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Posts Tagged ‘browns’

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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Water is added to a Biostack during a rainless day.

Bin wetness from rain is usually a non-issue in San Diego County but recently, with the extreme rain that has fallen on our lovely County, outdoor compost bins are probably on the soggy side. Remember, optimum bin dampness is comparable to that of a wrung out sponge so if your bin is dripping, it is probably too wet!

Backyard Compost Bins

A “too wet” compost bin will naturally dry out over time as the water in the bin evaporates, but if it is rainy or cold outside, the bin may stay wet for an extended period of time. A bin that is too wet can lead to a smelly, anaerobic situation that most strive to avoid. To speed up the drying process, add additional browns (materials high in carbon) to your bin. Items like dead leaves, straw, shredded paper, and mulch will suck up the excess water, drying out the bin. Once the bin is back to the dampness of a wrung out sponge, the microbial population will increase, speeding up composting in the bin.

Worm Bins

Red Wigglers are terrestrial creatures. They will quickly perish if placed into a pool of water. If their environment gets too wet, they will wriggle for their lives, migrating to a safer location, probably out of the worm bin. To dry out the bedding, add shredded paper or cardboard. The worms will eventually eat the paper and in the meantime, it will absorb excess water. If space in your bin is at a premium and additional material cannot be added, placing a piece of cardboard or burlap on the surface of the bedding will absorb moisture and can be replaced if additional moisture needs to be removed. Make sure to also check the worm tea level of your bin. Most of the water in the bin will end up in the worm tea level. If it fills, it will saturate the lowest level of the worm bin. If the tea levels are high, drain the tea from the bin and use it as a liquid fertilizer on your plants! They’ll love it!

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It is pumpkin season, but now that you don’t need your carefully carved pumpkin any more, don’t throw it away! Pumpkin is a great addition to both your compost and worm bin!

To add pumpkin to either bin, it is important that it is broken down into smaller pieces. Chop, cut, or saw the pumpkin into smaller pieces. If some neighborhood hooligan has already smashed your pumpkin, they saved you some work!

In the compost bin:

Pumpkin is a “green.” It is very high in nitrogen. Make sure to bury the pumpkin or follow the addition of the pumpkin with a layer of browns to detract pests. It is important that the pumpkin is cut into smaller pieces. If a whole pumpkin is put into a compost bin, it will take a lot longer to compost. Also, next time the bin is turned, you’ll inevitably get the whole pumpkin stuck on the pitchfork (and who wants to resurrect a partially decomposed pumpkin on a pitchfork?).

In the worm bin:

Worms will love the variety of pumpkin in their diet. Remember – worms have small mouths so it will take them a long time to work through a giant chunk of pumpkin. Smaller pieces will disappear from the worm bin more quickly. If you want to give the worms a special treat, blend the pumpkin into a slurry, pour it into your bin, and then cover with bedding. The worms will go crazy over this easily eaten treat!

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It is very important to consider the possibility of extreme temperatures that may occur while you are gone if you have a vermicomposting bin.

Make sure your worms are safe from any extreme conditions that may occur while you are gone (hot/cold temperatures, etc.)

With holiday season approaching, we have received a lot of questions about what to do with your compost bin while on vacation. No need to hire a compost bin sitter!

If you have a backyard composting bin (Biostack, tumbler, etc.) your bin will be fine while you are away on a trip. Your bin will continue to decompose on its own. You may find when you return that the temperature dropped and the bin is dry but this can be fixed very easily. Just turn your bin, add water, greens and browns and your pile should heat up once again.

If you have a  vermicomposting bin (WrigglyWranch, etc.) your bin should be able to manage on its own for an extended amount of time. The most important thing to keep in mind is the possibility of extreme temperatures. Be sure that your worms will be safe from any extreme temperatures that may occur while you are gone (heat waves, etc.). Make sure  you leave your bin with plenty of moisture.

If you just started your bin, make sure you leave plenty of food and bedding to keep your bin going. If your bin is nearing harvest and has lots of vermicompost, less food is necessary. The worms will continue to process the vermicompost while you are gone. Our Master Composters suggest adding carbon rich bedding and coffee grounds or vegetables that take longer to break down (carrots, brocoli, etc.).

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If you put too much "green" material in your bin, it will not heat up and it will become malodorous.

If you put too much "green" material in your bin, it will not heat up and it will become malodorous.

Sometimes, composters find themselves lacking in browns (carbon rich materials like straw, mulch, shredded paper, etc.) and having a surplus of greens (nitrogen rich materials like kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, freshly cut grass, etc.). But is it bad to have too many greens? What happens if you have too many greens in your compost bin?

You will probably be able to smell your compost bin if you have too many greens. Your compost pile will get slimy and start to smell as the green material begins to putrefy. In addition to the malodorous quality of the bin, the compost pile will probably not heat up because it will not have the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio. The preferred carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30:1. This equates to about 50% of both green and browns by volume.

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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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CypressMulch.20880003_stdGreens, or nitrogen-rich materials, are often easy to come by. When using an outdoor compost bin, many people have trouble locating enough browns to maintain an appropriate nitrogen to carbon ratio. Here are some suggestions from one our Master Composters for locating some local browns for your pile.

Yard trimmings: dried leaves, wood chips, dried plant trimmings

Chipper/shredders: can be a great investment, especially if you have  a lot of wood to chip.

Local tree trimmers: Befriending a local tree trimmer and getting loads dumped of predominantly wood chips is a great method of obtaining browns. Some tree trimmers chip everything, including massive trunks and they will often bring it right to your residence.

Straw:  which is mostly carbon, not hay which has much protein (nitrogen/green) and is expensive.

Shredded paper/cardboard: If you are using very fine greens, paper and cardboard can often get too compact and dense for appropriate aeration. It tends to work best if moistened before added and used with materials that provide good aeration like wood chips.

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