The Backyard

The Backyard

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Three Station Compost Rotation

I won't even begin to go into the details of composting with the gazillion already-existing articles, books, and brochures on the how-to of composting and the benefits of such. Some explain the process with technical preciseness; some build elaborate shelters and recommend barrels to turn the goods; while others, like myself, find the easiest, quickest, most useful method of composting.   Being a person who prefers to find my own methods through a combination of existing styles, my shelterless compost pile was always situated in an out-of-the-way corner of the property.  The area was always big enough for three piles: green, brown, and finished.  This gave me enough room to mix and turn.  There are three main components this year (I'll explain shortly why this year is a little different and the most successful): dehydrated manure, grass clippings/kitchen waste, and water. In a normal year, my dear old dad brings the manure spreader full of stall manure with a lot of straw mixed in. The straw takes longer to decompose. This year, Dad brought one load which I used early in the season straight from the stall as mulch, but I found the dehydrated, beat-down-by-the-horses-hooves manure to be the real McCoy. Gene Logdson talks about this manure being the best in his book, Holy Shit. Actually, for urban composters, dehydrated manure is readily available at garden centers.  So...I've developed the perfect three-station rotation composting process that keeps my three main gardens constantly supplied in fresh compost during the growing seasons. If the plants aren't ready to be fed, I use it as mulch  for weed control because this process requires me to move a pile every week to be ready for the next batch of grass clippings from the mower bag. Each week, I haul a garbage can and two tubs full of horse manure to a station. Each station is positioned next to a main bed. Rick mows the grass and dumps all the clippings next to the manure. I layer the two and any kitchen scraps into a neat little pile. It starts cooking within an hour. Every three days, I turn it and it's hot, hot, hot. If it seems dry (not normally because of the high water content in the fresh cut grass), I'll water it. Compost can be made in 14 days and the timing of this process I'm using works out perfectly for the three stations. By the time the first station is finished cooking, Rick is ready to start dumping grass clippings back at that station. This rotation will go as long as there are grass clippings. I haven't ever produced enough kitchen scraps or plant material from the garden to make the pile cook and I've heard other folks mention the same problem. Grass clippings were the only green material I found to get the piles hot.  Currently, that's nearly exclusively the green content in the pile. Plus its easy and already finely cut up. But only use grass clippings if your lawn is organically grown.   Last year, I used the same content in my compost and areas where I mulched with the compost had  rich, healthy soil and the plants are growing like crazy this year.  Here are the pictures of my three stations and finished compost.
Rose Garden Station

Only three days old, the green is already decomposed to brown.

The herb garden station.

Turning the 3rd time, this will be ready in about a week. You can tell it's near ready when the heat starts dying.

The main vegetable garden station.

Finished compost, cool to the touch and smells earthy.
Fresh compost fed to rows of bean and cucumber seedlings.


The Happy Hippy said...

So good to have you back : ) Your garden in looking fantastic. Clearly been spending plenty of time in the garden whilst you have been offline : ) I've got a couple of piles going, like yours, just open piles of leaves, grass clippings etc. I haven't put any kitchen scraps out, partly because of the dogs but I'm also worried about encouraging rats and other unwanted "visitors"? Are you troubled by anything like this?

Chili said...

Visitors, yes. Something digs for the kitchen scraps occassionally, but only leaves a little hole in the pile and moves on. Its never been a problem. Its either a skunk, opossum, or raccoon. I can see where rats could be a big problem. You are smart not putting kitchen scraps... its not a necessary component.