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On-farm Composting & Vermicomposting


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Luke Freeman, University of Arkansas
Oklahoma Beginning Farmer & Rancher Program 2013
Horticulture #2: May 11

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On-farm Composting & Vermicomposting

  1. 1. On-Farm Composting &VermicompostingLuke Freeman, University of ArkansasBeginning Farmer Workshop, May 11, 2013Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture
  2. 2. What is compost?
  3. 3. Decomposed Organic MatterHumus = Final Product, resistant to decayManaged in a way that growsbeneficial microbes, concentratesnutrients, and builds humus
  4. 4. CompostHappensin Nature- Original Source ofSoil Fertility- Nature’s RecyclingProgram- Vital Componentof a FunctioningEcosystem
  5. 5. The Microbes Do the Work1 tsp. of healthy compostcontains:• 1 billion bacteria• 400-900 ft. of fungalhyphae• 10,000-50,000 protozoa• 30-300 nematodesbacteriaprotozoanematodefungal hyphae
  6. 6. Interested in Soil Microbes?
  7. 7. Why compost?
  8. 8. Reasons to Compost• Build soil fertility by recycling farm waste• Benefits of compost as soil amendment:1. Builds soil structure2. Increase water holding capacity of soil3. Improved aeration of soil4. Nutrients when your crops need them5. Initial fertilizer value of about 1-1-16. Plant growth stimulant7. Beneficial microbes that promote plant growthand suppress pathogens
  9. 9. Compost Uses1. Incorporate into Soil before Planting– at 5 - 20 tons/acre2. Apply as Mulch or Top-dress3. Brew Compost Tea or Extract– Promotes nutrient cycling, plant growth,and suppresses pathogens– Foliar spray or soil drench4. Make Your Own Potting Mix– Promotes seedling germination, growth– Reduces need for fertilization
  10. 10. Compost Tea• Compost “brewed” in aerated water, 24-36 hrs• Nutrients added to feed, grow microbes– molasses, fish hydrolysate, kelp, humic acid• Immediately sprayed on soil, plant leaves5 gal homemadebrewer10 gal commercialbrewer
  11. 11. How to make compost
  12. 12. Compost Requirements1. Correct Ratio of Materials– “Brown” material, high in C– “Green” material, high in N– C:N Ratio, 25:1 to 35:12. Adequate Moisture– Feels like a damp sponge– 50-60% moisture3. Adequate Aeration– Turn pile to incorporate oxygengreensbrowns
  13. 13. Compost Requirements4. Small Particle Size– Use wood chipper or mower5. Temperature– Biological activity causes temp to rise– Mesophilic Stage: 50 – 113˚F– Thermophilic Stage: 113 – 158˚F– High temp kills weed seeds and pathogens– Avoid temp over 150˚F to conserve N andpreserve beneficial microbes
  14. 14. Building the Compost PileRoughage – 3 inBrown Material – 1 to 2 inGreen Material – 1 to 2 inSoil/Clay – 0.5 in(Manure – 0.5 in)(Rock dust and trace minerals)Brown Material – 1 to 2 inGreen Material – 1 to 2 in(Repeat) 45% GreenMaterial45% BrownMaterial10% Soil/ClayRock dust toadd traceminerals andnutrientsas much as25% manure
  15. 15. When is the Compost Finished?Process takes 3 – 12 monthsMaturation Stage: under 113˚FMore resistant material broken down by fungi andarthropods over longer period of timeTest Maturity of CompostSolvita Compost Maturity Test Kit or Seedling TestOR
  16. 16. Compost Structures
  17. 17. Free-Standing Windrow• At least 3 x 3 ft. at base and 3 ft. tall• Easy to access with equipment• Good structure for large piles
  18. 18. Enclosed Bins• Made from wood, cinderblock, usedpallets, hardware cloth• For small piles or backyard composting• Must ensure means for aeration
  19. 19. Enclosed Binsused shippingpallets½ in. mesh hardwarecloth
  20. 20. Compost feedstock
  21. 21. Common Compost FeedstockFarm Materials• Hay, 15-32 C:N• Straw, 100-150 C:N• Wood chips, 200-1000 C:N• Cover crops , 9-30 C:N• Manure , 10-50 C:N• Vegetable Waste , 11-13 C:NMunicipal Waste• Bagged leaves, 40-80 C:N• Newspaper, 400-800 C:N• Coffee Grounds, 20 C:N• Food Waste, 11-50 C:N
  22. 22. Organic regulation
  23. 23. Requirements for OrganicGrowers:1. Records: feedstock, temperatures, management2. Management of manure compost:3. Initial C:N of 25:1 – 40:14. Reach temperatures of 131 - 170˚Fa. 3 days in static aerated pileb. 15 days for windrow, turned 5 times5. Or treated as raw manure6. 90-day interval if no contact with harvested crop7. 120-day interval if contact with harvested crop8. Does not apply to plant-based compost
  24. 24. VermicompostingProcessing organic matter withworms to produce worm castings
  25. 25. Benefits of Worm Castings• Concentrated plant-availablenutrients– higher analysis than compost, 2-2-1• Beneficial microbes• Plant growthhormones• Increasedgermination rate• Disease suppression
  26. 26. Vermicompost Uses1. Incorporate into Soil before Planting– cost prohibitive for large acreage2. Apply as Top-dress Fertilizer– spread ¼ - ½ inch thick3. Brew Vermicompost Tea or Extract– Can mix with compost in tea– Most economical way to apply vermicompost4. Make Your Own Potting Mix– Better germination rates than thermo compost– Use 5-10% in potting mix
  27. 27. Composting with WormsRed Wigglers (Eisenia fetida)• Can consume ½-1x body wt. in food a day• Will double population in 60-90 days• Grind food with gizzard and use bacteria toprocess food in intestine
  28. 28. The Worm Bin• Bin constructed from various materials– Wood, plastic, cinder blocks, straw bales• Bedding material– peat moss– compost– aged manure– newspaper– cardboard
  29. 29. Maintaining the Worm Bin• Bury food in bedding or add in layers– avoid meat, fat, bones, dairy, citrus• Keep bedding moist, 70% moisture• Ideal temp 60 – 75 F• Cover bin to keep dark
  30. 30. Collecting Worm Castings1. Light Method2. Screening Method3. Feeding Method4. Death MethodPlace worms in new binScreen castings toremove debris
  31. 31. Long-term Benefit ofCompost & Vermicompost
  32. 32. Why It Pays to Compost1. Long-term soil fertility• Plant nutrients in organic, slow-release forms2. Introduction of beneficial microbes• Biological cycling of nutrients (soil food web)• Plant-growth promoting substances• Suppression of plant pathogens3. Lower fertilizer costs4. Water conservation5. Improved soil tilth
  33. 33. Recommended ResourcesRodale Institute Natural Resource,Agriculture, andEngineering Service(NRAES)Northeast OrganicFarmingAssociation (NOFA)
  34. 34. ANY QUESTIONS?Thank you for your time.Feel free to see meafterwards for moreinformation.