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Posted: 11/16/2010 8:42:21 PM EDT
I've been reading a great deal about compost lately and I am planning to make a bunch next Summer to mix into my garden soil. I saved all my leaves this fall and have numerous 30 gallon garbage bags filled with dry, shredded leaves sitting out in the barn. I plan to mix this with my grass clippings next summer to create a quality compost.

The problem is, it seems the methods for creating the compost "lasagna" vary widely. Some suggest the proper nitrogen/carbon balance is 2 parts carbon, 1 part nitrogen. Others suggest 3 parts nitrogen (greens) to 1 part carbon (browns). Most methods suggest adding a thin layer of soil between each layer to introduce soil bacteria into the pile. It would seem the methods using more greens would lead to a more nitrogen rich compost, but with such a small amount of brown material, will the pile break down properly? I grow lots of sweet corn and tomatoes, so I wouldn't mind a little extra nitrogen. Besides, my lawn is so big that I can get as many as 10-12 garbage bags (the large ones) full of fresh green grass following each summer mowing. Therefore I'll have ample material.

But again, the question is, which method of layering the pile will yield the best results? For example, would I be better off just starting the pile by putting down a 6" layer of browns, followed by a 3" layer of greens and continuing to stack the pile in this manner until it's 3 or 4 feet tall and about the same width? Or could I go heavier on green materials and still have a proper nitrogen/carbon ratio?

Also, I see lots of people in youtube "how to" videos covering their compost piles with tarps, to control the amount of moisture entering into the pile from rain, preventing the pile from excess drying, preventing rains from leeching away nutrients and to help retain more heat. But it seems this would limit the amount of air exchange the pile receives and air seems to be very important in composting. Perhaps a weekly turn of the pile introduces enough oxygen?

You'd think piling up a bunch of organic materials for the purposes of letting it "rot" wouldn't be so complicated, but apparently that isn't the case. LOL.
Link Posted: 11/17/2010 9:31:59 AM EDT
Link Posted: 11/18/2010 2:33:04 AM EDT
Ours is kept in a big bin. Personally, I just throw leaves, grass, and other vegetable matter in there as they become available. It gets the occasional load of horse and cow manure added in, too. I keep it moist, keep it loosely covered, and mix it every couple weeks with a portable tiller. It's always producing. The big thing is once you get a pile or three started, keep them watered and fed like any living thing so you don't lose your bacteria and other goodies that break everything down.
Link Posted: 11/18/2010 12:55:02 PM EDT
Can you just till in the leaves and grass clippings and forget them?
Link Posted: 11/20/2010 3:42:46 AM EDT
Can you just till in the leaves and grass clippings and forget them?

I don't have a shredder, so I put my leaves through the lawnmower, and then dump them into the compost. Water it, cover it, and forget it for a couple weeks. Then I hit the pile with the tiller, and add anything new on top. Probably not the most efficient/effective method to be had, but it does work. You can turn composting into a science, or just make it work as well as you have time for.
Link Posted: 11/20/2010 4:05:34 AM EDT
Compost for producing is different than compost for "get rid of this stuff."  Which do you want to be doing?

Depending on what you put in it, you maybe stunting it's growth.  Some types of matter won't work so well.  (Oak leaves for example, are supposed to be very acidic and will arrest the bacteria growth.)

If you want soil enrichment out of it, have two or three piles and turn them regularly.  One pile from this year, one pile from last year, and one pile from two years ago.  Use the one from two years ago in your garden this year.

My dad used to say you should pee on them to add nitrates and keep the acid level balanced better.  I think he just liked to pee outside.
Link Posted: 11/20/2010 11:26:44 AM EDT
I spread Bradford Pear leaves, daylily stalks, corn stalks, etc over about a foot deep then tilled them in.  

Hope I didn't mess up
Link Posted: 11/21/2010 6:40:10 AM EDT
I have done some reading on composting.

I may be doing it all wrong, but I don't agree with the layering method.

If you throw six inches of ground up leaves into a pile (I use circles of hardware cloth for bins), and then throw 3 inches of grass clippings on top, the grass clippings are going to turn into a mass of gook that breaks down very slowly and is a pain to turn.

I mix the brown/green together as it goes into the pile when I have large amounts to add in. If I have a large amount going into the pile, I usually go ahead and tear the pile apart and mix the old and new together to speed up the breakdown of the older material.

Kitchen scraps...I open the center of the pile till I get down to heat and throw the scraps in and cover it over so the top of the pile is flat again.

Hardware cloth makes convenient bins. You can get it 24" tall and 36" tall. 12' will make a circle 3 foot across. When it is time to stir the pile, you lift the wire up and the pile holds it's shape. Set the wire circle next to the pile. Use a potato fork to shift the compost back into the wire circle, breaking it up and stirring as you go, adding in new material if you have it. Sometimes a little more water is needed.

There a several methods to compost, and what works best for one person may not fit the needs of another person. Some people use those rotating drums on a spit, because the volume of material they routinely use is small. Some people have a pile that would fill four dump trucks and they turn in with a tractor with a big bucket.

My method works for me. I usually start a fresh pile in the Fall. Turn it over in the Spring and start adding material. Work it through the Summer (adding material as it becomes available), and by early Fall it fits into a smaller bin. That pile sets for the next year and goes onto the garden in the Fall. I start a fresh pile in the larger bin in the Fall as large amounts of garden waste comes available, along with all the leaves that get sucked up while mowing the Fall yard. So I always have two piles in the Summer. One that I am turning and adding to, and one that just sits there and mellows from the previous year.

If you want to cut down on the bulk of leaves you are saving or putting into a pile, try a leaf blower/sucker. If you get the leaves into a pile and suck them up, they are ground up into pieces that average about 1/2 inch. You can store a lot more that way, and they break up faster.

Just a few ideas. If I'm doing it wrong...let me know.

Link Posted: 12/19/2010 8:50:10 AM EDT
Can you just till in the leaves and grass clippings and forget them?

I think this works as well as anything although as one of the posters mentioned some organic materials like oak leaves and pine needles have some issues if they are used in large quantities.

When I was a kid the grass clippings were put on top of the ground between the rows of plants in the garden as a weed barrrier. Leaves were burned or just piled in the garden and turned under in the spring with a rototiller along with the grass clippings from the previous summer..

I personally do not think it matters much how you add organic material to your soil. I am more inclined toward doing whatever takes less work. Making piles of stuff, mixing it, turning it and then moving it a couple years later is a lot more work than just tossing it out in the garden and turning it under.

An acquantance of mine swore by his method used in what amounted to a square foot garden. It was a fair amount of effort though. He had one side of his beds that he could remove so it was easier to get the dirt out. Every fall, he pulled the dirt out of the beds and put about 3 inches of mixed grass, leaves, or whatever was available in the bottom of the beds and then put the side back and shoveled the dirt back on top. I think he added some kind of manure as well. He did this every fall, so there was a layer of organic material about 6 inches under the surface. He claimed it warmed up the soil as well so he could start planting earlier.

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