Minutes April 15 — Composting

GEG Meeting 041517

Gardeners Exchange Group Meeting 15 April 2017
Location: Mt. Wesley United Methodist Church, Scrabble WV
Topic: Composting
Submitted by Julie Neely, GEG Secretary

GEG Meeting 041517It was a perfect Spring day for our first meeting which was presented by Master Gardeners and Certified Master Composters, Melanie Files and Rick Lowman. We began with the following administrative remarks from Jane Blash:

  • Jane reviewed the Gardeners Exchange Group (GEG) Mission Statement
  • 23 April New Shepherdstown library kick off party (King St) 10AM-3PM
  • 12 May Ranson Old Town Community Garden High Tunnel Dedication Celebration 4:30-7:30PM
  • 13 May Friends of the Shepherdstown Library Book Sale – still taking books for donation
  • 20 May Back Alley Garden Tour Shepherdstown – still looking for docents
  • Melanie announced a Master Composter Training Class scheduled for 1-3 June at Mt Zion Church Hedgesville, includes a tour of the Tabb and Son Compost facility, cost $25.00. For more info call BCSWA at 304-267-9370
  • Composting demonstrations, seminars, classes and consultation are available from Melanie and Rick at wvmastercomposter@frontier.com.

Composting – Why do it?

GEG Meeting 041517So much waste goes into landfills these days which could/should be recycled and in the case of compostable matter could be used to enrich the soil and fertilize food crops. It is estimated that 20-40% of landfills consists of food scraps which could be composted. Each person in the United States contributes 1.3 pounds of food scraps/day or 474 pounds of food scraps/year to landfills. Each person contributes 230 pounds of yard waste/year to landfills. All of this material is compostable and could be used to nourish the microorganisms which are a part of and contribute to living, healthy soil. Let’s not forget that soil is alive with microorganisms that work together to increase the nutrients and composition of soil. Commercial farming deep tilling practices disrupt the soil microorganism structure. Artificial chemical fertilizers are harmful to soil microorganisms; using compost decreases the need for tilling and fertilizers. Commercial golf courses historically use tons of fertilizer and chemicals per year; much of the run-off ends up in the Chesapeake Bay or other waterways. Some golf course operators have discovered that using compost drastically reduces the need for chemicals, Using compost helps to keep the lawns healthier, prevents disease, discourages weeds, provides better water retention, better soil quality, breaks up compacted clay soils, and prevents erosion and prevents toxic run-off. An example of composting at work to save money and the environment is illustrated by the golf course in Middletown MD. The kitchen manager at the course reduced his eight dumpsters of waste down to two dumpsters by recycling food scraps normally bound for the trash into compost now used to fertilize his kitchen garden.

Composting Methods – Hot and Cold Piles

Hot piles are at least 3ft x 3ft in size, they are thermophylic—heat generating—with an internal temperature of 140-160, sometimes hotter up to 180. The higher temperatures of the hot pile kills pathogens, weed seeds, insect larvae, earth worms, etc. This style of composting is faster but  a bit more complicated and more labor intensive requiring the pile to be turned every 7-10 days.  Using the Berkley, CA method, a hot pile of material will be completely composted within 6 weeks.  Hot piles require the correct 30:1 ratio of “green” to “brown” material – usually 30 parts green, carbon, organic matter like green leaves, grass, kitchen scraps, stinky kind of stuff TO one part brown, nitrogenous matter like stems, stalks, cut up woody parts of plants, dried leaves, cardboard, newspaper and straw.

The recipe for a successful hot pile is: oxygen, water, 30 parts carbon/green stuff, 1 part brown nitrogen/ stuff. The pile can be in sun or shade but full sun will require more frequent watering to keep the pile moist. The composting method used at the Tabb and Son facility is a super hot compost style enabling everything (including entire road kill carcasses) to be added to and completely broken down by the pile quickly and harmlessly.

Cold piles are just any size piles of compostable material which over a long time (years) will turn into friable compost. They do not heat up and are suitable homes for earth worms (vermiculture) and other living creatures. Melanie suggested grinding up kitchen scraps and then pouring the grinds into a little hole you make in your pile of cold stuff outside. According to Melanie, you could also keep your cold pile inside the house in a suitable container but the size of your collected material must be kept small—either grind or break up all material into tiny pieces. Melanie says in-house, cold pile composting does not smell; if ants show up the pile is too dry, add water.

Composting Facts and Myths

  • “Nature Mill” is a commercial composter for in-house use that heats and rotates your compost.
  • Bokashi is a fermented bran, molasses, anaerobic culture solution added to mulch that can enhance composting (don’t drink it, it’s not Kombucha).
  • Make sure you locate your compost pile in a convenient location, close to your house and easily accessible BUT not against a wooden wall or against your house because the moisture content of the pile could attract termites or rot wood siding.
  • Be careful adding horse manure to your pile; it is highly nitrogenous and will upset the carbon (green) to nitrogen (brown) ratio.
  • Be careful adding wood ashes to your pile; they are very basic and will raise the pH. Compost has a neutral pH; for a 3ft x 3ft pile you could add up to one gallon of wood ash. Wood ash does contain some useful minerals.
  • Carbon/coal is not recommended for compost piles.
  • Egg shells are best finely crumbled and sprinkled around the base of plants, they don’t break down well in the pile. Crumbled egg shells (contain calcium) are beneficial in preventing blossom end rot disease in tomatoes plants.
  • Don’t put meat-eating animal poop or cat litter in your compost pile.
  • Don’t put cooking oil, fat, dairy in the pile—it doesn’t break down quickly.
  • No human waste or sewage in the pile—it could contain lead, heavy metals, medicines, hormones and possible human pathogens that may not be killed by the temperature.
  • No petroleum products or glossy colored magazines in the pile.
  • Newspapers (most use soy ink) and cardboard are OK in the pile.
  • Pond muck is OK.
  • Coffee grounds (acidic) and tea leaves , tea bags (not the nylon bags) are good in the pile.
  • Composting is not hard to do especially if you have a cold pile which only requires you to add organic stuff to it and wait.
  • Composting is not smelly, it should not be stinky; if it is smelly, its going anaerobic and may be getting too compacted. Fluff up the pile.
  • All compost piles do not have to be turned; only fast, hot piles need to be turned over.
  • Some folks sift their compost before using it on their gardens; just throw the larger chunks back onto the pile for further composting and break down.
  • Smaller pieces including ground-up kitchen scraps compost faster than large pieces.
  • Compost can be poisonous to pets—do not let your pets near your pile. Hops in compost are definitely poisonous to pets.
  • Don’t need to buy compost starter—its just compost.
  • Be careful of compost tea—the water is full of bacteria, some of which could be dangerous if ingested or could contaminate cuts.
  • If your hot pile is not heating up try adding more green material such as grass clippings.
  • Keep your compost pile moist but not dripping wet. A moist pile discourages ants and mice from living in the pile.
  • Large, white bodied, red headed grubs are beneficial insects and turn into beetles that eat decayed wood—do not kill them if you find them in your pile. These grubs are more than twice as big as Japanese beetle grubs—kill as many of those as you can.
  • Black soldier fly larvae which look like tiny armadillos are also considered beneficial.
  • You can purchase long compost thermometers for about $30, which can be used to check the temperature of your pile.
  • Earth worms should only be added to the cold pile, the temperature of hot piles will kill worms.
  • Leaf mold is made by making a pile of leaves or filling a container of leaves and leaving it alone for 1-2 years. After it breaks down into friable “soil” use it on your garden.
  • Fall is the best time to add compost to your gardens and beds. This allows the weather to work the compost down into the soil, ready for Spring planting.
  • Know the source of the grass clippings that you add to your compost pile—some grass has been treated with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides that you may not want in your pile. These chemicals could inhibit the microbial action needed to make compost.
  • Five ways to use leaves: Compost them as brown material, make leaf mold, shred them and use as mulch under trees etc., mow them into your grass, hoard them by shredding them and bagging them for Springtime use.