How to make compost

So now that you have some compost bins, you are ready to  make compost! You’ll need to add brown (carbon) material and green (nitrogen) material for heat. For brown I use straw, old hay and leaves. For green I use chicken poo, goatie poo, horse manure but no dog or cat poo, (they eat meat), fresh grass and plant clippings (still green-not dry). Also considered green are eggshells, coffee grounds, fruits and vegetables too old to eat. You can add bloodmeal or cottonseed meal if you don’t have enough heat (nitrogen). The best ratio is 25-30 carbon (brown) to 1 nitrogen (green) commonly listed as CN: 25 or 30/1. What does this translate to in the garden bin? Use 1 part brown to 2 parts green. So add like 2 inches of brown and 4 inches of green. Do this so the pile gets hot enough to decompose into compost. It you don’t add enough green (nitrogen) then the pile will cook much slower. Add enough brown/green layers till pile is about 3 feet high. Water well between layers so pile is moist but not soggy. In about a week, if the pile is hot enough, it will reduce it’s size by about half. Sometime after that, turn it into the middle bin and water again. That way what was on the top will now be on the bottom and be able to break down faster. When the middle pile get’s half as big again, turn it into the the last bin and water again. I use the compost anywhere from the second stage to when it is totally composted.  You can also make compost tea which will add lots of nutrients and soil microorganisms back into the ground to help the plants you will grow this next season.

Here’s is a a great site that explains it all in a lot more detail and in simple terms- Home Composting Made Easy

Now one last word-it’s winter here so you may want to wait till the hose is defrosted in spring to start making compost but it can be done in winter if the green stuff is hot enough and the hose isn’t frozen. And if you make it in early spring it will be ready by planting time.

How to make compost bins the easy way!

I do both vermicomposting (worm farming) and traditional composting. These bins are for traditional composting. Making compost bins is easy. Yesterday I made 3 new compost bins in 2 hours. It’s easy using pallets as they are free (I got my from ‘The New Mexican’ building- turn onto the frontage road of the interstate at the outlet mall road) and it’s great to recycle them.  In fact the only thing you’ll need besides the pallets is some baling wire (the kind for coyote fencing), pliers and some wire cutters. Get pallets that are all the same size and not broken so they have a clean look.

The first thing you need to do is get 7 pallets.  Three for the backs, 2 on each end and 2 for the inside to make 3 interior spaces. That way you can put your rawest materials in the first bin and then when needed you turn it into the next bin when it has somewhat decomposed and then turn again into the last one for finished compost. Find a place to your compost bins and rake the area clean but you don’t have make the ground spotless because you are going to bury it anyways.

Drag them into position and start with 2 pallets to make a corner. Standing them up, put one pallet onto the first back piece and wire them together on the top and bottom. Use the pliers to really tighten the wire so they are not floppy. Now the 2 pallets should stand upright without you holding them up. Now it’s easy to wire the rest.

Next wire another pallet to the one on the back on both the top and bottom and then the last one on the backside. Then connect another one to make another corner.

Next put chicken wire across the expanse of the inside. This is to help keep the rough materials from falling into the walls of the pallets. After I put in the center dividers, I’ll put more chicken wire in each section.

Here’s a look from the inside so far. Notice the two pallets left to make the dividers for 3 sections.

Next wire  the two other pallets dividing the expanse into thirds which is easy. I wire them where each pallet connects on the backside. Now you are ready to make compost which I will address in another post.

Worm Farming-Vermicomposting

Finished vermicomposting area

Last spring when I planted my tomatoes I put worm castings in each hole before I put the plant in. Worm castings are a form of composting that are from (do I dare say it?) WORM POOP! I paid $25.00 for a 5 lb bag for this POOP at one of our local nurseries and I thought, next year I’m going to do this myself and save the money. Plus you don’t have to turn it like regular composting (now there is an idea I like-less work)! Worm castings protect the plants from soil borne diseases, conditions the soil and is a mild natural fertilizer with 1% Nitrogen. People also use it in their compost teas for their plants. I created a vermicomposting area a few weeks ago in my abundant free time (lol)! Here’s how I did mine.

I found out we need a certain type of earthworm called a Red Wiggler (decided not to show the worms-not a pretty sight!). It is a different from our regular earthworm (although they are great in the soil as well). This red wiggler worm has a huge appetite and will eat manures, peanut hulls, oak leaves, humate and other ingredients such as kitchen scraps-non meat-they are vegetarians!! lol

I put together an outdoor vermicomposting area right next to the chickens so they can go to work! Some people put them in special bins inside their people house (not chicken house) so they don’t freeze. Forget that noise-although if you don’t mind…

I decided to use straw bales to ‘frame’ my outside area. I heard they will go into the straw in winter and lay their eggs and they come back (I think they freeze and their babies come back) when it’s warmer but I had this soil cable that will keep the soil about 70°F and decided to try it to keep them from freezing this winter and keep them working. (Crack that whip!)  We’ll see if it works this winter. Here I put the cable down (above pic) .

Then I put some hardwire cloth over it and wired it on with some twistie ties from my garbage bags. Make sure the wire is underneath the hardwire cloth. I did this so when I shoveled the compost out later, I won’t accidentally cut the wire.

Next I covered the wire with straw and newspaper to make a bedding for my new wiggly friends. I wet down the area so the materials were damp but not soaking wet. Worms like their environment moist but haven’t learned to swim yet!

After that I put some food down for them. What else but pumpkin! I have lots of that! Looks like they won’t starve this winter! (I heard they love pumpkin-good thing!)  I wonder if someone talked to them and the worm said, “We love pumpkin”. I mean how do we know for sure ?!! I also put in some old chicken manure, squash and coffee grounds for variety! Then I had a friend give me some of these wigglers and I put them on top of this so they would burrow in and feast! I forgot to take a picture of this and when I went back less than 1 minute later to take a picture they were already ‘down under’ this stuff.

Last I put more straw over the whole pile and wet it again so everything was moist. Now I check every week and pull up the top layer of straw and add more ‘food’ as needed. Also be sure to keep pile moist so sprinkle with water periodically. This winter when the hoses are frozen I will take a sprinkling can out to wet it. If you don’t get a soil cable, don’t worry, just follow the rest of this post.

One last thing to make it easy to separate the worms from their castings next spring, I divided my vermicomposting area in half and put a board between the two sections-you can see this in the very first picture at the top of this post. They are in the left section now and later when I see the castings I will stop feeding them on the left side and put the food on the right hand side. The worms will migrate over to the new food source leaving the castings for me to take (at least that’s the theory). I hope they are reading this too!

So now I’m a worm farmer! I can’t wait till next spring to get my very own free worm poop! YEE HA!!

Fall Garden Projects-First up-putting the pumpkin patch to rest

Horse manure on top of pumpkin patch

I’ve been really busy this fall around the garden since the Pumpkin Bash. It seems like I never have time to do any projects when the garden is going so I try and get some of the projects done in the fall before the dead of winter. Last week cleaned out the pumpkin patch and then I rented that Bobcat where I spread out about 4 yards of horse manure on top of it. I really needed to dig it in or it would blow away before spring.

giant rototiller-16 hp

So yesterday I rented a giant rototiller (16 hp) and plowed in the 4 yards of manure, 50 lbs dried molasses (it smells so sweet), 50 lbs mushroom compost (are we cooking here?), and 50 lbs of gypsum (for calcium-makes strong bones, I mean strong plants!) in the pumpkin patch.

final pumpkin patch done

Now it looks so beautiful and is ALMOST ready for next spring! I still have to dig in some leaves (in the holes where I will be planting the pumpkin plants next spring) and a little (I mean very little) composted chicken manure to start the decomposition process so they can decompose over the winter and become leaf mold or should I say leaf gold by spring. This will be the third year for this pumpkin patch and boy what a difference three years makes when you add amendments each year. It’s starting to look good and the rototiller just cut through it fluffing it up together. I don’t like to rototill very much because of how hard it is on the soil microbes but felt that I needed to do it for now since this dirt was so void of any organic material and hard as a rock. I think after this year I’ll won’t have to do it again. I will add more mychorrizial next spring to help replenish the soil microbes.

Max and Kryptonite done

Max and Kryptonite are done. Gone. Cut up and given away for food. A good ending to a great story. The giant pumpkin season is now done. In fact all the vegetables are done. Well almost. Gardening is never really over. Now it’s time to  get ready for the next gardening season or you can wait for spring.

Either way, you should clean up your vegetable garden of all the plants that have by now frozen and died and dispose of them with the garbage collectors or in a landfill. Why take them to a land fill and not compost them? Most of us don’t really compost hot enough to kill all the disease pathogens especially going into winter. I do compost the actual fruit or vegetables just not the plants. Powdery mildew, early blight and other diseases can be spread to next year’s crops- so bag the plants and dispose of them in a landfill. They’ll still break down, just not in YOUR garden.

Clean up that garden!

New goats-Sonny (brown), Bella (black) and Wee (white) wanting to help in the garden while Butch and Bear eat their food.

By now most of my gardening friends have finished cleaning up their gardens but I basically just finished cleaning up the veggie garden on Saturday. It was a good day to be out there-51 degrees and no wind. I wanted to try to finish before a snow storm hits today and the temperature plummeted. I’m mostly done now in the garden. I pulled all the tomato cages (60 of them) out and threw them over the fence. So now they are on the outside of the garden (all over the place) and I can go out on a nice winter day to clean up the cages and take my time. At least they won’t freeze in the ground inside the garden.  I raked up all the debris into piles that I will bag and dump. I don’t put any of my garden debris in the compost pile because some of it could harbor disease or pests that won’t die if I don’t get my compost pile hot enough. In fact I don’t compost at all in the winter here as it is too hard to keep it ‘hot’ in the frigid weather.  I mostly compost in early Fall and then let it cook all winter and use it in the Spring after it becomes compost for planting. I also make compost in the Spring and Summer too,  just not winter. This is the biggest garden I’ve ever had and was quite a job cleaning it up. Somehow I must train the new goats (who were watching) to do this last and tedious job! I suppose I could let them into it and see it they eat it all! Now wouldn’t that be nice!

I struck gold!

Well we got about 14 yards of composted horse manure yesterday most of which went into Bri’s Giant Pumpkin Patch with enough left over to replenish the regular garden. I struck gold-brown gold! It was fun driving the Bobcat.  I want one of these! Here are some pics.

driving the bobcat

getting ready to dump the load

dumping the load into the trailer

spreading it into the new giant pumpkin patch