Composting Manual
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Green Ambassador composting Manual.

Green Ambassador composting Manual.

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Composting Manual Composting Manual Document Transcript

  • Taken from “Guide for Home Composting & Environmentally Responsible Gardening” Written and edited by Rich Flammer, Hidden Resources, under contract with the City of Chula Vista, California, August, 2003 – Author’s text version without graphics and final formatting Rich Flammer, Hidden Resources, hiddenresources@sbcglobal.net, www.compostingconsultant.com, (619) 758-0726. Used by permission. This text, in whole or part, may not be reproduced for resale, commercial purposes, or any other reason outside of teacher and student training as part of the Green Ambassador and “IhaveCB” programs. Table of Contents Introduction Why Composting? (Slide 4) Chapter 1 Backyard Biology... What is Composting? (Slide 5) Chapter 2 Serving Suggestions for Microbial Guests: What can be Composted at Home? (Slide 6) Chapter 3 Who’s Doing all that Work? Creating the Optimum Conditions for Composting Chapter 4 What Works for You? Selecting the Best Method (Slide 8-10) Chapter 5 Eek a Worm! Vermiculture at Home (Slide 12) Chapter 6 Reap What You Sow… Using Compost Effectively (Slide 13) Chapter 7 Kick the Habit! Toxic-free Gardening Chapter 8 Trouble in Rotville… Simple Solutions for some Common Composting Challenges (Slide 14)
  • Small Investments, Big Returns… WHY COMPOSTING? This guide, originally written for Chula Vista residents by Rich, Flammer, Hidden Resources, is designed to help you become a trained Green Ambassador, , conserve resources, recycle, and create healthy, thriving, environmentally-friendly world through better management of home-generated organic discards and use of toxic-free fertilizers and pesticides. It is designed as a companion manual for the Green Ambassador and “IhaveCB,” although it can also be used independently as a guide and inspiration for composting and environmentally-responsible living at home. As both local and global human populations grow, demand on natural resources intensifies and waste volumes increase. Much like putting away small sums of money for a child’s college education, little contributions towards environmental sustainability now have the potential to add up into larger savings in the future. Hence, we advocate making small investments towards resource conservation over a long period of time to ensure the same child with ample funds for higher education also has clean air, water, and natural resources to enjoy while in school and adulthood. These small investments we speak of involve depositing your food scraps and yard trimmings into a bank of sorts (a composting pile), rather than throwing them away. The process is interesting, simple, enjoyable, rewarding, and the return will make a world of difference to both our generation and those to follow. If you love saving money and the planet, there’s nothing quite like making your own soil through composting. It’s very similar to baking and making your own dough, although composting is probably easier, and cheaper. Just don’t eat it. Once you choose the system of composting or mulching that’s best for you and begin the process, you’ll never look at yard trimmings, food scraps, or gardening the same way again. Suddenly wastes become resources, tools for building soils and healthy plants. Like constructing something useful out of junk in the garage, old banana peels and orange rinds can be converted to make vegetables explode with fruit and flowers with color. Grass clippings become fertilizer for the same lawn they were cut from, cooking products turned into homemade fungicides and bug repellents. You’re encouraged to experiment, and can’t fail, only learning what works and what doesn’t on your particular plants and landscape. The possibilities are countless, the rewards immense, and the experience guarantees to bring you a new understanding and appreciation of the fascinating processes of nature. Benefits of composting include: • Returning nutrients to the soil, rather than burying them in a landfill • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions • Reducing water pollution through decreased use of pesticides and fertilizers • Preventing topsoil loss through decreased erosion • Cost savings from reduced pesticide and fertilizer use • Maintaining landscapes and gardens that are less toxic to children and pets Benefits of compost include: • Increasing the water-holding capacity of sandy soils • Helping clay soils drain better • Adding micro-nutrients to soil • Increasing the overall workability, or tilth of soil • Increasing microbial populations in soils that benefit plants • Buffering soil pH • Improving the ability of soils to retain nutrients Compost can be used to: • Make or improve existing potting soils • Dress lawns • Improve garden soil • Mulch around flowers, shrubs and trees
  • There’s no better way towards lush, beautiful landscapes and a healthy, sustainable environment than home composting and toxic-free gardening. We invite you to participate in this rewarding process and hope this manual will inspire and inform you enough to begin. Welcome, and happy composting! This project made possible through foresight and funding from Chula Vista Resource Conservation, The Chula Vista Nature Center, and the California Integrated Waste Management Board. Special thanks to D&P Industries, Inc., Envirocycle Systems, Inc., Mary Apelhof, Norseman Plastics (Earth Machine), Magic Worm Ranch, and Solarcone, inc. Chapter 1 - Backyard Biology... WHAT IS COMPOSTING? Good question. Although it’s commonly called a natural process, composting, as opposed to simple decomposition, requires human intervention. In short, composting is the process of recycling organics by creating favorable conditions for microorganisms to convert these materials into a beneficial soil amendment. We don’t necessarily speed up the process of decay, but rather try to optimize the environment for the most efficient organisms to turn our yard trimmings, food scraps, and other organics into a useable soil. With some materials, such as grass clippings and wet food scraps, we may actually attempt to slow down the rate of decomposition to prevent odors and ensure the most efficient organisms occupy our compost pile. Although composting requires our help, let’s not forget it’s the microbes who are doing all the work. We’re just trying to make them comfortable. With historical references dating back thousands of years, composting and improving growing conditions through the use of organic fertilizers are age-old recycling and agricultural management methods. Over the years, the biological process of composting has remained the same. Only the tools and systems for creating optimum conditions and minimizing problems have been refined to meet the challenges of an increased and more diverse waste stream, urbanized landscapes and intensifying pressure on air, land and water quality. As short-sighted farming practices, urbanization, and erosion continually strip the earth of its nutrient-rich topsoil, plants grow poorly, develop weaker, less extensive root systems, and become less efficient at cleaning our air and holding soil in place. It’s a progressively strengthening cycle of depletion, and one which can be reversed by returning the physical structure and nutrient content back to the land through composting. In simple terms, composting is a biological process requiring human intervention. From a global, and more serious perspective, it is a critical element of replenishing life to an earth’s soil that future generations depend on.
  • Chapter 2 - Recipe for Composting: WHAT CAN BE COMPOSTED AT HOME? Although the microorganisms responsible for recycling your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps are capable of breaking down anything once living or made out of something once living, it’s best to err on the side of caution when you’re composting at home. Excluding a few things like meat scraps and dairy products will still allow you to divert a considerable amount of waste from the landfill while minimizing problems in your home compost pile. Since every homeowner will be composting scraps unique to their diet, in a bin and system of their choosing, and put forth varying amounts of time and effort into composting, variations in results should be expected. With this in mind, we encourage you to experiment a bit and try composting different discards from your home. You may have to adjust some of the other elements of your system, such as adding water or aerating it, but that’s just part of the fun. More on this later in the manual. Here’s a partial list of things you can compost, and some you should keep out of the pile. Again, feel free to be creative. You can even compost an old cotton sweater, but be sure it’s not one you borrowed from a friend! Compost these things… But not these: Fruit and vegetable scraps Meat, chicken, fish Bread, bakery products and pasta Salad dressing Leaves and grass clippings Cooking oils and grease Egg shells Cat and dog poop Cotton, wool, burlap, and leather Cheese, butter, and dairy products Paper Sawdust from treated lumber Straw and hay Twigs and sticks Cow, steer, horse, chicken, and manure from plant and grain eating animals Ground brush (wood chips) Tea leaves, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters Plant prunings and weeds
  • QuickTimeª and a decompressor are needed to see this picture. Chapter 3 - Who’s Doing all that Work? CREATING THE OPTIMUM CONDITIONS FOR COMPOSTING The essence of composting is balancing conditions for microorganisms to work most efficiently. By efficient we mean the conversion of raw organic materials into compost in the shortest period of time with minimal inconvenience to the composter (odors, fly problems, etc.). Remember we can’t necessarily speed- up the process, but rather optimize it for microbes to work at their fastest pace. The notion that we speed-up decomposition in composting is further dispelled by the fact that with some materials which are very high in moisture and nitrogen, such as grass clippings, we may actually try to slow decay down a bit to prevent anaerobic conditions and odors. Composting can be as simple or complex as we prefer to make it. Like most activities we participate in, our return is a direct result of what we invest in time, energy, and thought. A little knowledge of composting, however, goes a long way, and we can accomplish our goals of environmental stewardship or creating an excellent soil amendment with a fairly minimal amount of effort. Before reading the rest of this chapter, picture this scenario in your head: You’re the supervisor of a dozen or so employees, who reside in a building where they work for you. You don’t control the pace at which they work, but you have total control over their living environment. You want them to perform their absolute best, and you know the conditions that are most favorable to them. What conditions do you think are important to maximize their efficiency? Certainly their diet, right? How about the temperature of the building? Too hot or too cold and they’ll slow down. Enough space for them to move freely and an energy efficient building to maintain a comfortable temperature range. How about the quality of the air they’re breathing? Lots of oxygen and good air flow would keep them at their peak right? An adequate amount of water, and viola! They’re happy, healthy, well-fed, comfortable, and working at the most productive rate possible. Now imagine these workers are microorganisms, the building is a compost pile, and you’ve got a good basic understanding of composting! Following are the optimum conditions for the most efficient composter organisms. We call them thermophillic (heat-loving) microbes, but you can call them bugs or Al or whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. And you don’t have to don a pair of safety goggles, lab coat and beaker and get all of these parameters perfect either. Just remember they all have an effect on the progress of your composting and changing one may impact the others. You’re the boss, but you don’t have to be too hard on these guys (or yourself!). Get these conditions in the ballpark, and you’ll be composting like a pro. Carbon to nitrogen ratio (also called C/N ratio, or recipe mix) Optimum: 30:1
  • This is the proper diet aerobic microbes need to work efficiently. Although micro-nutrients in smaller amounts are important too, this ratio and value of carbon (their energy source) and nitrogen (necessary for their propagation and growth) is crucial. How do you achieve this in your home pile? Easy. Start with a mix of approximately 50% brown materials (leaves, paper, woodchips, etc.) and 50% green material (grass clippings, food scraps, manure, etc.). Moisture content Optimum: 50% The aerobic organisms breaking down organics in a compost pile live in water. They need it for vital functions such as digestion, and also for movement in search of food. A compost pile with adequate moisture will allow aerobic microbes to work at their highest efficiency. Grab a handful of compost from a foot or so inside your pile. Does it feel moist? Can you squeeze a couple of drops of water from it? Does it glisten when hit by the sun? If so, you've got adequate moisture. Oxygen content Optimum: 5% or more To get and keep the proper amount of oxygen in your pile, begin with a balanced mix of brown, bulky materials, such as leaves, woodchips or straw. In addition to being a source of carbon, these materials give the pile porosity, and are referred to in composting as a quot;bulking agent.quot; You may also choose to build your pile on a base of twigs, coarse woodchips or stones to allow air to enter through the bottom and flow through the pile out the top. You can use a piece of rebar or a commercially available aeration tool to make vertical airflow channels. Turning the pile provides oxygen as well. Just be sure to leave materials fluffed up after turning. This will allow the pile to self-aerate after turning. Temperature Optimum: 100º to 140º F Get the other parameters right and you won't need to worry about this one. The activity of the microbes and insulating mass of organic material surrounding the core of your pile will combine to create temperatures of 140º F or more. At the higher end of the scale (130º to 140º), weed seeds and pathogenic organisms will be destroyed, while the ones decomposing your material will thrive. Lower temperatures suggest decreased activity resulting from low nitrogen, moisture, or porosity. Monitoring temperature in your pile is not necessary, but if you want to do it, it's an excellent way to gauge how quickly things are happening and how well you've built and are maintaining your pile. There are decomposer organisms that work at lower temperatures, so if you’re not within the optimal temperature range, don’t fret. Your material is still breaking down. pH Optimum: 5.5 to 8.0 Not much need to worry about this one at home either. Your pile will go through an acidic phase, and finished compost will end up somewhere around neutral (about 7.0). You don’t have to memorize these parameters, but it helps to have an idea of conditions microbes prefer. Just remember they like a pile that is moist but not soaking wet, warm to hot, fluffy and porous, not matted and dense, made from a balanced mix of greens and browns, and approximately 3’ by 3’ by 3’. Good luck boss!
  • Chapter 4 - What Works for You? SELECTING THE BEST METHOD There are two primary motivations for home composting. One is diverting waste from the landfill, and the other is making soil amendment to improve our gardens and landscape. Although we hope everyone cares enough about the environment to participate in recycling, some compost more for enhancing their gardens and landscapes while others do it to give Mother Nature a helping hand. Determining why you want to compost is an important first step in choosing a method. If you’re an avid gardener, you’ll want to make as much compost from your yard trimmings and food scraps as possible. If your sole concern is reducing waste, you may want to just throw organics into a static (unturned) pile, use a digester-type unit, mulch, or even donate scraps to a neighbor’s compost pile (better ask first!). Selecting the proper method for your household will minimize challenges and ensure you divert all the organics you wish to and create all the compost/mulch you’d like. The method you choose also depends on the volume and type of organic material you generate, the space you have to compost it, and the amount of effort you intend on putting in to composting. There’re also aesthetics and expense issues to think about. Do you want to spend some extra money on a fancier, commercial unit that complements the landscape in your backyard, or will a hardware cloth or bin made from wood pallets suffice? To help you select the best system for your household and lifestyle, the following chart has been developed. Since diverting organics from the landfill is such an important element of composting, we’ve broadened the term “composting methods” to include alternatives such as grasscycling and mulching. Depending on your particular situation, just one of these options may be adequate to handle the organics you generate at home, or you may wish to use several or all of them if you have the space, time, and generate substantial volumes of organics. Methods for diverting home organics: HB - Composting with microbes in homemade bin CM - Composting with microbes in purchased bin NM - Composting with microbes without bin WC - Composting with worms MU- Mulching GC - Grasscycling SC - Sheet composting/direct land application DU - Digestion units OS - Moving organics off-site
  • Type of organics you generate: Best method/s: Mostly kitchen scraps WC, SC, DU Mostly grass GC, MU Mixed yard trimmings (leaves, grass, prunings, etc.) HB, CB, MU, OS, MU, GC Both kitchen scraps and yard trimmings HB, CB, MU, GC Manure, farm wastes HB, CB, NB, SC Type of dwelling you reside in Apartment/condo WC, OS, DU House with small yard HB, CB, MU, GC House with large yard HB, CB, MU, GC, SC Farm HB, CB, NB, MU, SC Family size: Single/live alone WC, SC, DU, OS Small family (3 people or less) WC, SC, HB, CB, GC Medium/large family (4 or more) HB, CB, MU, SC, GC Effort scale: Minimal effort WC, DU, SC, MU, OS Medium effort CB, WC, GC, MU Extra effort HB, NB, GC CHAPTER 5 - EEK A WORM! VERMICULTURE AT HOME Composting with worms is an excellent way to recycle food scraps and paper, among many other organics generated at home. The end-product produced by the worms, called worm castings or vermicompost, is perhaps the best amendment available for improving growing conditions in soil. Worm bins are available commercially, or you can easily make your own. Keep in mind worm composting is done in a shallow bin of about 10-12 inches deep. Similar to microbial composting, some care must be taken to ensure worms have the proper diet, temperature, moisture, oxygen, acidity, and growing medium (bedding) composition and volume. But in general it’s relatively easy to get started and easier once you’ve begun. The level of maintenance required for a worm bin is up to you. You may choose to set-up a low maintenance system, or one which requires more attention and care. Systems range from simple, single worm bins in someone's home to larger scale commercial beds. Most home systems are simple and easy to maintain. Redworms are the best choice for home vermicomposting. Also known as quot;red wigglers,quot; and a variety of other names, you can be sure you're getting the right ones if you ask for quot;Eisenia foetida.quot; These worms are efficient, tolerant of varying temperature ranges and worm bin conditions, produce excellent castings, and are available all year at various locations in San Diego County. Worm bedding is an important part of vermiculture. Moistened shredded paper or hand-shredded newspaper work well. Coir, a bedding material made from the fibers inside a coconut shell, comes in brick form and expands in water. A bit more expensive, but it works very well. You may also use peat moss or manure. Once you’ve selected a bin and filled it with bedding material, you only need to add worms and start feeding them. It’s that easy. You can keep your bin in a variety of places, provided it's a location with moderate temperatures (55º-77ºF). The patio or backyard is fine, but temperatures below 50ºF and above 84ºF may cause worms to die. You may also keep your worm bin under the kitchen sink, in the basement, or in the garage. Choose a location that's convenient for you, as well as good for the worms. If you share your home with others, you might want to get their approval before your new roommates move in. They won’t do the dishes, but they’ll clean off the scraps, keep to themselves, not make a peep of noise, and never complain about a thing. On second thought, you might want to get rid of your existing roommates and replace them with worms!
  • Worms are extremely efficient recyclers, consuming up to their entire body weight in food scraps per day. They actually work in tandem with some of the same microorganisms in microbial compost piles. Together they break down a wide variety of scraps. The microorganisms soften the larger pieces of organic materials, allowing worms to more easily consume them. The worms also feed on the microorganisms themselves. The diet of worms is very similar, if not the same as the microbes. In fact, this list is nearly identical to the one previously included. But the systems are definitely different, and to keep them separate, the dos and don’ts for feeding worms follow. This is a partial list of items you can feed the worms, and some things you might want to exclude: Feed them: Don’t feed them: Fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings Meat and bones* Baked goods like bread and pizza crust Fish Cheese Bottle caps Egg shells Aluminum foil Potato salad Glass Cereal Cat and dog feces Tea bags and leaves Rubber bands Coffee grounds and filters Sticks and woody plant parts Paper Plastics bags One difference between worms and microbes is that worms prefer softer materials. Sticks and woody plant parts aren’t in their diet. However, like microbes, worms do need both carbon and nitrogen, and the carbon may come from paper or sawdust. Inorganic materials such as plastics and metals may be obvious materials to keep out of the pile, but worth mentioning because separation is an important element of recycling and if items that can’t be recycled in one system are placed in another, they won’t make it to the recycling system in which they belong, and most likely end up in the trash. *Meat and fish provide an excellent form of nitrogen for both worms and microbes, but we suggest keeping these out of the pile because they may attract rodents or cause odors. Once you become more experienced with composting, you may add small amounts but be sure your unit has a tight lid on it, you bury the scraps at least a few inches under the surface, and the pieces you add are finely chopped. Harvesting worm castings may be done in several ways, depending on the unit you select. While some commercial bins have multiple levels and allow easier harvesting, vermicompost can be removed from single bins by feeding on one side and removing casting on the other after the worms have migrated over. You may also stop feeding worms in the active bin and place another equal-sized bin with holes in the bottom on top of it. Start feeding in the top bin and the worms will migrate up. Since worms will move away from light, you may also choose to dump out the entire contents of your worm bin on a plastic sheet or newspaper and make a dozen or so small piles. As the worms crawl into the interior of the piles, move the outside edge of the castings away. After doing this repeatedly with each pile, you will eventually end up with the worms in piles and castings separated. Use the compost, and put the worms back into a bin with new bedding and start the process over. If you purchase a commercial worm bin, just follow the instructions. If you build your own or buy a plastic container to use, we recommend buying one of the many excellent books on vermicomposting available. Again, worm composting is easy, rewarding, and yields a fantastic soil. Good luck!
  • Chapter 6 - Reap What You Sow… USING COMPOST EFFECTIVELY Compost used as an amendment is the best thing you can do for your soil and plants. As a general rule, apply it 20% by volume to garden soil, potting mixes, flower boxes, or backfill when planting trees and shrubs. Some people have had great success using it straight, but not all plants prefer such a light, well- drained soil so caution is advised. However, we encourage you to try different ratios to see what works best for your particular landscape and plants. When applying to a garden or soil prior to planting grass, apply 1 to 2 inches of compost and till it into the top 6 to 8 inches or so. Both coarse and fine compost may be used as a mulch. Apply 1 to 2 thick around flowers, shrubs and trees. Compost screened through 1/2” mesh makes a great top dressing for grass. Broadcast it evenly over your lawn several times a year to add organic matter, beneficial microorganisms, and macro and micronutrients to your soil. What exactly makes compost such a great enhancement to your soil? Excellent question. Glad you asked! • AND DON’T FORGET TO MULCH! Mulch is truly nature's creation. While composting involves human intervention, mulch just happens. For example, layers of leaves and decaying plant matter build up on the forest floor, and are slowly broken down by a web of microbes and insects. The soil beneath is moist, dark, and microbially rich. Although mulches are most frequently used to prevent weed growth (black plastic is one of the most common mulching materials), there are numerous benefits associated with organic mulches. Grass clippings make an excellent mulch, as do leaves and chipped brush. Applied an inch or two thick, organic mulches help soil retain mositure, protect root systems by moderating soil temperature, and reduce erosion. Compost improves the physical structure of soil, allowing sprawling, healthy root systems and strong plant growth. • Compost improves drainage when incorporated into clay soils.
  • • Compost improves the water-holding capacity of sandy soils. • The microbial community in compost provides a slow release of nutrients to soil and plants. Compost amended soil will hold supplemental macronutrients, increasing their availability to plants over a longer period of time. • Compost and mulch help stabilize slopes. • Plants benefit from both macro and micronutrients present in compost. • Soil pH is improved and stabilized by compost. • Compost is regularly used in commercial operations to bind or degrade contaminants in soil. It can have the same positive effect on the soil in your yard. Chapter 7 - Kick the Habit! TOXIC-FREE GARDENING It’s time to clear some shelf space in the garage and get rid of those nasty chemicals! Most of what can be accomplished with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can be achieved through less toxic, cheaper products found around the home or in your local grocery store. You begin by amending the physical structure of your soil. Adding compost does wonders. Not only does a physically healthy soil promote strong root systems and allow proper drainage and retention of water, it also houses a rich microbial community which stores and releases nutrients on a slow and continuous basis. As previously mentioned, compost can bind and degrade contaminants in soil. Good soil is the foundation for healthy plants, and healthy plants are less prone to disease and require less fertilization. You can actually fertilize your lawn with… your lawn! Grass pulls nitrogen from the soil, and every time you cut it and discard the clippings, it's like throwing away bags of fertilizer. And after you throw away these clippings, you head over to the local home and garden store to buy some! Seems silly, doesn't it? Grass clippings left on the lawn not only contain 4% nitrogen, but improve the soil beneath. Contrary to what many believe, grass clippings do not cause nor contribute to thatch. Mulching gardens, trees and shrubs helps moderate soil temperature, retain moisture, and control weeds that compete with other plants for water and nutrients in the soil. Again, healthier soil conditions lead to healthier plants that are less prone to disease and repeated fertilization. By the way, grass clippings make a pretty darn good mulch! Native plants are hardier and tend to be more resistant to pests and diseases than non-natives. Consider designing a landscape with endemic species, hand pick weeds, and grow garlic, radishes, and onions among other vegetables as they will repel pests as well. There are a multitude of natural pest control products and organic fertilizers available at local nurseries. Some of these include: • Horticultural oils have been used for decades, and are effective for controlling pests on ornamental plants. • Insectidical soaps are a safe alternative for aphid, mite and whitefly control and are used by many greenhouses. Non-detergent, biodegradable soaps, including dish soaps and pure soaps available at health food stores, are also effective. • Sprays made from chili pepper, garlic, onion, or vinegar mixed with water may be made cheaply at home and also can be effective at ridding plants of pests. Here's one recipe: 2 or 3 chili peppers (the hotter the better), 1⁄2 onion, 1 clove garlic and 1⁄2 mild green pepper. Blend ingredients thoroughly with two cups of water. Steep one or two days, strain through cheesecloth, and spray directly on unwanted insects. • Buying organic is good for your health and will promotes more sustainable commercial farming practices.
  • • Consider introducing beneficial insects, also available at garden stores, to control pests in your garden. Ladybugs, green lacewings, and predatory mites are a few examples. • Compost tea made from worms castings or regular compost can be sprayed directly on plants to improve their health and control pests. Focus on soil health, try a few of these toxic-free alternatives, and enjoy a more environmentally-friendly landscape and safer fruits and vegetables! Chapter 8 - Trouble in Rotville… SIMPLE SOLUTIONS TO SOME COMMON COMPOSTING CHALLENGES Don’t sweat it if one or more of these conditions exist in your compost pile. Sometimes they even happen to the pros. At best they’ll be a mild nuisance, and they are all easily fixed. Here’re a few challenges you may encounter: quot;My pile smells.quot; It's anaerobic. Aerobic, or those microbes which require oxygen to survive, don't create odors. Their cousins, the anerobic microbes, don't need oxygen and produce foul odors. Once your pile is depleted of oxygen, the smelly cousins move in. What to do? Return your pile to an aerobic state. Check to see if it's too wet. If it is, turn it a few times. If it's still too wet, try mixing in some dryer, coarser material. Make sure your pile is fluffy and porous, not matted and dense. quot;My pile won't heat up.quot; Could be deficient in nitrogen, moisture, or oxygen. Make sure it has proper moisture, adequate porosity, and is at least 3' x 3' wide about 3' high. Adjust these as necessary first. If it still isn't heating up, thoroughly mix in a source of nitrogen (quot;greensquot; such as grass, food scraps, etc.) until a better C/N balance is achieved. Start with about a gallon-sized container of greens, and give your pile about a day to heat. If it doesn't add another, wait a day, and so. You'll be cooking in no time. But if your pile doesn’t reach high temperatures, no worries either. The material is still breaking down, but at a slower rate. quot;There are flys coming out of my pile.quot; If you're composting food scraps, mix them in well, rather than leaving them on the top. Even an inch or so of compost material covering scraps will suffice. You may also consider making a lid for your composter, or buy a unit that comes with one. Even with a lid, you should still turn in food scraps. Don’t compost meat, cheese, fish, or cooking sauces until you turn pro. quot;Some of my compost looks ready, but some of it hasn't broken down.quot;
  • Not all materials decompose at the same rate. The woody, higher carbon things take longer. You can make a simple screen out of 1/2quot; galvanized mesh. Use the fine material and return the coarse for further decay. quot;I don't have many brown materials, but lots of greens like grass clippings and food scraps.quot; Consider grasscycling, a form of mulching cut grass back into your lawn. Mulch garden beds with grass, or incorporate it into the soil a month or so before planting. Food scraps can be incorporated into the soil as well, or recycled in a worm bin.