"Back to Eden" Gardening: Adventures in Composting - Hot & Cold!

in hive-120078 •  last month  (edited)

Early on in this new venture in our lives, we decided we would be "all in!" That is pretty much how @roleerob has "rolled" his whole life. Why change now? 😉

So ... Having covered our adventures in wood chipping, I would now like to cover what we have done and learned related to composting.

Source: Creator enriquelopezgarre on Pixabay
Lead image for @roleerob's "Back to Eden" gardening series, based on Deuteronomy 30:19

What is composting? Here is one excellent definition:

"Composting is the biological decomposition of organic waste such as food or plant material by bacteria, fungi, worms and other organisms under controlled aerobic (occurring in the presence of oxygen) conditions. The end result of composting is an accumulation of partially decayed organic matter called humus."

Univ. of Florida's "Living Green" webpage

Note well, dear reader, the reference to "under controlled aerobic conditions." For the rich diversity of live organisms in the soil to properly perform their "magic," they (like us!) must have an adequate supply of air! And if they don't? Bad things happen!

With that, let's take a closer look!

  • Interesting side note: For its illustration of a "backyard composter," on the Composting Wikipedia web page linked above, we see a picture of the same product we will be covering in this post!

"Hot" Composting with a YIMBY!

Over and over, throughout this adventure, we have seen repeated references to taking intentional steps to reduce the time natural processes typically need to complete their "magic."

"Hot" composting is a perfect example. The idea is to accelerate the decomposition process through somewhat artificial means. Specifically, to set it in motion inside a device not found in the natural world - a "backyard composter."

To illustrate, here is what we settled on, for our "hot" composter:

Photos: "Hot" composting with a YIMBY!

A YIMBY (more product information in the "Materials List" section below)! Both expense, as well as operation, wise, this seemed like a great choice.

Jumping straight to the time-savings aspect of why anyone would go to the trouble of using one of these, this is what the product literature sets, as far as expectations:

"Fill it up, give it a turn every other day with the built-in hand holds, and in as little as two weeks you'll have a nourishing batch of compost for your garden."

[emphasis added mine]

Note well, dear reader, it says "... as little as ..." Of course, you can just "jump right in" and have this little gizmo performing at this level "right out of the box!" Yes? No?

Yes, well, there's setting expectations. And then there is marketing ... Later, in the fine print, we read it could also take "... as much as ..." eight weeks. Okay, now we're getting a little closer ...

At the end of nine weeks, given how much of our growing season was already gone and hoping to "harvest" at least one more batch before snow began to fall, I emptied our YIMBY out, as shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos above.

The good news is that the resulting compost really did have a wonderfully earthy smell (or was that just the decomposed coffee grounds ... 😉), as well as a dark, rich appearance. As shown in the 4th photo, I spread this out at the base of some of our raspberry canes. 👍

The bad news? Well, it was quickly very clear to us there is a lot to learn to get this little gizmo to work in an optimal manner. Once we purchased a very helpful thermometer (more product information in the "Materials List" section below) designed for this purpose, we learned that we never actually got the temperature into the "hot" (minimum of 130°F / 54°C) range!? 😧 The best temp we ever achieved was ~ 120°F / 49°C and, most of the time, hovered around 110°F / 43°C.

________________________

All right then. True confessions ... 😏 Rather than "hot" composting, the best we managed in our first season was more like "lukewarm" composting ... 😞

But, hope springs eternal, so we will do better next season! 😊

"Cold" Composting

In contrast with the "hot" composting method described above, we also had "cold" composting, inside a simple wire fence enclosure (next to our shed and to the right of the tomatoes in our Earthboxes in the 2nd photo below) we made from materials we had around:

Photos: "Cold" composting inside our simple wire fence enclosure

What were we going to put in it? Pretty much anything and everything which did not end up in the YIMBY! From our yard, we had grass clippings, leaves from our discarded irises, weeds, etc. From our kitchen, we had coffee grounds and any plant-derived products which did not belong in with our worms (subject of our next post).

We followed this simple step-by-step outline, throughout the summer:

  1. Place plants on a patch of soil to dry in the sun. For 2 to 3 days.
  2. Pick these piles up with our bedding fork and spread them out over our lawn.
  3. Run our lawn mower back and forth over them and catch the chopped up remains in its rear bag.
  4. Dump the mower bag contents into the wire enclosure.
  5. Water every 2 to 3 days, to keep the compost pile moist down inside.
  6. Every 7 to 10 days, simply lift the fence up off of the compost pile. With the bedding fork, turn the pile over, top to bottom, off to the side.
  7. Put the fence back in place. With the bedding fork, put the compost bed back into it. Which "fluffs" it up, to maximize aeration.

Starting into it, we were concerned about "overflowing" this little fenced enclosure and having to figure out where else we would put all of our compostable material.

Not a problem!

In the pictures above, you can see we didn't even get it half full. The maximum depth the compost bed ever reached was maybe 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 cm). We were amazed at how well this worked considering, in past seasons, how many bags of various plant-based material we were accustomed to taking out to our curb. To be hauled away by our waste removal service to be dumped into a local landfill somewhere ...

________________________

Between generating wood chips and creating compost, taking what we have learned in our first season, we can already make this commitment:

We will
never

take another load of
any sort of plant-based
waste to our curb, for trash
disposal
again!


There is value in all of it, even the weeds! For it can and now will be turned back into a nutritious base in the soil, from which future generations of plants can sprout and flourish!!

Lessons Learned

As a lifelong committed "continuous learner," I truly enjoy learning new stuff. As a "contrarian," I have never wanted the old adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" to apply to me! 😉

Source: Creator sasint on Pixabay

With each of these posts on our new adventure, I will be putting what I have learned into this section. I trust in investing the time to write it, dear reader, if you ever choose to travel a similar path, that you may find something of value and so save yourself from making mistakes similar to ours.

________________________

Dry It Out!

Juicy green weeds or grass, when freshly dug up or mown, is a bit of a problem, although I suspect others might disagree. We found that simply leaving any items headed for composting out in the sun for a day or two, before chopping it up with our lawn mower (see below) worked very well.

In some climates, that might not work so well. Here, it seldom rains and we have a lot of sunny days. Note that the original green plant material does not get completely dried out in this period of time, but it is dry enough to make chopping it up easier.

________________________

Chop It Up!

By far the most important lesson we learned working on composting was the value of chopping up the plants we intended to mulch - whether hot or cold. The "secret weapon?" Our lawn mower!

Ours has a bag on the rear of it, so just running the mower back and forth over the dried (see above) plant material works well. We then just take the bag off and dump it in the "cold" compost pile!

________________________

"Green" vs. "Brown" Ratios in Composting

This is something we read about being important. Classically referred to in the "instructions," you are told the compostable material should be added in a ratio of 2:1, brown to green. Supposedly, in turn, part of keeping the carbon / nitrogen ratio high - ~ 30:1. All while balanced with the proper moisture content. And turning it over, from time to time, for the proper aeration ...

Sounds "easy peasy" right?

Yeah, well ... Starting with learning that each compostable material has its own, unique carbon / nitrogen ratio, we did not find this to be at all "easy peasy". We can say we have a ways to go to get this figured out. And there is the good news that, even if you get this wrong, your compostable material will still decompose. Eventually ... 😏

Hopefully, we will be able to share some "success stories" next season.

________________________

There is no question many of you will have your own wisdom and experience to add to what you have read about in this post. As always, I'd love to receive any feedback you may be inspired to provide!

Materials List

The phrase "time and materials" has long been a standard reference at the beginning of undertaking any project. From my father, I learned his oft-quoted reinforcement that, to do a job well, you needed to have the right tools.

Source: Creator MichaelGaida on Pixabay

With this, he also taught me that we would almost certainly not have been the first person to run up against whatever challenge was in front of us. Requiring some new tool ... We just had to put in the effort (this was BG! Before "Google It!" 😉) to find it.

So ... As a part of these posts going forward, dear reader, I will always provide you a listing of what I have found to be of value. Will it be the "right" tool? Is there a better one? I will always welcome input on these questions in the comments! 😊

________________________

YIMBY - FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter, 37 gallon

For "hot" composting, you need to use something which allows for ease of turning it over. And over ... And over ...

Something like a YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)!

Source: Amazon product web page

Made by FCMP Outdoor, this nifty little composter was just what we needed. Compact, dual compartments, and overall pretty easy to use.

Just add compost items, per their instructions, and "give it a whirl" every 2 to 3 days.

  • Price (here): $74.84 USD + shipping
  • True Confessions! This was in a box in our shed unopened. For over 2 years! 😧 My wife had purchased it for us, but my work situation over the last 2 to 3 years of my career just consumed me ... 😞

________________________

Cate's Garden Compost Thermometer ...

... Premium Stainless Steel Bimetal Thermometer for Backyard Composting - 2 Inch Diameter Fahrenheit/Celsius Dial, 20 Inch Temperature Probe.

That's a mouthful!

Thermometers come in all shapes, sizes, and for different purposes. In searching for one specifically suited for composting, this one seemed well suited to the task.

Source: Amazon product webpage

Note that the thermometer face clearly tells you what temperature range you are in. We found this very helpful!

  • Price (here): $20.95 USD + shipping
  • Cate's Garden's associated website also has a nice newsletter, for which you may wish to sign up.

________________________

10-Tine Welded Bedding Fork

As you read about in more detail above, for our "cold" composting, there was still the need to get the composting bed turned, from time to time. To make sure it was being properly aerated.

Our collection of hand tools did not have anything suitable to this task. In searching for what we needed, here is what we settled on:

Source: Home Depot product web page

I am a big fan of quality workmanship (even preferring the word craftsmanship)! All you need to do is pick this bedding fork up and you just know it is a great tool. It has a 15-year warranty, but it is hard to imagine it ever wearing out. It just seems too well made for that!

The manufacturer, Ames, has been in business since 1774, so I think they should know by now what they are doing. Right?

Perfect for what we needed!

  • Price (here): $37.98 USD in the store

Philosophical Postscript

Wrapping up this post, dear reader, I would like to briefly touch on some of my philosophical reflections, 🤔 while working in the peace and quiet of my own garden. Based on how unexpectedly refreshing and inspiring I have found this time to be ... 😉

________________________

Harnessing Power!

The vision behind permaculture in general and "Back to Eden" gardening in particular, is based upon harnessing power in natural processes. There is power unseen in these processes. Power of life!

From my background, while admittedly from a very different world than gardening, I find this concept illustrated by the creation of hydroelectric power.

Grand Coulee Dam, on the Columbia River in Washington state
Source: U. S. Bureau of Reclamation website

Okay, the damming up of a river and the resulting cascades of water coming down it spillways is clear enough. And relatively simple to understand.

But what about harnessing the power of this falling water by creating electricity with it?

Source: Wikipedia on Turbines

By directing it down a penstock into a turbine. Much, much more complicated ...

Can we see the electromagnetic fields used by these turbines to create electricity? No. Is it "real" nonetheless? Of course it is!

________________________

Walking by Faith

In a similar manner, we are learning about the rich diversity in all of the life forms and their unseen power under the undisturbed surface of the mulch and wood chips covering our soil.

Reminds me of a passage of Scripture:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Hebrews 11:1

Yes! The power of this all working together, as individually they seem next to nothing to us. We can't see them, although they are there faithfully performing their function, day and night, as designed ...

________________________

"Fruit" of our Labors!

To what end? An abundance of nutritious food, as written about in detail in my first post on this topic!

Source Image 1: Creator Trang Doan on Pexels
Source Image 2: Creator Pixabay on Pexels

With both the nutrition and abundance being provided at levels unmatched and untouchable by modern agricultural methods.

☝ More to follow! ☝

Closing

A final thought on writing this post was on our ever growing understanding of how intricate all of the "moving parts" are in permaculture. This whole movement is based upon simply observing what is going on in nature and trying to mimic it. If we simply just leave it "out there" and undisturbed in the wild "as is," then much of the marvel and wonder is left unknown. It is in attempting to mimic and even speed up these processes, that we begin to have a much deeper appreciation of and respect for all that is happening "out there" by design.

In my next post, as the final part of our "all in" approach to this new adventure in our lives, I will be covering what we have done and learned about worms, the source of what the experts claim to be two of the most beneficial substances you can put on your garden - the "black gold" of castings and "worm tea!" Formally known as the wonderful world of vermicomposting and vermiculture ...

Until then, I’d love to hear any feedback you may be inspired to provide.

Until "next time," all the best to you for a better tomorrow, as we all work together to build up our Steem Communities and add increasing value to our Steem blockchain! 👍 😊

Respectfully,
Steemian @roleerob

Posted using SteemPeak and “immutably enshrined in the blockchain” on Thursday, 20 February 2020!

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This is an awesome and extremely informative post! 😃

On behalf of Eco Zone, I would like to invite you to crosspost into our community.

https://steempeak.com/c/hive-178091/created

You are also welcome to join our Discord, if you’d like. 😁

https://discord.gg/N355QnU

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Well thank you @definedthedollar! I appreciate you letting me know you found this post had some value. I will have to look into your community, as time permits.

Thank you for stopping by!

Back "in here" a bit this morning @definedthedollar. And following up on your reference to my consideration of cross posting.

As I read what others are writing about this new mechanism, seems the uhhh ... "consensus' is that cross posting should be done by others. Much as we all have historically used resteeming. Rather than by ourselves ...

What is your understanding of this?

Fantastic article on composting.. there is SO much you can say and you have said much of it.. and lessons learned is probably the most useful part as you dont always read that stuff in the books! Some good links also to cheap but useful products.. Nice one! will cross-post this one to the ecoTrain community and give it some more life!

Up well before 🌄 (here) @eco-alex and encouraged to read you have found this post to be of some value for your community. It is my first experience with someone choosing to cross-post something I have written.

We have been inspired in ways we could not have imagined, by what we have learned since June. So ... We're "newbies" at all of this, but pretty settled on working on getting better at it for the rest of our lives ...

So, thank you for the cross-post! Have a great day!!

thanks! the learning part is the most intersting part really.. once you know it all it just becomes repition.. thankfully we never know it all, there is always something to refine and improve.. COmposting in particular! my friend takes pride in his 6 day compost technique.. which does work, and can provide some quick goodies for the soil..

best of luck! enjoy the off grid life! <3

Yes @eco-alex, no question ...

"... there is always something to refine and improve."

... this is true. We started in having at least some idea of that, but really have learned we had no idea ... The rich diversity and wonderful harmony amongst it all is a marvel and a wonder to us. As Christian folks, it has given us a whole new perspective on being "fearfully and wonderfully made" ...

"COmposting in particular!"

Wow, compost in 6 days ... 😊 Impressive!

For us, at least for now, all of that learning opportunity is "suspended," through the winter months, although we are very excited to see what happens with our wood chips. While waiting, inside we have our "creepy crawlies" collection in our basement - a year round learning opportunity. We have found the supposedly "simple" task of having a productive worm bin anything but ...

My next post on this topic!

maybe its 8 days,, anyways!
i think when we feel that we

really have learned we had no idea

we have reached a po9int when in fact you have a lot of idea, but now understand the scope and breadth of the topic.. and have some experience.. now it will just take the rest of your lives to figure out the details -)

Excellent post on composting! I've bookmarked it to have as a reference.

Glad you found some value in it @free-reign. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know!

A beautiful post loaded with a lot of information. I enjoyed the pictures. You transported me to my parents' farm.

  ·  last month (edited)

Oh @carolinacardoza,you made my day ...

"You transported me to my parents' farm."

... when I read this. Hopefully they are fond memories for you and you will be able to see them again soon.

Thanks for stopping by!

This is a great tutorial and maybe one day I could use it once I visit my dad's farm. I'd love a simple quiet life one day.

  ·  last month (edited)

Yes @watersnake101, we believe a simple quiet life is desirable, although certainly there was much of our lives which were neither. Like too many other parts of our lives, it has taken us a long time to figure it out ...

Glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for stopping by!


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Great informative post on composting and your success at it. I’m glad you finally got the compost unit out of storage. 😂

Well, we are enjoying some success @redheadpei, but we still have a ways to go. We are just sharing our journey, as we start into this new venture and learn along the way.

Yep, at least I now have the YIMBY set up and doing something besides gathering dust!? Hahaha ... 😉

Thank you for stopping by!

Welcome @roleerob and best of luck in your future endeavours.
Have a great weekend!

The city I live in has a public compost heap (large hill, really, of compost). They pick up grass clippings and other organic refuse and have a large facility that they use to compost; it's then free for the taking. The only issue is going to get it! It can get heavy! But it's awesome compost. More places should do that.

That sounds very interesting @wwwiebe. We watched all these YouTubes and read a lot of posts about free this and free that ... Not around here!

If your city is doing that with all their organic refuse, at least they are allowing the natural decomposition to take place, rather than just throw it into a landfill stuffed in plastic garbage bags. That's a great start!

Do you garden yourself with this source of good compost?

I do a little bit. I've grown a few trees with it! I've been having a difficult time with any of my gardening lately, to be honest, and was considering taking the year off. I know I won't, I'll give it another go. Maybe I'll have better luck this year.

Okay @wwwiebe, sounds like you may face similar challenges to us in just how busy life can be. Pulling you in other directions and away from the simple, peace and quiet of gardening ...

We find it to be something of a refuge. And we are fortunate to be at a stage in our lives where we can more consistently apply the needed effort than we were in times past.

Also, your response hints are difficulties in gardening. We are aware that those are almost certainly coming for us as well. Guess we'll just "cross those bridges" when we get there!

Oh yes, time constraints. I continually petition the universe to let me have a 56 hour day; I'm routinely denied. 😂

I love gardening, I really do. Last year I was able to get some good lettuce and a few tomatoes, though the tomato failure was entirely on me.

Good luck to you! I'm interested in seeing how it works out.

Have you ever tried taking some of your cold compost and adding it to your hot compost bin? This may jump start the process for you. I don't dry out my greens before adding them to the top of the compost pile. The decomposition rate is fast with green leafy materials and the heat will rise more quickly, but I see your point too. Thanks for the info!

With only two batches "under our belts," we have a long way to go in learning how best to do this @bdmillergallery. We did take some material from the cold compost to add to our YIMBY on the 2nd batch. Didn't really help much, as far as we could tell. We also added green grass clippings on this 2nd batch, but we still were unable to get the temperature up into the "hot" zone ...

I think we have a lot to learn about the ratio of brown to green and how green we should leave the plants. Doesn't seem as straightforward as we were led to believe initially. But ... Maybe we are just dummies ... 😉

What I am sure of is we're having a lot of fun! 👍

Thanks for sharing your experience with us!
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Thank you for your support @innerblocks / @freedomtowrite. As time permits, I will try to carve some out to look into what your community is doing and seeing what role I might be able to play in support of it.

Great blog, long but great fun

Glad you enjoyed it @brittandjosie. Thanks for stopping by!

Growing up we had a compost heap about 3' x 6' next to a low wall, everything went in there, we turned it with a pitchfork, covered with thin layer of soil once a week to avoid flies (living in a hot climate). Earthworms arrived and did most of the work, this was a slow process taking a year at the end of the year some manure from local farm brought in and the family slowly mixed it together.

After this process was done, pruning of trees completed, new beds laid for fresh vegetables we moved it where required with a spade, one wheelbarrow at a time, lucky a small property, with a lot of fruit and vegetables for the family.

Yes the older generation never through anything away, little went out in a dump truck with milk arriving in glass bottles, no plastic, it feels like a lifetime ago. Good description on how to deal with our excess in "modern living today".

Thank you very kindly @joanstewart, for stopping by and adding value to this post with your comments.

Sounds like a wonderful childhood to me. I was fortunate enough to spend part of my growing up years in a fruit orchard. So, I had some idea about some of this, but our family never did anything with composting ...

Do you still garden today and apply some of these memories you have to it?

Ah! Our compost heap at the back is being kept full my friend. Soon the garden will be completed and then it will be employed lol.

A great post here on composting matters and well written.
Blessings!

Thank you for stopping by @papilloncharity and adding value to this post with your comments.

So, you and yours have been actively gardening there in South Africa? Or are you in the process of getting one set up?

Thank you Sir and we have only recently moved here.
Before that we lived on an apple farm and many years ago as a child I also lived on a farm, so I think that I know a wee bit about farming lands and soil conditioning.
Your posts are excellent and I hope that many can benefit from it.
Blessings!

I`ve done the cold composting whenever I lived on a house with a yard. It was a great way to work out and grow our own food without adding any chemicals. What a great feeling is to harvest the fruit of your labour! Great post!

Thank you for stopping by @lymepoet and adding value to this post with your comments.

Your similar experiences with gardening sound like they are in the past tense? Or are you still able to spend some time enjoying gardening? It is such a simple, quiet pleasure for us, at this stage of our lives.

We have great anticipation of what we will experience with the coming growing season. When I write the last post for this past season, I'll provide some idea of what we have produced previously. It is nothing like what we hope is coming ...

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Que hermosa publicación, la descripción de las formas para cuidar nuestro planeta, las fotografías muy oportunas, me encanto @roleerob. Le dare resteem, apoyo y te sigo desde ahora.

What a beautiful publication, the description of the ways to take care of our planet, very timely photographs, I loved @roleerob. I will give resteem, support and follow you from now.

Thank you @sacra97, for stopping by and letting me know you found this post to have some value. And for your support!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful start to the new week!

Hello @roleerob. Very informative post about composting. I saw a compost like the one you have in your back yard. I didn't know the name of it. You say it's a YIMBY. I don't know anything about composting and don't practice it.

I can see where it is a good activity to pursue if you're interested in sustainability. Return to the earth and reuse.

I also like your step-by-step composting method given.

Have a great week composting.

Glad you enjoyed it @justclickindiva. Yes, "sustainability" was a problem word for me, but as a Christian man, I now have a different perspective, as I have explained elsewhere in this series of posts.

As for this ...

"Have a great week composting."

... we still have a few inches of snow on the ground. Looking forward to Spring. 😊

Thank you for stopping by and adding value to this post! 👍

A beautiful post. I enjoyed the picture and information @roleerob

It is nice to learn you enjoyed it @marya77. Thank you for stopping by and letting me know.

Gracias por esta publicación. Es una manera de apoyar a otros usuarios y de cuidar a nuestra Madre Tierra. @roleerob. Te sigo desde ahora.

Thanks for this post. It is a way to support other users and take care of our Mother Earth. @roleerob. I follow you from now.I'll follow you.

Thank you very kindly @mllg for stopping by and letting me know you found this post to be of some value to you!

It is a valuable post., @roleerob

Thank you @club12!