting process…

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…… and covered when not in use.

The differences between a hot and cold pile is simply put – how quickly do you want your finished product? Cold composting is slower and can roughly take a year to produce a finished compost product whilst hot composting can take as little as six months to produce your finished product, the heat speeds the process up, but there is more work involved.

Currently the system we have in place is a cold heap, where as in 2016 – 2018 [January] l was managing a hot heap. However, apparently this is one of the components that caused my shoulder injury to incur more damage!

Whilst l have opted for a closed unit as in with the pallets, many gardeners merely opt for a pile on the ground and simply covered with a sheet or a tarpaulin, so it doesn’t need to be enclosed like mine is. The way l have my heap organised makes it more of a permanent feature whilst other gardeners would have the flexibility of being able to resite their heap in a different place each season should they so wish.

Decomposition as a process, hot or cold relies upon having access to oxygen and microbes or compost culture [worms and bugs]. So in order to achieve that, the heap needs to be turned over on a relatively frequent basis and new materials added. Smelly heaps are usually the result of poor waste management meaning that the heaps have not been aerated.

Quite often a cold pile will heat up, especially if it has been turned recently, had new materials added including a dampening, but in order to keep that heat up, the secret is to turn it frequently, once every couple of days in fact. Of course if your pile is a small and manageable heap this can easily achieved, but once the pile starts to increase in size, the overall effectiveness becomes harder to achieve. Between 2016 – 2018 l was turning my huge pile over once a week and it was sustaining an extremely high temperature, so much so, that l had produced my first finished crop in four months. But l appreciate not everyone has that kind of available time – which is why it is so important to eastablish before you start composting those three questions we looked at originally.

‘What space do you have available?’, What do you want to actually compost? What do want to use the finished product for? Because a fourth question would be How much free time do you have and how much time do you wish to dedicate to composting?

You could of course turn a pile once a week, it will not be hot or cold, but it would be warm, and therefore the finished product could easily be secured in around 8 months or so, maybe a little less. You have a lot of options really, but those choices are yours alone to decide.

Aerobic/ Anaerobic

Aerobic composting means allowing the pile to have access to air and being aerated, whilst anaerobic is the opposite – no allowance of air, a closed unit with no free access to air movement. Under poor management these heaps tend to start smelling very quickly indeed. In truth all outdoor composting units are indeed aerobic, whilst other methods such as bokashi are anaerobic – and as said these methods will be discussed in another episode, most likely Part 4.

The reason that dairy products and meat are not included to an open air system in addition to the predatory problem is because they will not effectively break down in a warm or a cold heap. They could break down in a hot compost heap, but only if the entire pile is sustaining a heat of 160°F (71°C) on a continued period of time, say for about a week. But that is a lot of work, and most domestic gardeners simply DO NOT have the time available.

There are both benefits and disadvantages to having anaerobic composting methods, but l will discuss these at a later time.

Bringing this episode to an end, there are further methods that can be adopted with regards composting – you could perhaps make a single pile that has nothing added to it, except you turn it frequently and dampen it often. I did this a couple of winters ago to 16 bin bags of autumn leaves and made a very nice compost mulch. I didn’t add any new materials to it at all in so far as green or brown or kitchen waste and only had these bags of leaves and leaf mold. That made for a nice rich compost and l was able to to reach an end product in about 16 weeks. but also l had another 16 bags set aside with just holes in the bags, and so l kept them in the bags and only occasionally moved them around within the pile itself, and this produced a workable compost in about 15 months.

I personally prefer the aerobic approach to outdoor composting, it is an easy method, of turning [frequency is up to you, the gardener] but a cold compost can survive being turned over fully once every three months, with a top layer turn over every month. You can keep adding waste materials to it, every now and again dampen it down and then cover it back up with either a sheet of plastic or a tarpaulin. By adding new materials you are encouraging more microculture into your heap who aid the decompostion process beautifully.

In Part 4 we will discuss in more detail … vermicomposting, bokashi, organic waste management and alternative ‘teas’.

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……………… To This!

5 thoughts on “Gardeners Be Doin’ It Too! Part 3

  1. Wow, Rory…!!! I really had no idea how much work was involved, or how many different composting methods there are! I am BEYOND grateful that you dedicated this series to me…and more than a little humbled. It must have been a lot of work just to take the photos and chronicle all the steps involved. So sorry for the late reply… was away again, this time visiting my Mom. I have saved ALL your posts so I can refer to them as I start composting. Thank you SO much!!! 🙏🙏🙏💕

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