When we first moved to Blakely Island, Heather and I asked each other how do we choose the best composting techniques. We had so much material line in the woods and in the area where we wanted to grow the garden, we had to choose the best composting technique for quickly cleaning up the fire hazards and producing a healthy organic garden.
How did I choose the best composting techniques for this situation?
We were on a small private island in the middle of the San Juan Islands close to Washington state. There was a huge fire pit, but it was really dry that year and we didn’t want to burn the island down. Maybe ever wondered that how the heck to get rid of all this stuff that could potentially catch on fire and turn it into something that will bring a great benefit. Our solution was to bring in a chipper shredder and shred the plant material, small trees and piles of brush and place it in the large hole originally designed as a burn pit.
It worked well, and once the rains had started and it was safe to have a fire pit we were able to increase the speed of decomposition through burning the huge amounts of debris that we had to deal with.
Let’s ask and look at where all the different composting techniques available today. First let’s take a look at what is composting. Composting happens whether you work at it or not. It is the actual decomposition of matter whether plant or animal at the end of the useful life of that matter as we know it.
For organic farming, we’re only interested in the organic matter of plants and some animal byproducts called manure. Green manure is actually a cover crop, which is grown to kill back into the soil after it is grown to replenish the nutrients in the soil. But we are not going to talk about that today. We’re going to focus on the plant material like leaves, shredded newspaper, old straw, shredded cardboard, as well as horse, cow, alpaca and other animal a newer other animal manures.
So what are the different composting techniques that we can use today? The simplest process of composting just requires making a heap or pile of whatever organic material (food waste, we use, shredded material), keep it wetted down with water which allows bacteria and worms to break down the material and create compost. Depending upon the material being composted, it can take weeks, months or years.
Modern composting techniques require a multi step closely monitored process.
- measured amounts of water
- proper aeration
- mix in carbon rich material
- Mix in nitrogen rich material
- Shred material to speed up decomposition
- Continue to turn and mix composting material during process
- Keep the material wet.
- Once the composting material gets to a certain point, introduce worms and fungi to break up the material further.
- Aerobic bacteria continue the chemical process by converting the material into heat, Carbon dioxide and ammonium. As this point bacteria turns the compost into nitrites and nitrates.
There are different mechanical options of composting techniques, they’d in the composting process. There are homemade tumblers, commercially available tumblers, as well as compost bins. Compost bins take more work as material must be moved from one been to the next. There is also composting containers that use gravity to allow the smaller compost pieces to drop to lower and lower levels in the composting process.
Keeping the material wet is one technique that speeds up the process also. Water can be injected via a hose, or nozzles, which can also shred and break down the compost even further. If the material is too wet the worms cannot help in the process at efficiently since they need good bedding to be able to move around and breathe. However the bacteria appreciate the wetter it is the better they can grow and decompose the material. Once the material gets to a nice small size, this is the best time to introduce worms. You want to make sure that the worms have plenty of good bedding for the worms to move around in and eat and breathe.
At this point is a good time to add more bedding shredded newspaper, finely shredded plant material, even shredded paper towels and other paper products. Depending on which composting technique you use shredded material to the size desired. Once the material is well composted, most composting techniques have you carefully move the compost to another area to save the worms and continue the process. You can then place more of the composting material containing worms on top of the new shredded material and let the worms and fungi do their job. You can do an extensive search of the Internet to look up different composting techniques, you will find that this all boils down to the decomposition of material that has been happening since the beginning of the creation of earth.
We would love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have as well as hear your success stories and see pictures that you have of your garden and your compost bin and what works for you. Sign up for our newsletter below.
Turning your dream into the life of your dreams
Chris downs —– the caretaker