Compost Questions

We haven't composted for quite some time so I bought a truck load for the reased beds. I have a couple of questions. Is too much compost a bad thing? I mean, can I use too much compost for the raised beds? I would like to start composting again. When we composted we had a special black bin thing. Could I set up a a compost pile without the special bin? If so, how difficult to maintain would this set up be? TIA
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Check the ph on the compost. If it is 6 or 7 its will be perfect. If it is above 8 it may be a bit high and you should probably mix it with soil and let its it for a bit (1 month) then retest the ph before planting.
Generally no too much compost is never a bad thing. Most (but not all) plants will love it. It will save you having to water, it will encourage worms, it will improve the existing soil etc etc.
You can 'make' compost however you like. The main aim is to keep the compost as warm as possible, so it breaks down quickly. You can pile up a heap of manure,leaves, grass clippings etc and put a plastic tarp over it and let it sit. The real key to good compost is to include a variety of ingredients or roughly equal quantities, and make sure there is manure. (any type will do really)
When I make a compost pile I gather all the 'ingredients' together and mix them all up together and add water and cover. I give it a bit of a turn, roughly every 2/3 weeks (sometimes)
What I don't do is continue adding more matter to this decomposing compost. I start up a new pile instead. Otherwise the compost would never fully decompose.

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Is that every two to three weeks or every two thirds of a week?
--
Whenever I hear or think of the song "Great green gobs of greasy
grimey gopher guts" I imagine my cat saying; "That sounds REALLY,
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Liza wrote:

While manure is good, it is not a requirement. I have zero manure in my compost piles and they decompose just fine.
Be wary of 'cookbook' suggestions for compost as they tend to introduce the authors biases. Done properly, you could compost an entire elephant ... rider and all. Try a couple smaller piles for practice first. ;)
What you are looking for is a balance between materials that contribute a lot of carbon and materials that contribute a lot of nitrogen. To these, you'll add air, water and patience. I find that a mix of (approx.) equal parts (by weight) of high nitrogen material with low nitrogen material works well. By volume, that tends to be about twice as much low nitrogen material as high nitrogen material. For instance, twice as much straw as grass clippings, mixed well and watered. Or, one part dried tree leaves plus one part straw to 1/2 part grass clippings and 1/2 part kitchen waste. Play with the numbers to suit the materials at hand.
Mix well, preferably into a pile that measures at least 3' (1 meter) in each direction. This can be done on the open ground, in a pit or in any container of your liking that allows drainage and free access to oxygen. You do not have to mix at all if you are willing to wait longer for the results and are willing to tolerate the survival of more weed seeds.
My most recent pile, made in a wire bin measuring 4' diameter x 4" tall, went from an ambient 72 deg F to 160 deg. F in less than 24 hours and was at 170 deg F the following day. It is still, a week and 3 rain showers later, at ~135 deg. F. When it goes below about 100 deg. F, I'll consider turning and re-wetting it.
All it contains is purchased straw, grass clipppings from the alley behind my house and a strip alongside a busy road and some old wood chips I was given. Oh ... and some kitchen scraps.
Alternately, you can spread the ingredients out on the site of a future planting bed and till / turn it under which is what I would recommed to a person just establishing their garden for the first time. That method is quickest and captures the most nutrients / fibers. It just won't work very well once the beds are planted ... thus compost piles the rest of the year.
There are LOTS of ways to return organic material to your soil (the ultimate goal of composting). There are even ways that don't rely on any disturbance of the soil at all. Search the web using the search term "compost" in your favorite search engine. Likely you will never read all the pages the search reveals.
I would like to make two specific suggestions. First is to obtain a long-stem compost thermometer with a probe of ~20" or more. Comparing the temps indicated with the results you get from the mix you made is a great self-training tool. They generally go for around $20 USD, so the price is not horrendous. The second is that you not bother with the so-called 'compost starters' 'compost innoculant'withces brews. They just isnt' needed. At most, they might shave 2-3 days off the first batch. For the second and subsequent batches you will always have a small amount of the previous batch to add as an innoculant if you are so inclined. The bacteria you need are already present on/in the material you will be composting. Unless you live in a sterile biosphere, let nature handle matters. I usually add a couple shovels full of the old material just to give things a kick start. But even that isn't necessary.
I know this is long. I just hope it is also helpful.
Bill
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
re "Compost Starter Mix"
Bill said, The second is that you not bother with the so-called 'compost starters' 'compost innoculant'withces brews. They just isnt' needed. At most, they might shave 2-3 days off the first batch. For the second and subsequent batches you will always have a small amount of the previous batch to add as an innoculant if you are so inclined. The bacteria you need are already present on/in the material you will be composting. Unless you live in a sterile biosphere, let nature handle matters. I usually add a couple shovels full of the old material just to give things a kick start. But even that isn't necessary.
True but it wont hurt. I always include a shovelful or two aof dirt when I add leaves to my pile. That way I am introducing innoculants. I have noticed that that it very important to getting the pile cooking.
Ed
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Laser6328 wrote:

I have a pile presently working that consists principally of purchased straw (I'm out of tree leaves already) and grass clippings. It also got some wood chips and a bucket of kitchen waste. In less than 24 hours (without any sort of intentional innoculation) it went to 165 deg. F. At the 30 hour mark it was fully 170 deg. F. Over the course of about a week it dropped back to about 150 deg. F. where it held for a few days. It has now held steady at 135-140 deg. F. for a full week. When it drops to ~100, I'll turn it. The inclusion of large quantities of straw, and thus the assurance of a constant supply of oxygen, seems to have had a very positive impact.
Newcomers to composting have enough to do just learning to get the moisture / oxygen balance and the carbon / nitrogen ratios right.
I just want to encourage the original poster to keep her money in her purse and use locally available bacteria. A shovel of dirt or a fork load of old compost won't hurt ... but are 'belt & suspenders'.
If you just stack stuff in a corner and wait, you'll get compost.
If you'll mix nitrogen-bearing materials, carbon-bearing materials, water and air, you'll get it faster.
If the pile is between 3' and 5' in each direction, you'll get the finished product still faster.
If you get all of the steps right, you'll get the pile I referenced above. (I have two other piles that are doing fine, but not as well as that one ... they can't all be gems. One is still too small and the other had too many grass clippings, not enough tree leaves and almost no straw. As a result, when the monsoons came to SE Michigan, it couldn't cope and went sour. I've turned it once (ewwww ... stanky!) and it's better. I'll probably turn it again today and add more straw and it should be fine this time.)
Adding innoculants to a hot pile may hasten matters by a few days, but the bacteria needed for decomposition are already present and just need suitable conditions to multiply to useful numbers. As shown in the example above, the time advantage of innoculated vs un-innoculated can be considerably less than 24 hours. The pile was 165 deg. F. in about 20 hours. Since anything north of about 130 deg. F is golden, how much time could I have saved by innoculating it? Six hours? Eight? Having the compost ready even eight hours faster just has no value to me. If I could shave a week off, I'd be interested. If I could shave two weeks off, I'd smile and possibly even reach for my wallet. But mere hours? Nah.
Stuff decomposes just fine in the fields, forests and waterways without any help from innoculants, layering, mixing or other complicated voodoo. That's something that we tend to forget ... our intervention isn't required at all. All we buy with all our work is time and a sense of personal accomplishment. For me, and probably for you, that is sufficient. But we mere humans are simply allowed to "play along at home" ... we aren't essential to the plan.
Why spend money to make things complicated if the end result is going to happen the free and simple way? After giving her the general drift of making compost piles at home I just wanted to encourage her to strike out on her own and leave the 'patent medicine for compost piles' alone.
Please take nothing I've said as being intended as personally hurtful. Obviously your way works for you and I don't contend otherwise. In fact, I make about 1/2 my piles that way. As long as I don't have to spend money or considerable time to do it, why not? A forkfull of dirt from beneath a former compost pile can be heap big powerful medicine to a new pile. Actually, that dirt, steeped as it is in compost tea, should be sold by the 4 ounce bag at boutique prices.
I just wanted to steer her clear of an unneccessary expense and needless aggravation on her first pile. As of the second pile, she'll have all the innoculant she needs for the rest of her life.
That said, when I take my hobby website commercial, I'll be selling small bottles of a foul smelling concoction for innoculating compost piles. Some people just gotta do things the hard, expensive way and who am I to interfere with that?
When I do, though, I think I'll make the label design positively reek of 'patent medicine show'.
Bill
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Do make sure the compost is finsihed....lol...I made the mistake of tilling the whole compost pile into my garden this year. I planted maybe 16 tomato plants and ended up with over 90 and you dont even want to know how many potatos sprouted up...needless to say...my garden got crowed fast.

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
nutNhoney said:

It's theoretically possible to have too much compost. I do recall seeing photos from an experiment somewhere with plants grown in various percentages of compost, up to pure compost, with best results coming somewhere in the middle. Certainly most home gardeners can barely produce enough for every use they might want to put the stuff, which is why gardeners go around saying "You can never have too much compost." (There can *absolutely* be too much compost for a host of ornamental plants, including some Mediterranean herbs that are best grown in lean, well-draining soils.)
The recommendation usually batted around is that 8 - 10 % is an 'ideal' organic matter content. A more practical rule of thumb might be 3 - 4 inches of compost tilled in to jump-start a new garden bed. After that, plan on adding 1 inch of compost per year.
I remember once someone commenting about raised beds she'd made when her garden was first started with a *huge* load of trucked in compost. She'd added lots of compost to fill the beds up to the rim. And as time went on the compost continued oxidizing and the beds started shrinking...and shrinking...and shrinking...

You don't need a special bin. You can compost without any bin at all. Bins and enclosure do help keep things tidy, though. Composting can be slow and uncomplicated, or as fussy as you want.
If you would like some instructions about hot, batch composting, send me an email (see signature for clarification).
--
Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)

Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

It depends. For squash, no. For beets, yes. Different plants like (or tolerate) different amounts. Buy a sampler packet of everything the first year, and figure out what likes what. Even if the first year the compost is too strong for the beets, next year it will be mellower, and in no more than two years it should be perfect (if you add no fresh compost).
I

It depends. If you have a corner behind the garage that you don't use, you could let stuff sit there until it rots (the only problem being that the seeds in the compost will not cook, as it will be composting slowly). If you want a relatively fast compost, either you buy the thing that turns, or break your back turning it with a fork, or make compost with lots of kitchen scraps, which tends to go very fast (and produce a fairly hot pile).
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
A lot of depends on how well the compost is "finished". If it comes out looking just like the commercial topsoil you buy, it is great for most crops. Check the PH, as another poster mentioned, to be sure.
My stuff comes out much more coarse. It needs to be tilled into soil to be suitable. Even the coarse stuff is a great improvement. I have a great example.
Two years ago I bought this house in NC. The first year, I only planted along the back fence. That area I side dressed my peppers and tomatos with my compost. Last year I was in Iraq with the Army, so nothing was done. This year, I planted the full garden, and sowed Grain Sorgum as a cover crop in the area I did not plant. As of last week, the Cover crop in the main garden area was about 12" tall. The cover crop in the area where I had added the compost is about 24" tall.
Rich
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
not_a_real snipped-for-privacy@fakedseizure.com writes:

LOL!!!
Thanks, BIll, for the laugh. :-)
Glenna
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Glenna Rose wrote:

My pleasure, Glenna. I got a kick out of writing it. ;-)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.