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Posts Tagged ‘decomposition’

Static composting can take as long as a year to complete. Since you’re routinely adding new material to the top of your pile and you’re not really mixing the entire pile, then you may have compost ready to use near the bottom of your pile. If you have the space or the means, access the oldest, lower layers of your compost. The compost is ready when it is dark brown, has a crumbly texture, and smells earthy. The materials you added to the pile should no longer be recognizable. A good and easy way to test if you’re compost is mature is by doing a bag test. Simply fill a baggie with compost and seal the baggie. Leave it alone for a week or so. To re-check your compost, open the baggie and smell. If it still smells earthy, your compost is ready. However if you smell ammonia or any off odors, then the microorganisms are still busy eating and you’ll need to wait longer for your compost to mature.

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Chopping up your compostables will speed up the decomposition process. The smaller the surface area of the material generally the faster it will break down. One easy way to do this is to chop up your materials as you collect them. For example, when you are cooking, you can chop up your scraps as you go and add them to your collection container. If you are working with dense woody materials, such as sticks, we recommend chopping them up or grinding them if you can as they will take a very long time to decompose. A tip from our Master Composters is to put your green materials from your yard in a bucket and use yard clippers to chop them up before adding them. Chopping up your materials is not essential. The process will just take longer.

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Hot Composting

Hot composting, also called “active composting”, is when you turn your compost bin often.  With high temperatures, weed seeds are often killed, many pathogens are destroyed, and the decomposition process speeds up.

Cold Composting

Cold composting, also called “static composting”, is when the compost bin is not turned or is turned very rarely. It requires less work, however, materials will take much longer to decompose.

Click here for more information about compost bin temperatures.

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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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Crock Pot Composting

How to make the ultimate worm food!

By: Diane Hollister, Master Composter

Worms have no teeth, so they can’t consume the kitchen scraps you feed them until the scraps are broken down a bit.  You can do this yourself very easily by putting your food waste in a crock pot.  Here’s what I found works.

1.  I bought an inexpensive 5 qt. crock pot from Target for around $20.

2.  Put about ½ cup of good compost or some soil from around any plant that is growing well.  This will provide the microbes needed to break down the material in the pot.

3. Add kitchen scraps, the smaller they are cut up the faster they will break down.  Crushed egg shells are great to provide grit.

4.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on warm.  Check the temperature in 24 hours.  In mine, the temperature was 140 degrees, which was ideal.

5.  Stir when you think about it and add water to keep it moist.

6.  If the contents start to smell, add some paper from your paper shredder, some compressed pine pellets (sold as kitty litter), some coir or any other small sized carbon rich material.  Mix well.  If it still smells add more carbon.

7. In about a week everything will be nicely broken down.  Let it cool and feed it to your worms.  They will go crazy for it!

I found you can add meat and dairy to the pot as there is no problem of rats getting into it.  Also, if I think about it I turn the pot off at night and back on in the morning and that works fine too.

If there is more material than your worms can process, just bury the rest in your yard or add it to your compost pile.

Leave about a cup of material in the pot to start your next batch.

Have fun!

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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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It is a common misconception that a compost pile heats up because of the sun. Sure, if it is hot outside, the pile will be warmer than if it is cold outside, but the sun is not what causes a compost pile to hit the triple digits.

Thermophilic microbes are happily munching away in this 150 degree F compost pile

The microorganisms residing inside of the compost pile are what cause the increase in

temperature.

  • Psychrophiles arrive during the first stage of decomposition. They exist in the pile mainly between 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit (F). The psychrophiles start to digest the material and release carbon dioxide, water and heat. This heat causes the pile’s temperature rise whichattracts the mesophiles.
  • Mesophiles thrive between 70 and 90 degrees F.  The majority of the decomposition in your pile is performed by these microorganisms.
  • Thermophiles will be found in your compost pile when the temperature rises above 104 degrees F. These temperatures will kill off almost all harmful organisms and weed seeds that may reside in your pile.

If a compost pile rises in temperature, it is an indication that the composting process is going well. When the thermophiles run out of things to eat, the temperature will steadily drop. This is a good time to turn your bin, add water, and add more nitrogen-rich green material into the center of your pile. The addition of material that is nitrogen rich, like coffee, manure, or fresh cut grass, will heat your pile right back up as the thermophiles go to work.

Compost thermometers are great ways to tell which stage of decomposition your compost pile is at. These can be purchased at the Solana Center for $20.

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