Posts Tagged ‘“Rotline” Question of the Week’

Although, pet waste can be composted, it takes careful monitoring to make sure the bin is over 140 degrees  for 14 days to kill all the bacteria, intestinal parasites and pathogens.  Also, the bin must be turned regularly to insure the cooler outside edges are moved to the hot center of the bin.

The intense level of monitoring necessary,  plus the high risk of putting “sick” soil into your garden bed make pet waste composting inadvisable.


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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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There are several things to keep in mind when setting up your composting station:

  • Sun or shade?

A worm bin is best placed in the shade. The worms will not fare well in hot temperatures or during a deluge of water during a rainstorm. By placing them in the shade, they will be more protected from the elements and less likely to dry out.

As for a regular compost bin, direct sunlight does not cause the compost pile to heat up. The microbes working busily inside the compost are why the pile heats up. With this in mind, keeping your compost bin in the shade will decrease water evaporation. Also, people are more likely to turn their pile if they do not have to go out into the hot sun to do it.

  • Dirt or cement?

For a compost bin, it is best if it is placed on the dirt. This allows the beneficial insects to crawl up into the bin.  These insects will speed up the decomposition process and are naturally occur in a healthy compost pile. Put hardware cloth or wire mesh underneath the compost bin to prevent the larger animals from digging underneath and into the bin. If a compost pile is set on cement, it is likely that the cement will be stained.

For a worm bin, it does not matter if it is placed on cement or on dirt. It is more important that the bin is in the shade. People often even keep worm bins inside their garage, under their counter, or in a closet.

  • How close do I want my compost bin to the house?

Most people do not want to put their compost bin directly up against their house because of smell and pest attraction fears. If you are composting correctly, neither of these problems should be of issue. How close you put your bin to your house should more so be determined by hose length (if your bin is further away than your hose is long, you’ll be lugging buckets over to your pile!) and ease of use. If you don’t see yourself hoofing it across the yard to dump out your kitchen scraps, then you probably shouldn’t put your bin all the way across your yard. As for the pests and smells, err on the side of caution. If something goes wrong in your pile and it starts to smell or you get an unwanted visitor, it’s better away from your house than directly under your kitchen window.

  • How much room will my compost bin need?

If you plan on being an active composter and turning your compost pile, it is important that you have a space twice the size of your compost bin. This allows you to turn and then rebuild your bin directly next to where it was previously sitting. Turing your bin increases air flow and allows the microbes to break down the material more quickly. If you plan on having a more passive bin, this is obviously not necessary, though you probably want a little room around the bin so it can be accessed from all angles. Worm bins, on the other hand, do not need extra space.

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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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The microbes in a compost pile are truly amazing – they can break down almost anything made of natural products. There are many items that people throw away not realizing that instead, they could throw them into their compost pile. Below is a list of things one usually does not think to compost!

  • dryer lint
  • butter wrappers
  • nut shells
  • natural fiber cloth
  • pet or human hair
  • napkins and paper towels
  • chopsticks and toothpicks
  • seaweed and kelp
  • cotton balls and cotton swabs (not the ones with the plastic sticks)
  • toe and finger nail clippings
  • old leather wallets, belts, and gloves
  • pencil shavings
  • feathers
  • crumbs
  • corks
  • muffin and cupcake tins
  • sticky notes
  • ashes
  • vacuum cleaner detritus

Questioning if something is compostable? Give us a call on the “ROTline,” (760) 436-7986 x 222 or email us at compost@solanacenter.org.

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Tumblers are a style of composting bin that is manually flipped, spun, rolled or crank-turned for aeration, depending on the style. These types of bins do not require turning with a pitchfork, instead, the whole compost bin is turned for aeration. The Solana Center has four different styles of tumblers at our compost demonstration site. Please feel free to drop by on a Tuesday or Thursday between 9am and 4pm to check them out! To find another compost demonstration site in San Diego County, please click here.

This tumbler is turned by cranking the handle.

Crank Tumbler

Material is put inside the doors on the side of the barrel. To aerate, the handle is turned, cranking the barrel in a circle. There are two separate compartments within the barrel, so compost can be finishing in one side while the other side is being added to.

Pros: can hold a large volume of materials, easily emptied, two interior compartments

Cons: most expensive type of tumbler, material has to be lifted up into the barrel, when the barrel is full, cranking becomes difficult

This tumbler is rolled like a ball.

Rolled Tumbler

The lid of this tumbler spins and unlocks so material can be loaded inside. The tumbler can then be rolled like a ball for aeration.

Pros: easily filled, can be fun for kids to roll

Cons: because it is not completely round, it does not roll on a straight path, can be difficult to empty, not good for someone with back problems

This tumbler is flipped on its central axis.

Central Axis Flipped Tumblers

These tumblers are loaded through the top. Some models have an aeration tube going down the center, our particular model does not. The tumbler is flipped around its central axis for aeration.

Pros: the center axle doubles as a mixer, blending the materials inside the tumbler.

Cons: difficult to load, difficult to turn when full,  difficult to empty. We had a unit similar to this and its lid warped. Because we could not fit the lid back on, the tumbler became completely unusable.

This tumbler is spun around a central axis.

Spinning Tumblers

This tumbler is loaded through the side panel and sits very low to the ground. It spins around a central axis like a hamster running wheel.

Pros: easily filled and emptied, compact size means it does not fill with as much material, making it easier to tumble.

Cons: does not hold a large amount of material, requires a bent position to turn.

There are other various models of tumblers out on the market. Remember to do your research and read reviews before purchasing a tumbler. Pay close attention to door hinges and closures because if you cannot close the compost bin, it cannot be tumbled. Please see below for a general list of tumbler pros and cons:

Tumbler Pros

There is no pitchfork required to turn a tumbler. When you turn a tumbler, all the material is getting turned at the same time, not by shovelful like a compost pile would be turned. A backyard is not required to own a tumbler; it can be placed on a patio or in a garage because it does not need to sit on dirt. Tumblers close tightly so there is no fear of four legged pests infiltrating the bin. With routine turning, tumblers can make compost fairly quickly.

Tumbler Cons

Generally, we’ve found that once a tumbler is full, the weight of the material makes it difficult to turn (on the pro side, you’ll definitely be getting a good workout!). Depending on the model, especially if the opening is not near the ground, tumblers can also be difficult to load or empty material out of. Because tumblers do not sit on the ground, it is unlikely that beneficial insects will find their way into the bin to help with the decomposition process. Depending on the tumbler model they can also be very expensive in cost ranging from $120 to $550.

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