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Posts Tagged ‘soil amendments’

If your bin becomes too acidic, too moist, too dry, too compact, full of rotting food, full of  food they don’t like, too hot, too cold or they just organize an expedition,  your worms can attempt an escape from your bin.  This thwarted escape plan (if your lid is on tight) ends up with many worms in your bottom collection tray.

To rectify this situation add water to the collected liquid in order to dilute the sediment and ease its flow through the sieve.  Then strain the liquid through a sieve or small holed colander, rinse the collection tray out and reassemble the worm bin.  Add the worms, collected in the sieve, back into your top working tray.   If you clean out the bottom bin regularly you can save all your wayward worms and keep the liquid fresh and in top condition.  Dilute the liquid with 5-10 parts tap water before adding to your garden.    Remove the chlorine from tap water by letting it stand in the sun for several hours.

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Grass clippings can definitely be added to your compost pile. Grass is a “green”, or nitrogen source. One caveat of adding grass to your pile, however, is that it has a high water content which can cause it to pack down and get slimy in your pile. This can be avoided by adding grass in thin layers and alternating with it dried leaves or mulch. If you discover a matt of clippings in your pile, just break it up with a shovel or garden fork and layer the pieces back into the pile.

Grass clippings are a great nitrogen source for your compost pile and can also be left right on your lawn as a natural fertilizer!

It is also quite beneficial to simply leave the clippings on your lawn as you mow. Grasscycling is a great way to provide your grass with natural fertilizer and saves work.

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Aerators increase the air flow in your bin without the physicality of turning the bin with a pitchfork.

Too lazy to turn your compost bin? Is your bin not easily turned? Does your compost bin smell yucky? If you answered yes to any of these questions, a compost aerator could be the right tool for you!

Aeration (or the addition of air) is a very important ingredient in your compost pile. The microbes breaking down all the material in your compost pile need air to survive. These microbes are constantly using up the available air so by turning or aerating your bin, you are ensuring they will continue to thrive. When there is not enough air in your compost pile, decomposition turns anaerobic. In anaerobic decomposition, a different variety of microbe is breaking down material without air. The digesting microbe lets off sulfur which means the compost pile can start to smell!

This aerator is rotated into the compost and then pulled straight out.

Aerators come in two main styles. They either have wings or they look like a corkscrew. In the picture on the left, the green aerator is rotated into the compost pile to the desired depth. It is then pulled straight back out. The aerator below is pushed straight down. As it is lifted, the “wings” at the end of the aerator spread out, moving material and allowing for air flow.

The "wings" on this aerator spread out as it is pulled upward.

This aeration method of pushing or rotating the aerator into the compost pile and then pulling it back out is less time consuming and requires less physical exertion than turning a compost pile with a pitchfork. Aerators do increase air flow in the pile but not to the extent that turning the entirety of the pile would. If you want to get compost quickly, turning the whole pile is the most successful method. If you do not want to spend the time, are looking for something less physical, or do not have compost bin that is easily turned, an aerator is a great alternative to increase air flow in your compost pile.

The Solana Center now has aerators for sale! The aerator we are selling is the green corkscrew model in the top and middle picture. They are on sale Tuesdays and Thursdays here at the Solana Center for only $20!

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What ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen should I use in my compost pile?

The ideal Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (“browns” to “greens”) in a compost pile is somewhere between 25:1 and 30:1, depending on who you talk to and what you are planting. Some composters take the more laissez-faire approach, throwing in whatever they have when they have it, letting the C:N ratio be whatever it is going to be. Other composters strive for C:N perfection, researching the C:N ratio of certain materials and measuring the amounts of those materials that enter to pile to ensure the desired ratio.

Many of us do not have the time (or patience) to spend the time figuring out the perfect ratio for our pile, but still want to guarantee a great finished product. No need to fear, the “Compost Calculator” is here! This great resource allows you to enter how much of what type of material you have and then will tell you your C:N ratio! Easy as compost!

For example:

1 bucket of fresh cut grass + 1/4 of a bucket of fruit scraps + 2 buckets of dried leaves = 30:1 C:N ratio!

mix it up a little and add:

1/4 bucket coffee grounds + 1/2 bucket of food waste + 2 buckets of wood chips = 26:1 C:N ratio!

Compost up your own recipe by visiting: http://www.milkwood.net/content/view/47/30/

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by: David Emmerson, LCCHS Science Teacher and Solana Center Master Composter

Kitchen waste, yard clippings, paper, coffee grounds, and other organic materials that are produced in the home are all considered “biodegradable”. This term has a positive connotation, especially to us environmentalists. It means that they can be broken down into their raw materials by a variety of living organisms such as microbes (helpful bacteria, protozoa and fungi), earthworms and many different arthropods. Many of our choices at stores are based on purchasing materials that will biodegrade or “rot”.  The theory is that the materials will then be reincorporated as plant nutrients and find their way back into the food chain in a healthy ecosystem.

Leslie turns a Biostack compost bin.

In the United States and in many other developed countries, we over-produce and generate a lot of waste. We have become a throw-away society, keeping our homes neat and tidy by either rinsing things down our drains or putting wastes in plastic bags out on the curb where it all goes out of sight, out of mind. The illusion is that we have solved our problems and shouldn’t worry because the waste will biodegrade on its own. We sometimes further the cause by putting “green” waste into special bins to be picked up separately to be kept out of landfills. However, most of us don’t realize is that almost all of the biodegradable material that we flush, rinse or throw out is going to end up breaking down in an anaerobic environment either as sewage sludge or in most cases in landfills. The separated green waste most often gets used as ADC, “Alternate Daily Cover” to top off the day’s trash which is then layered over the next day, so it gets buried anyhow. Locally, the cities of San Diego and Oceanside have composting facilities where green waste collected at the curb can be taken to be composted or mulched. But if you do not live in those cities or in an area where composting facilities are available, you do not necessarily keep it out of the landfill by separating it.

When organic material decomposes without oxygen, the microorganism can only partially break it down. One of the major end products of this type of decomposition is methane gas (CH4). Methane makes up a little over half of the gas that comes from landfills. Global methane emissions from landfills are estimated to be between 30 and 70 million tons each year. Most of this landfill methane currently comes from developed countries, where the levels of waste tend to be highest. The EPA indicates that methane is about 10% of the green house gases released in the US each year. But it is 72 times more effective (over a 25 year period) at contributing to global warming than the better known greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). Landfills are the second largest source of human-related atmospheric methane, almost one fourth of the methane we release now comes from landfills. Landfills provide ideal conditions for methane production, with lots of organic material and anaerobic conditions. The huge amounts of waste that are buried in landfill sites means that methane is produced for years after the site is closed, due to the waste slowly decaying under the ground. Having the waste we produce at home shipped to landfills means further greenhouse gas produced from the fuel burned.

The Solana Center garden abounds from the compost ammended soil.

By properly composting kitchen waste and yard clippings you can ensure that the waste will not sit in a landfill producing methane. Instead, it will go to work at creating healthy soil and reducing amount of water runoff. Several very effective composting methods are available for domestic use, with vermi-composting (using worms) being particularly effective at quickly converting kitchen waste into good quality garden compost.

Even if you are not serious about gardening, you will improve the water retention of your soil and improve the health of the lawn, shrubs, trees or other landscaping if you turn your organic wastes into compost and put it back into the ground. Healthy soil is an important factor in protecting our water resources. Compost increases soil’s ability to retain water and decreases runoff. Runoff pollutes water by carrying soil, fertilizers and pesticides to nearby streams and sewer drains. Compost encourages healthy root systems, which also decrease runoff. Healthy root systems mean healthy plants and thus better growth and carbon sequestration. If we use compost, we can reduce or eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers (which come from petroleum). Many people add fertilizer to flowers or lawns even if they are not gardening. Only a 5% increase in organic material quadruples soils capacity to hold water. Not too interested in back breaking work with a shovel to turn the compost into the soil? Don’t want to pay for a roto-tiller? Good news for you. It has been shown that simply top dressing soil with compost helps retain the mycorrhizal fungi nets that assist plant roots. It may actually be the most effective way to assist the plants you already have around your house.

Whether you are trying to grow award winning tomatoes or simply want to help the environment around your own home, composting is the thing for you. You will also contribute to the health of the general community in which you live and cut the amount of pollutants that go into the atmosphere from the wastes you’ve generated. Thanks in advance!

http://www.ars.usda.gov US Dept. of Agriculture website

http://www.ghgonline.org/index.htm a green house gas (GHG) website

http://www.epa.gov/ US Environmental Protection Agency website

http://www.globalchange.gov/ the US Govt. website for Fed. Research on Climate and Global Change

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The September Composter Quarterly Newsletter is available online! This edition features information about the next Master Composter Course, the Solana Center’s newest worm bin, and information about upcoming events and workshops. To view this edition click here or visit the Composting 101 page for an archive of the Composter Quarterly Newsletter.

The next Master Composter Course starts September 30th! Click here to read more!

In this edition: The next Master Composter Course starts September 30th! Click here to read more!

Don’t miss the next edition!

Click here to sign up to receive the Solana Center Composter Quarterly Newsletter!

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Redwiggler1The City of San Diego provides a convenient list of recommended locations to purchase worms. If you are starting a Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin, you will need about 1 lb. of worms. The type of worms you need are “red wigglers” or “red worms” (eisenia foetida). If you have any questions about getting started call the Solana Center “Rotline” at 760-436-7986 ext. 222 or email the “Rotline” at compost@solanacenter.org.

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Smaller pieces will break down faster in your compost bin.

Smaller pieces will break down faster in your compost bin or worm bin.

Shredding and grinding materials speeds up the process of composting. Smaller pieces will break down faster in your pile because it increases the surface area. This makes the material easier for bacteria to break down the material. You do not have to shred or grind your materials. The process will just take longer.

If you would like to speed up the decomposition process in your bin, here are some shredding/grinding suggestions from our Master Composters.

  • For outdoor materials place clippings in a large bucket and then use hedge sheers to chop the material before adding to the compost bin. Augers are also a helpful tool for shredding materials. For large pieces, like tree branches, chipper/shredders can be very helpful.
  • For kitchen scraps our Master Composters suggest simply chopping up scraps with a knife before adding them to your compost bin or worm bin. Some of our Master Composters take it step further and blend their scraps in a blender before adding the materials to the bin.

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HayFieldHay is considered a nitrogen source, or a green, and can be added to your compost bin. Because hay often has weed seeds in it, make sure that your bin is reaching a hot temperature, 100 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are passively composting and not achieving high temperatures, you can bag the hay and put it in the sun for a few days to kill off any seeds.

Straw is considered a carbon source, or a brown, and can also be added to your compost bin. Straw also helps aerate your pile.

When adding hay or straw, our Master Composters recommend moistened it first to help it break down faster in the bin.

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Wire Mesh Compost Bin

Wire Mesh Compost Bin

Here are a couple of designs we recommend:

Stackable wood bin: minimal carpentry skills needed, can use recycled lumber (as long as it is not treated)

Wooden pallet bin: all you need are four wooden pallets, bolts, and latches and you’re on your way

Wire mesh bin: easy to make and inexpensive

Homemade designs often do not include lids which is not a problem as long as you are burying your food correctly. In dry climates, is it recommended to line the following designs with plastic or thick cardboard to retain moisture.

Click here for information about compost bins offered by the Solana Center.

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