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Composting

Composting is an invaluable aspect of any homestead.

Composting is one of nature’s most spectacular and most essential processes. Without it, life would be very different, and probably not possible. It is fueled by anything and everything organic, from paper to manure, and even ourselves. Everything that has ever lived, or will live, is a product and source of compost. It is a never ending cycle that can be very advantageous to the self-sustainable homestead.

In this article, we will deal exclusively with aerobic composting. Anaerobic composting is discussed in the methane page. Both are essentially the same overall process, but involve different bacteria and methods.

Aerobic composting takes place in the presence of oxygen. It also needs moisture, organic content, and naturally occurring organisms to process the organic matter. Some people and books would have you believe that composting is difficult or needs special equipment. This is simply not true, and it will happen whether you are there or not. What is sometimes difficult for the beginner is producing usable compost, although with a little guidance, you can be a compost pro in no time.

There are many different methods for composting, using bins or containers, piles, windrows, aerators, and much more. We will be focusing on the methods we use: a pile and a bin.

Step 1: Compost pile

The easiest way to compost is the pile method.  Personally, we believe compost should be as simple as possible, and as quick as you can make it without adding much labor.

  1. First, you need a place. Near the garden is best, if you plan to use it in the garden. We actually put ours (we have a separate composting process for humanure) right on a garden bed. So, when it rains, and leeches nutrients, they go right into the garden.
  2. Add a layer of brown material on top of your garden bed, 6″-10″ thick. Brown material is essentially carbon, and is composed of dry plant matter (grass, leaves, paper). Make the layer taller on the edges.
  3. Next, add a layer of green material, like manure, fresh plant matter, kitchen scraps. This is your nitrogen and the layer should be about 2″-4″ thick.
  4. Continue to make layers until it is about 3 feet tall. The pile should lean in, so that each layer is a little smaller than the one below it.
  5. Wet down the pile as you make it.  You don’t want it sloppy wet, more like “moist”. You can use grey water if you wish, as it contains more nutrients than clean water, and it uses a waste product from other systems.
  6. Leave the pile for a couple of months, wetting it down periodically.
  7. You should then turn the pile, so that the more composted material from the inside is moved to the outer edges, and the outer material to the inside. Your pile will no longer be a perfect stack, and it should be smaller in size as it decomposes.
  8. Leave it for another couple of months, by which time it should by brown and crumbly soil, and then spread over your garden. If everything doesn’t break down, throw the leftovers into a new pile or just put them on the soil anyway. They’ll break down there as well.
  9. You can then plant in the bed where the pile was, as that soil will be naturally enriched.

Compost adds soil fertility, which in turn, adds plants to the ecosystem. With more plants, we have less CO2 in the atmosphere. Compost is like high energy food for plants. They love it, and will show their appreciation by growing big, strong and beautiful.

 

Step 2: Compost bin

We are in the process of making a forest garden. We have a fence around the orchard terraces that are not yet planted, and within that fence the chickens are working on enriching the soil. Compost bins are an essential part of this process.

  1. Take an eight foot length of lathing and tie its two ends together, making a cylinder.
  2. Place a couple of these cylinders along the terrace you want composted.
  3. Add a mixture of carbon matter and nitrogen into the bin. We use animal manure and bedding, as well as viscera, blood and any other putrid wastes.
  4. Wet the pile periodically.
  5. Allow the chickens access to these bins. They will patrol the area for any bugs that are trying to escape the pile as it heats up.
  6. After a month or two, pull up the lathing cylinder. The chickens will go crazy, jumping on the pile and scratching through it.
  7. As they scratch, they will eat any remaining bugs or tidbits, and spread out your compost along the terrace.
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