Compost Temperature: Is your compost hot enough?

Compost Temperature: Does it really matter? :: Five Little Homesteaders

picture via Joi Ito on flickr

Compost.  We really should all be composting.  It’s great for the environment.  It’s great for your garden and there are so many different ways to go about it.

If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, then a compost pile is a pretty simple and easy way to go.  My husband wrote a post over a year ago about our simple 3-bin composting system.  He talks, in his post, about the importance of heat in a healthy composting system, but never get into the importance of actual, specific temperature.

Is your compost pile hot enough?  What is your compost temperature?  Do you know?  Do you care?  Should you care?

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Composting: It’s about more than just your banana peels

Ok y’all.  Confession time (don’t you just love when I make my confessions?).  I haven’t been composting like I should lately.  There.  I said it.  I’m a homesteader who has been throwing out perfectly good, compostable goods.

It all started when we broke our usual kitchen compost bucket.  You know the one.  We all have one in our kitchen.  The pot, bowl, crock that holds the yucky stuff until we can make our way out to the compost pile.  Well, my husband dropped ours and we were without it for a while.  Obviously I could have just used something else, but something in my head just shut off when we broke that compost bucket and I started getting lazy.

Our Compost Set-Up Outside

I made a trip to our local Goodwill and found a perfectly acceptable replacement and that was the first step to setting things right.  Now I just need to reset my brain and all that good, yucky, kitchen stuff will start making its way back into the compost pile.

Luckily I recently had the pleasure and honor of reading Dawn Gifford’s new ebook Sustainability Starts at Home - https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1275038&c=ib&aff=249672&cl=78320 .  (You are probably already familiar with Dawn’s work.  She is the creator and author of the popular blog Small Footprint Family - https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1275038&c=ib&aff=249672&cl=78320 .)  In it she includes an amazing chapter titled “100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost.”  To quote Dawn’s view on composting,

It is completely unsustainable for us to squander this essential resource and further deplete our precious topsoil by throwing our food and yard waste into landfills.

Wow.  Ok.  Ok.  Ok.  I’m back on the composting train.  And after reading this chapter, I’m going to be including even more “yucky” stuff in my compost bucket, like dog hair and the contents of my vacuum bags.  You learn something new everyday!

And in case you were wondering, Dawn’s book reaches far and beyond composting.  Chapter titles include:

  • Reduce, Reuse and Only Then Recycle
  • Slay the Energy Vampires in Your Home
  • Recipes for Green Cleaning
  • Why You Should Join a CSA
  • Celebrate an Eco Friendly Holiday
  • and so, so much more - https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1275038&c=ib&aff=249672&cl=78320 .  

In writing this book, Dawn’s goal is to help us better use the finite resources of this earth and be better stewards of our planet.  Sustainable simply means “the capacity to endure indefinitely.”  As homesteaders, most of us are hoping to do just that.  Further, by implementing just some of the tips and tricks that she outlines in this book, you have the potential to save a lot of money on energy, food and water bills.  

Not convinced yet? 

To learn more and get your own copy of Dawn Gifford’s book Sustainability Starts at Home - https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1275038&c=ib&aff=249672&cl=78320 click—-> here - https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1275038&c=ib&aff=249672&cl=78320 .

  

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I guest posted!

The last time you heard about our composting system it was from my husband

Well, I decided to write about it too!  Only this time, it is posted on a different blog. 
I guest posted over on The Homesteading Hippy - http://thehomesteadinghippy.com/3-bin-composting-system/ yesterday and wrote a little about our composting system from my own perspective.  
Head on over and show my post - http://thehomesteadinghippy.com/3-bin-composting-system/ some love!
Happy Friday everyone!
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3-Bin Composting

       In my mind our composting process begins in the kitchen.  The countertop compost bin, a ceramic bucket marked “simplify”, hosts all our organic kitchen waste, including vegetable and fruit discards, coffee grinds and spent filters, peanut butter and jelly sandwich remnants, anything besides dairy or meat waste.  When full we dump it into one of three outdoor bins, where it is joined by garden and chicken coop waste.  
       There are a handful of factors that go into a good compost mix: nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, water, and heat.  Nitrogen sources are green, like food waste and garden clippings.  Also, chicken manure or urine (we’ve composted our kids’ gDiapers - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0019I6R0E/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0019I6R0E&linkCode=as2&tag=fivelitthome-20 over the years).  Carbon sources are brown things like dried leaves, pine shavings from the coop, or shredded paper.  The ratio is high on the carbon side – I’ve seen as much as 25:1 – so before we had the chickens’ shavings to add to the mix we used our shredded documents.  The mix is ideally well-oxygenated, which can be done by turning the bin frequently or mixing in coarser material so the layers can breathe.  Moisture can come either by rainfall through holes in the bin’s top or by occasional watering.  The other important factor in breaking down organic waste is heat.  Compost bins are usually black or a dark material to capture the sun’s heat.  Here in the Arizona desert there’s no shortage of heat and sunlight.  
      Our 3-bin setup - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003959G9Y/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B003959G9Y&linkCode=as2&tag=fivelitthome-20 allows us to rotate the material when one of the bins fills up, which serves to aerate and mix it all together.  The third bin holds the oldest, most broken-down waste, which is (usually) ready for use in a garden bed.  The second bin has the in-between, the stuff that contains chunks of usable soil but with areas still needing more time, heat, moisture, and air.  I suppose a little bug action as well.  The first bin contains all our immediate kitchen, yard, and chicken waste and is by far the most disgusting, filled with rotting food and heaps of bugs just loving the stuff.  Some might think the process is a smelly one, but a well-balanced mix should not have any smell at all. 
       The photos here show the process of transferring the contents of our number one bin, which has filled to the brim, to our number two.  The bins are made with a removable panel at the base, which can be opened for accessing already-composted material.  This also makes it easier than digging out the top but I usually dig out a few scoops then pull the bin off altogether.  We seem to make this transfer every four to six months, or whenever the gardens die and vegetation fills one up.  Sometimes I think the contents should be mixed more often than we do it, but having the three bin setup seems to allow things to decay naturally without much intervention.  Though it’s a task I tend to procrastinate, I always feel accomplished when completed.  Seeing and handling our discarded waste that’s turned into rich organic matter is to witness the completion of a natural cycle, our own backyard’s contribution to the ecosystem.  

Bin 1 with fresh organics on top

Beginning the transfer; Beta waits to sniff

Chicken goes after bugs, Bug goes after chicken

A sample of garbage-turned-soil

Transfer complete, adding moisture

Books on the Topic:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1615640088/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1615640088&linkCode=as2&tag=fivelitthome-20

Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting (Third Edition) (Storey’s Down-To-Earth Guides) - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1580170234/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1580170234&linkCode=as2&tag=fivelitthome-20

Shared at  The Homeacre Hop - http://summersacres.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-homeacre-hop.html
Shared at  The Backyard Farming Connection - http://www.backyardfarmingconnection.com/2013/05/the-backyard-farming-connection-hop-31.html
Shared at  From the Farm Blog Hop - http://theadventurebite.com/from-the-farm-blog-hop-32/
Shared at  The Homestead Barn Hop - http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2013/05/homestead-barn-hop-111.html
Shared at  Frugally Sustainable - http://frugallysustainable.com/2013/05/frugal-days-sustainable-ways-72/
Shared at From the Farm Blog Hop

Green Thumb Thursday Linkup

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On Being a Patient Gardener

As I’ve mentioned in the past, we moved to our new home last November.  When we moved, we brought our raised beds and the dirt that we had been using in them with us.  It wasn’t easy.  It would have simplified our move if we had just left it all behind and started fresh.  However, as you will see in a moment, a gardener’s dirt can be worth an awful lot.  

The dirt that we brought with us had been used in the beds for a little less than three years.  Of course we have added to the dirt each season, (For more on that, check out the post I did on garden amendments.)  but the base of the garden was started around that time. 

After moving the dirt and refilling the gardens, we found that our longest bed was only able to be half filled.  So, I filled one side of it up to the top and left the other half empty.  We then went and got compost, filled the second half, and mixed in some soil and fertilizer from Home Depot.  I then planted the garden.  I put in squash, sunflowers, beans, and chard.  I planted the whole thing at once.  Here is what the first half (with the dirt from the old house) looks like now:


And here is what the second half looks like (with the “new” dirt):


Remember, all of these plants were planted at the same time.  They are watered the same.  The only difference is the soil.  As I’ve gardened over the years, I’ve notice this phenomenon but this is the best illustration of it that I’ve seen.  To sum it up, dirt/soil needs at least one, often more, season to be good.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  I’m not a soil scientist.  All I can say, is that as a gardener, there are so many ways in which we need to be patient and one of those ways is being patient through seasons that might not be as productive as we want them to be.  I doubt I’ll get much this season from the second half of the garden but the first half is already giving me produce.  

As they say, patience is a virtue.  It is so true when it comes to gardening.  The moral is, give your gardens time and don’t give up.  If you don’t have the results that you want this season, try again next season.  Eventually you’ll get to where you want to be. 


A picture taken from the left side of the garden.  You can see the itty bitty plants at the other end. 

Shared on  The Backyard Farming Connection - http://www.backyardfarmingconnection.com/2013/04/the-backyard-farming-connection-hop-28.html

Green Thumb Thursday Linkup

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Garden Amendments

In a perfect world,  amending your soil - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_conditioner  wouldn’t be necessary.  However, most gardeners find that amending their soil with something is necessary, especially after several growing seasons.  In the case of our little urban homestead, I amend my soil each season.  Most recently, I tilled up our front yard and the soil was in need of MUCH amending.  In fact, though it seems to be doing well now, I’m not really expecting a lot out of this first round of gardening out front.  The soil is just that poor.  On the other hand, the soil in my raised beds is rich but still requires additional soil, compost, and fertilizer each season. 


The first thing a gardener has to decide is whether they will be growing organically or inorganically.  Personally, I have chosen to grow 100% organically (or as close as I can get to it given the information I have).  One of the main ways I assure that I am doing this is by only using products that are  OMRI - https://www.omri.org/  listed, which means the product has been reviewed against the National Organic Standards.  

The first amendment that I use is simply  compost - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compost .  Doug posted not to long ago about getting our compost in bulk when we need it, but we also compost here on our own homestead (we just can’t keep up with demand sometimes).  Here is a photo of our three-bin compost set-up (which is a separate post in and of itself):

The next addition is a good quality potting mix.  I have found  Patio Plus by Kellogg - http://www.homedepot.com/p/Kellogg-Patio-Plus-1-5-cu-ft-All-Natural-Outdoor-Potting-Soil-681/100160888#.UT9NHByyAxs  to be a great product.  It is OMRI listed and readily available at stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.  

My final addition is organic fertilizer.  I again go with a Kellogg product and use their Tomato, Vegetable and Herb fertilizer.  Again, this is an easy product to find in your local stores and it is OMRI listed. 

Finally, when all else fails and my plants need a little boost (as I’ve been anticipating the front yard gardens will require), I apply an additional fertilizer.  I generally use fish emulsion (as I mentioned in this post).  And once again, OMRI listed and easy to find. This can be applied both as a  foliar feed - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foliar_feeding  or by simply water your plants with it.  I try to do both with established plants by mixing it up in a watering can and watering the leaves, as well as the dirt. 

Hope you find some of this information helpful.  Happy gardening!

Shared on  Small Footprints Friday - http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/small-footprint-friday-sustainable-living-linkup-030813
Shared on  The Backyard Farming Connection - http://www.backyardfarmingconnection.com/2013/03/the-backyard-farming-connection-hop-23.html
Shared on  Small Footprint Friday - http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/small-footprint-friday-sustainable-living-linkup-031513


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Compost

Ten miles due east of us begins an Indian reservation – the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.  At the edge of it is Singh Farms, where we get the bulk of our compost for the gardens.  It’s a more beautiful landscape than I remembered, where, after passing through thirty traffic lights’ worth of developed city, the raw landscape of the reservation and mountains beyond reveals itself the instant you pass over a freeway.  You pull into the farm to discover heaps of his soil, fine organic remains waiting to serve as garden nutrients.  There are also chickens and turkeys, and, I’m sure, many gardens to be explored another day with the kids.  I drove in with my borrowed truck and traded two scoops for sixty bucks.  




Colleen unloaded the truck bed herself, while I built a brooder for the new chicks – Fly-Fly, Gramma, Daisy, and Hoodsie.  The kids helped by mostly sleeping.  


We’re farming a 20’x10′ section of our front yard, or about a third.  We had just the right amount of compost to go around, filling our backyard beds, my parents’ new bed, and now this one.  The Arizona dirt, years without growth and compacted hard, needed to be loosened, which Colleen did with our electric tiller.  She seemed to enjoy working the earth.  Then she unloaded the last of the compost and the next morning we mixed it in while Ian slept and Lucy and Olive “made gardens.”  Lucy declared hers was for Daddy and Olive’s for Mommy, or whoever, herself maybe.  She also swung a small rake over her head angrily.  Colleen marked rows with sidewalk chalk then carved furrows.  The sidewalk in front of it she marked “future garden” for all passing to see.  
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