Compost Pile Recipes

  • Sumo

I have some pretty fun stuff for you in this post. Over the years, many composting experts (if there is such a thing) have proposed some specific recipes for making compost. While I am all for keeping things simple (and composting should be simple and fun), sometimes it’s nice to be adventurous. Well, maybe adventurous is a bit over the top. We are talking about compost here. Still, there is something about composting that is fun and exciting, and almost magical even, and so why not have a composting adventure? Below are some of the most interesting composting recipes I’ve heard about. You may want to give one or more of them a try!

University of California Method

Goals: Fast compost – supposedly you can have usable compost in 2 weeks. If you have an immediate need for compost then this is your method. On the other hand, it would be fun to try it out anyways, regardless of whether you need it that fast or not, wouldn’t it?

Key Strategies:

  1. All ingredients should be chopped or shredded beforehand
  2. A good start to the pile, achieved by ensuring an intimate blending of materials and microorganisms, a nitrogenous activator like manure, and good ingredients like leaves and grass clippings. The blending can happen as you run the ingredients together through the shredder, or thoroughly mix with a tiller.
  3. Frequent turning is vital. The pile should be turned every three days at least!

Results: The final product will not look like the black, crumbly compost you will usually see in more traditional methods. Never the less, the temperature of the pile will reach 160 degrees within 1-2 days of building the pile and what is left will be sterilized and ready for application in the yard and garden. If you do this in the fall you can definitely apply the compost to your landscape after two weeks, and by next spring the remaining chunks and stringy materials will have finished decomposing, as well.


Ogden Three-Pile System

Goals: Slow and steady wins the race? This method takes nearly two years to complete. This idea was used by Samuel Ogden of Vermont and describe in a book he wrote, Step-by-Step to Organic Vegetable Gardening.

Key Strategies:

  1. Three piles 5 feet high by 12 feet across and as long as needed.
  2. Each year the finished pile was removed from the third bin while the 2nd was turned into the 3rd bin and the 1st was turned into the 2nd.
  3. Throughout the summer the 1st bin was filled with garden residues along with topsoil, and occasional manure.
  4. Do not use any leaves or fresh grass clippings. Although Ogden didn’t use them, there’s no reason you can’t use them, provided you shred the leaves beforehand.

Results: This is the “lazy man’s method”, according to Ogden. There is no serious concern about layering or mixing. Turning is only done once a year. The pile is quite large, so it decomposes slowly, but will contain a lot of materials. The size of Ogden’s pile was determined by the amount of material he had. If you have less material you should be fine, so long as you have at least a cubic yard. The smaller pile should decompose more quickly, typically in a little over a year.


Sheet Composting

Goals: Eliminate the pile altogether and just go right to the soil of your garden.

Key Strategies:

  1. Instead of piling organic materials into a pile to decompose there, the organic materials are directly applied to the soil in your beds and gardens, and worked into the soil with a rototiller.
  2. Any organic materials that can decompose relatively quickly can be used, such as chopped leaves, grass clippings, manure.
  3. This is done at the end of the gardening season.

Results: Because it does take several months for the materials to breakdown into usable forms this needs to be done at the end of the gardening season, but before the soil has frozen solid. It is essential that you not use materials that are high in carbon as these will draw nitrogen out of the soil and starve the plants.

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