Saturday, May 31, 2014

It's time to turn the compost: some homesteading practice

We're far enough into spring that it's time to turn out compost piles.

Some words of explanation: it's a very, very good and useful thing to have ample supplies of compost for growing crops.  It's super-soil for young plants, a terrific booster during a short growing season.  So we make compost all year round, building up piles consisting of kitchen scraps, mown grass, some weeds, and plenty of autumn leaves.

It takes 2-3 years for a pile to mature into decent soil stuff.

We structure each pile in a framework made from tree limbs and branches, more or less of uniform length and shape.  They stack in a square, keeping the pile tidy and contained.  Each one looks like this:
We read about this method in the Nearings' books.

Here are our earlier posts on composting.

So what does "turning the compost" means?  We have to take apart the wooden lattice, then turn the pile upside down.  The reason has to do with the process of composting.  All of those scraps, leaves, etc. turn into soil-like stuff gradually, and from the bottom up.  Upend the pile and the last-to-be-transformed materials now receive the fine lower position.

How it's done: I (Bryan) remove the first four or so rows of branches, stacking them on a patch of ground right next to the pile.  With a pitchfork I toss bits of the pile's top into the next patch, keeping the material inside the wooden square.  As I dig down into the pile, I remove branches and add them to the new one.  Eventually a mirror image pile appears.

It takes about 30 minutes per pile, unless the core is frozen, in which case more time is needed.

We usually do this once in spring and once in late fall.

You can buy or make plastic drums mounted on an axle, which can be spun round by a handle.  That's appealing, but we'd need a lot of these for the amounts we use.

How's your composting this May?


nosameerf said...

I doubled my compost size this year. Usually I have a uniform size made of palettes but I didn't have enough to space to turn it. So I made space next to it, turned the top onto the bottom of the new space. This allowed me to reach and use the good compost on the bottom. I don't that much space to work with in our small yard but this was something I had to make room for. I have make compost bins like yours before and they are good except for keeping a determined bulldog out of it. Our compost heap is fortified at this point.

Bryan Alexander said...

Using an adjacent space makes a lot of sense, nosameerf. I'm glad you found the room in your small yard.

Yikes! what a tenacious bulldog. Do you have pictures of the fortification?

Keiramc said...

I love finally living in a place with enough space for multiple compost piles. I love this construction idea.

Over the last year of tending my Vancouver garden from afar I've had to resort to taking yard trimmings to the city green waste and then bring in mulch. It's a common landscaping/garden practice in the city and burns my soul.

Bryan Alexander said...

I'm so glad you have the space to do this now, Keira.