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Posts Tagged ‘nitrogen’

Saturday, January 22, 2011
10 – 12 noon
San Diego Botanic Gardens
230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, CA 92024

Saturday, February 5, 2011
10 – 12 noon
Water Conservation Garden
12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West
El Cajon, CA 92019

Monday, March 14, 2011
2-4 p.m.
Welk Resort Farmer’s Market
8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA 92026

Saturday, March 19, 2011
10 – 12 noon
Summer’s Past Farm
15602 Olde Highway 80
El Cajon, CA 92021

Learn about the ins and outs of backyard composting and vermicomposting at this free workshop! Workshop will include information about selecting a bin, maintenance, harvesting, and more! A limited number of compost bins and worm bins will be available for purchase after the workshop.

Click here to pre-register now or to view a full list of upcoming workshops!

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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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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 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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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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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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