I am a "Compost Specialist", a specialty niche of Master Gardener training
in Lane County, Oregon. So I hope that you will understand that my
comments are meant to inform and to assist you, given all that we are
learning from the many scientists and experimenters now in this new field of
research. Online there are many resources to help you.
What you are doing is not composting; you are rotting your materials, which
natures does on its own. Composting is actually a controlling of the
thermal conditions in a pile so that specific organisms are fed and allowed to
create the food web that will contribute to plant health, while killing off weed
and disease organisms. The control is needed to replicate "aerobic"
organisms, not "anaerobic" organisms. If you have worms in your pile, it
is a cold pile and not reaching the 150 degree necessary to kill diseases that
may be present. Also if you have soldier fly larvae in your pile it is a
All organic life has Carbon in ratio to Nitrogen. By using what you
have available to compost, you can add together the C:N ratio for each
component, divide by the number of components to arrive at the C:N ratio for the
pile. You want a near 30:1 so that the end product is near neutral in pH
so you can add additional materials if necessary to create this ratio.
Since you are in the Pacific Northwest you realize that our growing
season is short and the composting season is just as short. Compost
piles can cool rapidly when ambient temperatures are under 70
I don't mean to turn this email into a lecture, but there is so much more
to it than just letting it happen - please take some time to explore: go
to start or to the
City of Eugene, Oregon website and click on the Waste and Recyling
program/Compost Specialist and follow some of the links on composting. I
promise that you will not look at the soil the same way, nor your compost
piles. Compost is such a valuable resource and worth the time to learn the
details about it.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, February 08, 2004 11:28
Subject: [cg] More on compost
Dear Don and others:
First let me reiterate that I am still very much a "newby" on this
composting stuff. Now you tell me there's supposed to be a
Once again I have a sneaking suspicion that I am woefully ignorant on the
topic; rather it grows ( or decomposes) in spite of me, not because.
I put almost everything in my pile in absolutely no order what so
ever. There are a few exceptions: no meat products, oil (vegetable,
canola or whatever), banana peels, cat or dog droppings. However, I DO
add the shavings from my daughter's hamster cage when I remember as well
as bits and pieces of cardboard. The "recipe" so to speak, is usually
closely, very closely, attuned to when I can get one or more of my teenage
sons to dump in spoiled apples, dropped pine needles, lawn and garden
clippings and compostables from under the sink. I have decided not to
add any more sunflower stalks though as they take forever, suspect they will
petrify before they compost.
What I find utterly fascinating is the teeming life within the
piles. We often joke about getting into my worm piles. The compost
bins can't be beat for getting monster nightcrawlers for fishing; some of
these are 6-8 inches long and as thick as my little finger. I have no
idea where they were before joining my little compost piles, but I'm sure
grateful they are there.
As far as aging or seasoning the piles, I don't do it. Once I can't
tell what it's made of, off it goes to the garden. Makes sense to let it
season, but I just don't have the space.
I do water it relatively religiously, at least once or twice a week in
the hot summer months. The rest of the time Mother Nature does it for
I'm also amazed at the ability of these bins to create plants I didn't
grow. So far they've produced hollyhocks, parsley, begonias and
geraniums where the compost has been put. I never grew any of these in
my garden and neither did the neighbors on either side of me. I know, I
know, it's probably bird droppings, but it does add a lovely serendipity to
the whole gardening experience.
One last observation. I never fail to be amazed by the lack of odor
in the bins. I have a fairly respectable science background, having
taught the stuff to unsuspecting gradeschoolers. I am aware that the
biological / chemical actions are impressive, yet no odor.
According to my composting mentor, a smell signifies I probably screwed up
To further break the rules, the bins are hidden virtually underneath a
giant cedar tree as I was reluctant to give up precious garden space for their
location. Hence added heat and light are negligible.
I can't explain it Don. It just seems to work despite my
Green wishes to all,
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