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Re: compost discussion

  • Subject: [cg] Re: compost discussion
  • From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2004 20:43:59 -0800 (PST)

Hi, all,

Can?t help talking about compost. Is this a gardener's
listserv or what?

Cutting stuff up (to increase the surface area) can be
helpful but isn?t necessary for successful composting,
especially for moist compost feedstocks like kitchen
scraps and fresh garden trimmings and discards. With
dry autumn leaves, our experiments here showed that
shredding could actually slow the process by creating
areas in the pile that packed down preventing air and
water from getting in. That ?air and water? factor
isn?t trivial ? your microbe herd doing the composting
requires both. Be sure to leave in some chunky
material to allow air circulation (here, sweet gum
balls work nicely).

As for chipper-shredders, unless you get a really good
one, I don?t like ?em and don?t think they are
necessary. Small ones are harder on the operator than
on the materials. For leaves and weeds, running over
them with an old power mower works better for me.
Industrial chipper-shredders (hammer mills etc) are
essential in large municipal composting, but that?s
for dealing with tree trunks. If you feel the need to
chop, a cleaver and old stump (available free from
yard services and compost yards) is better.

Bottom line: If you learn to combine compost materials
in the right proportions, make your piles large enough
(1 cubic meter for an open pile) and keep it moist but
not dripping, you can make fine compost without a
shredder or any other gadget, and without an expensive
rotary bin. Turning the pile 3 or 4 times during the 
life of the pile usually speeds up the process, but
even that isn?t absolutely necessary either. Also,
compost, like everything else in the garden, is
influenced by the seasons. Compost in open bins slows
to a crawl in the winter and moves pretty quick in

Community gardens are great places for compost classes
and education, opening opportunities for partnerships
with municipal waste management and recycling programs
(essential funding sources and supporters of our
community gardens here in Charlotte). In inner city
gardens, you?ve got rats, which makes on-site
composting of food waste a bit challenging. My
favorite compost path for food scraps is worm bins,
but that opens a whole new can, so to speak?

Anyway, nothing improves your soil like compost, and
an excellent way to get quality compost is to make it
yourself. However it happens, composting can make
valuable contributions to a community garden.

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte, NC

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