Compost-Along: Week 3

by Daisy

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All right.

By now, we’ve decided on our bins and materials (Week 1), and hopefully gotten our bins and materials ready (Week 2).

This week it’s time to put everything together.

As this is a hot compost which will be turned weekly, it doesn’t really matter how we start our layering.  It’s probably marginally best to start with some carbons (browns) which have a lower moisture content and will probably benefit from being topped off with some greens.

Put down a thin layer.  I define a thin layer as one which is easy for me to wet thoroughly.  Getting a layer wet isn’t as easy as it would seem.  Dousing it from above with a nice shower or misty spray setting on the hose nozzle seems to get it wet–until I give it a stir, which reveals a completely dry layer beneath.  So it’s wet and stir, wet and stir, until when you stir, no more dry patches pop up.

Then add your next layer.  If your first was browns, add a layer of greens.  This probably won’t require as much moisture, but probably needs some wetting down and stirring.  The classic test is the squeeze test.  Take a handful of your compost materials and try to squeeze out a drop of water.  One drop or almost a drop is perfect.  More than one drop is too soggy.  Lay off with the hose and add in a little more dry material.  Think wrung-out sponge.

Continue to alternate greens and browns until you’ve reached the end of your stash of compost materials. If you decided to use some activating agents like we talked about last week (alfalfa meal, blood or bone meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, comfrey, stale dog food, seaweed, and urine), put that in as you layer, too.

If you’re like me, a suburbanite and not a farm person, you may reflect with a bit of disappointment that the pile isn’t as big as you hoped it would be.  Everything seemed bigger outside of the pile, those bags collected roadside, the collection from your own yard.  If you think your pile isn’t big enough, take heart.  It’s within the scope of the -Along to continue to add to your pile for the next couple of weeks.  Keep your eyes open before curbside pick-up day and you’re sure to find some treasures.  Aim for at least three feet high, if you can, but if you can’t, don’t sweat it.  Do what you can and it will be good, too.

I’d love to hear what you’ve collected and what, if any, activators you’ve decided on.  Tell us how things are going, and if you’ve got any photos, please share them on our Flickr page:

Let’s layer it!

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly June 11, 2012 at 11:58 am

I have a compost tumbler (totally rocks by the way) and my husband knows if we are out in the yard working and he has to pee then he has to go in the tumbler. If only people could have seen his face the first time I mentioned it! LOL It is free source of Nitrogen and based on my research should not be wasted. Sometimes I will have a bucket out and he “goes” in there and then we mix with water to dilute and it goes straight into the garden. We tested this on a couple of squares in the squarefoot garden and sure enough those are greener and bigger than the neighboring plants….yup tee tee is goooood stuff! hahahahaha

Sondra June 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Well, I guess I should’ve waited for this post before throwing everything in! I added all my stuff to my bin and then just kept stirring & watering. I didn’t want to get it too wet (1. didn’t want it to mildew & rot instead of break down & 2. we are expecting lots of rain this week)
I hope it will still come out for me. I’ll have to send my hubby out to “water” it for me! hehehe 😉

Rosalyn June 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

We had a tonne of rain last week so I hope mine was wet enough, it definitely needs to be turned though. I hadn’t really thought of using an activator but my little guy always wants to pee outside, so when we are out there, I’ll make sure to tell him to pee there! I’ll have a chat with my husband about it too, but I have a feeling he may not be quite as comfortable with the arrangement. 🙂

Dawn June 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I thought you weren’t supposed to add any meat or animal matter to your compost, so the “stale dog food” has me confused.

Daisy June 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Dawn–They are mostly grain and meat by-products and break down when wet and mixed with browns. The no meat rule is to keep out scraps of tempting food that attract rodents. In a hot pile, the small particles of wet food decompose quickly and aren’t available to rodents.

Terry June 12, 2012 at 5:28 am

I have a lot of company coming so cleaned out the fridge in preparation. Found LOTS of compostable stuff in there, old tomato sauce, salsa, wilted veggies, old buns and over the hill frozen veggies. Put them all in a bucket and voila – green! Then, followed Daisy’s tip and soaked some cardboard until it was soft, tore up a couple of boxes into small pieces and added those for my – brown. Added all that to what I already had in there. Seems to be cooking now!

Andrea G June 12, 2012 at 8:34 am

Would chicken poop be a good activator? I am thinking about throwing in a shovelful or two from the coop. We use the deep litter method so there would be lots of shavings too.

Daisy June 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

Andrea G–Yes! That would be an excellent activator.

indio June 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I use an activator because it can be hard turning it over when it’s in an upright bin. I try to dig a hole down the middle and pour the activator in there so it can be distributed better. If I have a lot of browns, which I usually do, I throw in a handful of lime to adjust the pH.

Nicole @ Simple Homemade June 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm

So is this “hot pile” different than just throwing everything in? We have a bin that we just throw everything in, no layers or anything. Are we doing a different kind of composting?

Daisy June 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Nicole–I would say this is different in that we are going for finished compost within a few weeks (6-8) and we are going to be turning it every week. Plus, making sure it is properly moist, with a balanced ratio of greens to browns, and with optional activators. Of course, throwing it all in is a perfectly legitimate way to do it, but I wanted us to do this together and see what we all ended up with.

Jessica June 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Hi, I’m too will be joining the compost along, better late than never! I was wondering if you would suggest putting worms in this type of compost.

Daisy June 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Jessica–Welcome! We’re getting pretty hot for this one–steaming hot. The worms can go in after it’s finished, though, if you won’t be using it immediately.

Jayne June 19, 2012 at 10:07 am

Here’s a odd question: Is female pee okay for an activator? Someone mentioned using their husbands’ & sons’ pee, but I haven’t seen where a woman can add her own (watered down, of course).

Daisy June 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Jayne–Yes, there’s no difference. I think the predominance of male contributions is due to the convenience factor alone! You don’t have to water it down.

Ivory Soap June 20, 2012 at 6:19 am

Jayne….this is my favorite questions ever. You have made my DAY!

Marie James June 20, 2012 at 6:53 am

A little behind in posting, but we’ve built our bin and started layering. Our basics are kitchen scrap “greens” and aged straw from the garlic and strawberry bed winter mulch. With Daisy’s suggestions, we collected a bucket of dryer lint, dog hair from our shedding double-coated Maremmas, the last of our wood stove ashes, and fish emulsion as an activator. Due to a misunderstanding in the family, our previously finished compost became mixed in too. We just bought a compost thermometer this year so it will be interesting to see what happens. On our blog I posted this report of Weeks 1 and 2, hope to write up a Week 3-4 report next week.
Thanks, Daisy, for leading the way on this journey!

Jess June 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

So the one of the reason why I wanted to start composting was because I just got some chicks (25 to be exact) and I wanted to use the bedding/poop in my compost. So my question is… is it ok to continually add the bedding/poop though out this process?

Daisy June 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Jess–Compost is compost, so no hard and fast rules. You can always keep adding to your pile, just keep in mind that if you want to have “finished” compost by a certain time (say, for me I’m trying to have a nice finished pile to add to the beds for my fall crops) you want to stop adding new things a few weeks before you need your compost, more if the new things take a long time to decompose. You can always stop at a certain point and start a new pile where you can add the chicken manure from that point on.

Megan B June 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Thank you Terry! You may have given me an idea for some greens!

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