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Let it Rot - Keys to Effective Composting
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Let it Rot - Keys to Effective Composting

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Leave it alone long enough, and it will surely decompose. But will it nourish your plants like you want it to? This class, which provides tips for several composting approaches (including pile and …

Leave it alone long enough, and it will surely decompose. But will it nourish your plants like you want it to? This class, which provides tips for several composting approaches (including pile and sheet/lasagna methods), will cover how and why compost works, and how to make it work for you.


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  • 1. Effective Composting Independence Gardens Portland, OR Download the handout that goes along with this slideshow! http://bit.ly/AyRFHp January 2012 © Independence Gardens LLC Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 2. Topics We’ll Cover • What is composting? • Why compost? • Composting methods • How to make compost… effectively • Harvesting/using compost • Vermi- intro • Questions and hands-on practice What We’ll Cover TodayPreview Got Questions? Please ask as we go along. Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 3. What We’ll Skip Today • The process by which organic materials such as grass clippings, leaves, and food waste are broken down and decomposed • A strategy for recycling organic (living/no longer living) matter into a useful and necessary soil ingredient And Some Other OptionsWhat is composting? Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 4. Why Compost? • Food & paper are the two largest contributors to landfills - More than 1/2 of all landfill waste - More than all plastics, diapers, styrofoam, and tires COMBINED • Food is the #1 least recycled waste product - NOT taking into account the food that goes down sink disposals • But composting food waste and paper is easy, and FUN! Why compost? Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 5. Columbia Ridge Landfill 137 miles When stuff goes “away”… The Metro region landfills 270,500 tons of food and non-recoverable paper per year: 21% of the waste stream Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 6. • It does not (have to) - Involve chemicals, huge amounts of power, or transportation • It does… - Offer “closed loop” sustainability • From table to compost to garden to table - Reduce landfill waste & runoff - Help your plants survive drought - Discourage pests - Encourage microbial life in soil - Act as a healthy soil amendment • Improve tilth • Offer steady release of nutrients What does compost do? Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 7. Backyard composting methods • Hot/fast • Cold/slow • Pile • Trench • Pit • Container - Ex: 3-bin systems - Ex: Earth Machines (a.k.a. Darth Vader hats) Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 8. • Sheet mulching - a.k.a. “lasagna gardening” - Slow; use to prep beds for later planting • Vermicomposting - Red wriggler WORMS! - Slow method that breaks food waste down into “black gold” • Commercial - Hot/fast: don’t try this at home - Can break down a wider variety of materials than backyard scale Other composting methods Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 9. • Ingredients/recipe - 3 parts “brown” - 1 part “green” • Particle size • Moisture • Air • Temperature • Turning the pile • Duration Compost considerations BROWN (C) 1 BROWN (C) 1 GREEN (N) 1 BROWN (C) 1 Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 10. • “Browns” (Carbon) – Examples: • Brown leaves • Dry grass • Straw • Small sticks • “Greens” (Nitrogen) – Examples: • Food Waste • Manures – From herbivores! • Green grass Remember the Recipe….3 parts brown to 1 part green Ingredients/recipe Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 11. GREENS - fruit & vegetable scraps - coffee grounds - rice & pasta - eggshells - tea bags - flowers - plant trimmings - hedge clippings and other fresh yard debris - fresh grass (small amounts) - animal manures (e.g. chicken, rabbit, goat, horse, cow, alpaca) - seaweed/kelp Compost: YES BROWNS - coffee filters - stale bread - houseplant cuttings - paper napkins & towels - dryer lint (mostly cotton) - hair (yours/your pets’) - clean cardboard/paper - wood ash (NOT Duraflame/ Presto logs!) - leaves - straw or hay - small twigs/chips - dried grass & weeds - cotton rags - animal bedding (sawdust) Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 12. MEAT - chicken, beef, fish - bones - fat DAIRY - milk - yogurt - cheese Compost: NO PLASTIC - bags - straws - juice boxes METAL - wrappers - aluminum foil Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 13. • Smaller is better! • Chop it up! • Bury food in pile! Particle size Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 14. • Damp enough to leave hands moist (like a wrung-out sponge) – Often becomes not the case in the fall / winter/ spring • When squeezed, water should not drip out Best Practice: TARP IT! Covering your pile retains... • Heat • Appropriate nutrients • Moisture content The Monsoon Continues!Moisture Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 15. • Aerobic microbes are good – Breathe in oxygen – Release CO2 • Anaerobic microbes are smelly! – Release methane Air Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 16. • Hot pile = good pile – 140°F for 3 days to kill pathogens and weed seeds Temperature Best Practice: USE A COMPOST THERMOMETER • Allows you to measure temps accurately Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 17. • Makes food more available for microbes • Aerates the pile • Keeps the pile hot • Make sure you turn all of the pile • Yes, you can turn in all seasons Turning the pile Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 18. • Turn until pile stops warming up… - Food is gone, so microbes dead/dormant/less active • Average backyard compost pile is finished in 4-6 months • Other methods can be faster or slower Duration Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 19. • Much slower composting method than pile or trench - Give yourself 6 months to 1 year for a whole area to be plantable • But it’s more flexible - You can compost in place around existing plants • Step-by-step… Sheet mulching basics Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 20. 1. Mow down existing grass/plants and remove invasives 2. Add a 2” N layer (grass clippings, manure, kelp, cottonseed meal, fish product, urine, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps) 3. Aerate soil with a digging fork & water 4. Lay down a C weed barrier (cardboard or 10ish layers off newspaper) 5. Add ~ ½” N layer 6. Repeat steps 4 (with any C source) & 5 to desired thickness 7. Water well 8. Add a 12” blanket C layer (straw, leaves, wood chips, shredded paper) Sheet mulching how-to Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 21. Harvesting Compost • When pile is cooled, compost is ready to use - Can be tarped and stored for 6-12 months • Screening - Use chicken wire or hardware cloth in wooden frame - “Overs” can be used to start new compost pile • Curing - Letting finished compost sit for 2-3 months will make it darker, more stable nutrients Harvesting Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 22. • Fertilizer - Mix compost into soil around plants • Potting Soil - 1 Shovel compost - 1 Shovel good black soil - ½ Shovel perlite - 1 Shovel sand • Topsoil - 1 Shovel compost - 1 Shovel sand Recipes Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 23. • Compost “halo” - Good fertilization method - Lay a ring of compost on ground around plant stems - Cover with soil • Planting with compost - Mix with dark surface soil - Put at bottom of planting hole - Plant! Recipes Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 24. • Know your habits - How much kitchen/yard waste do you produce? - How will you collect scraps? (countertop unit, fridge or freezer...) - How much time/desire do you have to tend? - Do you have household/ neighborhood buy-in? - Could you share the work? And then there is you... Tuesday, January 31, 2012
  • 25. Got Questions? Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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