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Re: More on compost

  • Subject: Re: [cg] More on compost
  • From: Connie Nelson <gardenfoolery@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 23:22:04 -0800 (PST)

Here's some more info on the compost issue..

Note: forwarded message attached.

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--- Begin Message ---
  • Subject: Re: [cg] More on compost
  • From: "Monica Cox" <Monica_Cox@msn.com>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 15:44:12 -0800
  • Content-length: 4791
  • Seal-send-time: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 15:44:12 -0800
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 cold pile.
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 degrees.
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 www.soilfoodweb.com 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.
Monica Cox
Cottage Grove, Oregon
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, February 08, 2004 11:28 PM
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 recipe??
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 me.
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 somewhere.
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 inexperience.
Green wishes to all,
Connie Nelson
Spokane, WA

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--- End Message ---

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