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#113 - Step-By-Step Active Composting - Day 1

I decided to start a new compost pile and use it as a step-by-step guide to show how easy it is for anyone to take yard waste like leaves and grass cuttings and turn it into useful nutritious organic compost to use on your garden, flowers or plants.

For a compost pile to work properly in an active-compost system, also called hot-composting, four things are required:

  • Nitrogen

  • Carbon

  • Oxygen

  • Water

To allow proper airflow to the compost I am using 36"x36"x30" green powder coated wire cages that I purchased on Amazon and have installed side by side in my back yard. Each one of these cages come with 4 side panels and 4 anchor pins to attach the side panels in the corners.

By setting the three cages up next to each other I was able to end up with three four-sided cages and one additional three-sided cage with the extra left over parts. I will be utilizing the three four-sided cages for active compost piles in different stages of their decomposition. The additional three-sided cage I will be utilizing to store my completed compost until I am ready to use it.

I start off by putting a layer of leaves and dead plant waste which is full of carbon.

On top of the leafy carbon layer I add a layer of grass clippings which are loaded with nitrogen.

After adding each layer onto the pile I soak the pile down with water thoroughly before adding the next layer.

I continue to add the layers . . .

Continuing to soak the pile between each layer . . .

I ran out of leaves to use for the carbon layer, so I added shredded paper and cardboard, which is also the same carbon as leaves. Remember, paper and cardboard is made from trees so it works quite well in a compost. Shredded paper will soak up a lot of water so make sure you soak the pile well until you see water running out the bottom of the pile.

I will be turning this pile over every other day over the next three to four weeks as the materials decompose, and I will walk you through each step as we go. The temperature in the center of the pile should be somewhere between 120 (actually 122) and 160 degrees Fahrenheit when I check on it in two days. That temperature increase shows that the decomposition process is happening and that is when the pile needs to be turned over to keep that cycle going. We will discuss that further in the next update on Day-3.

Second Compost Pile Test

I often hear people say that you should not use green leaves in a hot-compost system, that you have to wait for them to turn brown before they can be used. I have also been told that you should not use citruc cuttings because of the acidity, which is completely incorrect.

I decided as a comparison to start a second compost pile at the same time as the first pile above, using citrus tree cuttings, grass clippings, and shredded paper and cardboard in the same way.

First, I add a layer of citrus tree cuttings. I also noticed several small green oranges in with the cuttings. I decided as a further test to leave those in as well since many people keep saying that you can use citrus rinds but never use the meat of the fruit because it is too acidic, we shall see. To aid in the decomposition, I did cut the oranges in half before tossing them right back into the leaves, but that was all I did to them.

After adding a layer of grass clippings, remember to soak each layer down with water . . .

Since I ran out of brown leaves on the other compost pile earlier, I am adding shredded paper and cardboard as a carbon layer.

More grass clippings . . .

and soaking down again between layers . . .

Because shredded paper can become matted down, basically becoming paper mâché, I mix the very top layer up a little with a pitchfork to keep it from becoming matted down by fluffing it up.

I will turn this compost pile over on the same schedule that I turn the first compost pile which is sitting right next to it. I will be seeing, and showing you, what the differences between the two are as we go through the composting cycle over the next few weeks.

I will now cover the compost with a tarp to keep the sun from drying out the compost too quickly. This will also keep the pile from getting overly saturated from rainstorms which will delay the decomposition of the pile.

Until Next Time,

Aloha & 73

Oh, and by the way, don't listen to the composting "experts" out there that say that your compost pile will heat up in about two days and that you need to wait until the fourth day to turn it the first time. As you can see by the photo below, my pile is already just short of 130 degrees Fahrenheit and it has only been 6 hours since I started the pile.

The second experimental pile with the green citrus tree trimmings has also started generating heat already. This pile was about an hour behind the first pile in getting started and it is up to 115 degrees, so decomposition is about to start in this pile also.

I will skip tomorrow and turn the piles on the second day and then every other day after that.


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