#142 - Do You Really Have To Build A Compost Pile In Layers?
Setting up a compost pile going by all of the rules that the "experts" have on composting is difficult. All the so-called "experts" out there will tell you that you have to have just the right amount of "green materials" which are materials that have a higher nitrogen ratio, and just the right amount of "brown materials" which are materials which are higher in carbon. Then you need to add the green and brown materials in 4-inch alternating layers, wetting the pile down as you add each layer.
When adding the green and brown layers to the pile the "experts" will tell you that you have to precisely add three times as much brown material as you do green material. For every bucket full of nitrogen containing material you need to add three buckets of carbon containing material.
They will also say that you must build a compost pile that is a minimum of 3 cubic yards, or 3-feet tall by 3-feet wide by 3-feet deep. If the pile is not at least 3 cubic yards it will not be large enough to generate enough heat to kill off bad bacteria and weed seeds to create compost.
They will also tell you that you have to be careful and only use certain materials and to never add meat or dairy items to a compost pile or it will attract animals.
They also will tell you that in order to get a compost pile started quickly that you have to "inoculate" the pile with either some finished compost or manure.
Wow, so many rules. Let's actually take a closer look at what it takes to make compost and see if these rules are necessary or just someones way of trying to make your life more difficult than it has to be.
First, lets take a look at what elements are required for organic material to be broken down into compost. There are four things that are required, which are Nitrogen, Carbon, Water, and Oxygen. That's it, that is all it takes. As long as you have enough of those four things you can make compost. Too much water means you do not have enough oxygen, too much nitrogen means you do not have enough carbon, etc. All four things have to be in balance with each other for a compost pile to work.
Ok, so, what about the size of the compost pile? No, I did not mention anything about the size of the compost pile being a requirement for the pile because that has absolutely nothing to do with it. The compost pile does NOT have to be at least 3-foot tall by 3-foot wide by 3-foot deep in order to generate enough heat to make compost. The pile does not generate any heat at all, it is the micro-organisms inside the pile that are breaking down the compost materials that are generating the heat. The more bacteria and other microbes you have in the pile working, the more heat is generated.
Every tablespoon full of compost material will contain thousands of individual bacteria. Bacteria is on everything already, we do not have to wait for it to "find the pile" as we do for other microbiological organisms. They are already there and ready to go to work as soon as the conditions are favorable, which we will be doing by creating the pile and wetting it down. There is absolutely no need to "inoculate" a pile to get enough bacteria in the pile for it to start working quickly. There are more than enough bacteria within the pile already because bacteria covers everything on Earth.
To test these preconceived notions of what a compost pile has to consider of and how it has to be setup I have set up a new experimental compost pile, but I am ignoring all the "rules" as I do it just to see if it will still work even without all the rules.
Instead of adding the materials in separate layers I have decided to run all of the materials through a chipper/shredder to break all the material down as small as possible and to mix it all up together. To further mix the materials together and make sure that I am starting with a random thorough mixture I turned the pile over moving from one location to another three times as I built the pile.
I also did not measure the green and brown materials that I added to make sure that I was adding three times as much brown than green. I could tell by looking at the piles that I started with that I had a lot more green materials than brown materials, and at the last minute I even added in 2 additional plastic trash bags full of fresh grass clippings to add even more green material to the pile.
I also added in some food scraps to the middle of the pile as I was getting it set up which contained meat, milk, and cheese, just because the "experts" say you can't do that.
I have broken every rule that the "experts" keep telling us for setting up a compost pile, so according to them, this pile should never work and will just sit there attracting animals. We shall see.
The size of the test pile came out to be about 3-feet wide, but only 2-feet tall which according to the "experts" will not be large enough to generate enough heat to kill off any harmful bacteria and weed seeds which I know this pile is full of. I intentionally added a full pound of weed, grass, and wildflower seeds to the pile mixture as I was setting it up to see if any of them would germinate. I made sure the pile was thoroughly damp which takes a lot more water than you would think. The main problem that most people have with their compost pile is that they simply do not give it enough water.
Because this material was shredded down so fine, it actually took about twice the amount of water that I normally have to put on a pile before it felt damp. I spent over 30-45 minutes just adding water to the pile and turning it to check the moisture level inside. The outside seemed very wet however within about 2 or 3 inches inside the pile it was still bone dry. So by continually turning and mixing the pile while I added water to it I was able to make sure that it was all wetted down.
I then stuck a compost thermometer into the center of the pile and got a tarp ready to cover the pile with to keep the water inside it from evaporating and to keep it from getting too wet if it rained.
As I was getting the tarp pulled up over the compost pile I noticed that the temperature has already reached 100 degrees within 15-minutes of setting this pile up, indicating that I already have an "active" compost pile. Normally I do not see a temperature increase for about 4 to 6 hours when I create a pile the way the "experts" say to do it. Strike 1 for the compost "experts", the pile does start quickly by mixing it all up together.
And I did not add either finished compost or manure to the pile, yet it started heating up within 15 minutes of setting the pile up. I guess that blows that theory out of the water as well. Strike 2 for the "experts".
The following morning when I checked the thermometer I saw that the temperature had risen overnight and the pile was cooking away at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember when they said if the pile was not a minimum of 3-cubic yards and created in distinct layers that it would not quickly reach the correct temperatures to kill off harmful pathogens and seeds? Well, the temperature that is needed for that to happen is between 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which we are well within. Strike 3 for the "experts". The pile will generate the required heat even though the pile is smaller because the microbes in the pile are actively breaking down the materials.
So far that have been no animals attracted to the pile from the meat and dairy products that I added, but I can guarantee that even if they were, an animal will not go into a pile that is running at 140 degrees looking for an easy meal. Strike 4 for the compost "experts".
Well, so far the "experts" have not been able to get anything right. I am proving that by going against every single one of their rules, I am still able to have a hot active compost pile. Shows how much the "experts" really know about composting.
Let the "experts" do their thing, and you do you. Don't worry about how the "experts" say that you have to setup a compost pile. As I have shown, you can screw up and break all the rules and still have a good compost pile, so don't worry about all their rules.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73