Posts Tagged ‘compost pile’

Layered Compost Pile

Monday, October 10th, 2016
Compost Pile

Compost Pile

It looks like a pile of straw, but it’s really a very structured compost pile. I built it over the weekend. It’s layered and there is actually not that much straw in it.

My raw ingredients included a pile of two seasons worth of garden debris – weeds, stalks, trimmings and anything else organic collected around the yard and garden that was not super woody. It was mostly already broken down and partially composted. I had a completely broken down 55 gallon drum of household scraps, which was now only about 40 gallons, full of worms, and no stink left. I had a huge collection of recently pulled still green weeds, consisting mostly of galinsoga (quickweed), which I’m letting become my weed of choice in the garden. I had a couple small square bales of rotting straw, lots of stalks of sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, and finally, comfrey, which I harvested and layered in as I was building the pile.

I made a platform of soil with raised up edges. The base of the pile is 6 feet by 10 feet. Then I started layering everything. We had just finished a couple weeks of very rainy weather so I didn’t add any water, it was wet enough. My first layer was sunchoke stalks, followed by a layer of compost, followed by green material, either weeds or comfrey. After the pile was about 18 inches tall, I began working in layers of straw. Between each layer of straw, green material or stalks was a layer of compost or partially composted soil. As I was building the pile, I walked on top of it to compress it, trying to keep the pile as square as possible and leave no gaps or air pockets.

I ended up with a very dense pile almost 4 feet tall. I put a lot of straw on the top layer so it would shed water. By the time I finished, the pile had already begun to heat up and this morning most of the lower half of the pile had reached a temperature of 85 F., so I’m not worried about it breaking down. It will cook very quickly.

Compost Pile Tools

Compost Pile Tools

Here’s a picture of the tools I used to make the pile. The garden cart was used to haul straw, the wheel barrow used to haul garden debris. The manure fork is a most perfect compost fork for tossing everything but loose soil. The small pointed “SpearHead” shovel is better than a wider traditional spade for slicing into soil and moving a lot of soil without wearing yourself out.

And my favorite tool, the antique five-tined cultivating hoe, was used to clean the ground to prep the pile bed, rip apart debris, and loosen compacted soil. It would have been a lot more difficult without it. This tool will let me easily keep the paths around the pile weed free.

Compost is the key to successful gardening and is the safe and sustainable approach to garden nutrition. One doesn’t need an elaborate pile like this. Compost as they say, just happens, by letting organic material break down, but the process can be sped up and the finished product made more usable when a structured system like this is used.

Plenty of Compost

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Lots of Compost

Lots of Compost

Compost solves everything!  Well, not quite, but one can garden in compost alone and you cannot have too much.  This year I’m way ahead.  I’ve got a pile of ready to apply material (the smaller pile in the picture).  And even though it’s still too wet in the garden beds to do much work, I took advantage of two unexpected warm and dry days to turn the pile I had created throughout last year.

Last Year's Compost Pile

Last Year’s Compost Pile

This is what I started with.  The picture was taken in December.  The pile is all the plant residue left from the harvests, all the weeds I harvested,  plus the contents of a 55 gallon drum of household compost we collect.  I talk about using the barrels to save household compost here and here.

I took last year’s pile and moved it over about 10 feet.  Turning the pile will speed up the decomposition and accelerate the cooking process that breaks down plant material into compost.

Turning the pile could be very difficult and time consuming.  The layers of spent plants, twigs, stalks and stems form a matted layer that is woven together and very hard to separate.  Trying to scoop it off and separate it with a fork or shovel approaches futility.

Manure Fork, Spear Head Spade, 5-Tine Cultivator

Manure Fork, Spear Head Spade, 5-Tine Cultivator

That’s where the old five-tine cultivator again shows itself to be a multi-dimensional tool that should still be made.  I used that tool to rip apart the matted mess.  Then forking the compost to the new pile becomes quite easy.  The third tool I use is a shovel with a novel design that I was introduced to two years ago at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  It’s sold under the trade name Spear Head Spade.  Its small sharp and strong head makes it ideal for slicing through hard soil and plant material.  It’s very easy to use to cut compacted soil and cut into and through plant material.  So with these three tools, a manure fork, an old fine-tined cultivator, and a Spear Head spade, I turned over this very large pile of compost in just a few hours.

I also used the old five-tined tool to loosen and level the soil where last year’s pile resided.  I laid down some stalks from the semi-wild patch of Jerusalem artichokes I have growing in the area.  That’s where I’ll build this year’s compost pile to keep the process going.  Compost is extremely easy to make.  It’s a naturally occurring process and good gardeners covet it.  I’m lucky I have a large area and ample inputs to have almost all the compost I could want.