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Soil and Composting: crushed lobster shells, lots of straw

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sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

August 28, 2010
5:23 PM

Post #8067608

Two questions here. Does anyone have experience composting lobster shells? I have about a pound of crushed lobster shells that have been steamed, boiled, and baked. According to Rodales, lobster has a good amount of phosphorus. I want to compost it in my next 3'x3'x3' pile. Are alfalfa pellets an economical nitrogen source 'hot' enough to breakdown straw bales? Thanks.
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

August 30, 2010
7:01 AM

Post #8070288

Straw bales will rot down in place in about a year without any help here in North Central Pennsylvania Zone 5/4. Yes you can add the alfalfa pellets. Plain green yard grass will do a fine job. Don't overlook fish parts if you are on the shore. I have a garden blender for small amounts of grinding the more difficult goodies that are available. It cost me five bucks at a yard sale. This is only for small batches of household waste. Make a slurry and add it to the pile from the bottom up to about half way in a four foot pile. Rarely if ever will odor be a problem.

Lobster shells will be very slow to break down. It took the better part of two to three years for me to break down blue claw crabs. Some organic sites offer crab meal which works better. Your planned pile is about a foot short of being very good. Work up to 4 X 4 X 4 for better results.

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

August 31, 2010
5:14 AM

Post #8072185

A local nursery now sells here, bags of crushed crab shell. Literature says the shell prmotes your populaltion of good soil orgs that feed on other thigns with shells--in garden that would be insects in the soil.
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

August 31, 2010
7:03 AM

Post #8072357

Yes...I was not very clear. Crab shells finely ground are very good. Because they breakdown slowly they can increase drainage. If fine enough the earthworms eat them and the circle of organic goodness is just about perfect when anything comes from the sea and also passes through an earth worm. Almost anything from the sea is loaded with trace minerals.

When living in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area I picked up crab shells from a local eatery. The waste at that point also has nitrogen of merit. I just had to be carefull to flush and rinse them well to clear the salt from them. Stated again they should go in the bottom or lower third of the pile at least for the first placement. My neighbors cats did not bother my efforts when I took my own advise about pile placement.
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

September 7, 2010
4:37 PM

Post #8085981

Thanks. My crushed lobster shells do not taste salty, but I may rinse them again and are virtually meat free. And looking over my notes I will need to build it up to 4 x 4 x4', not a problem as I have about 7 bales already half rotted. I save up my kitchen veggy scraps, too. Composting has turned out to be a fun way to take the trash out!

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

September 28, 2010
10:39 PM

Post #8127076

Docgipe,

You said:
"I have a garden blender for small amounts of grinding the more difficult goodies that are available. It cost me five bucks at a yard sale."

What is that like? A Waring blender? Gears or grinding wheels?

Corey
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

September 29, 2010
6:23 AM

Post #8127325

Cory...It is one of the early upright food processors best used to make a milk shake. The four blades are in the bottom and will knock nearly anything into a slurry or rough grade ground meals.

One of my horrible grinds involves the head and waste from cleaning of my pan fish when I catch a few. When I make a grind like this I simply make a shallow trench and pour it in. I have never had any cat problems worth mentioning.

Even today in reduced activity due to health I grind up some tea making bases, dump in five gallons of water and surface apply it the same day or a few days later. Aging happens in the soil. It just takes longer.

This is simply a way to make use of a little waste that might hit the garbage can had I not come up with the five dollar processor.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

September 29, 2010
10:35 AM

Post #8127721

You just gave me another reason to haunt the Goodwill store. Good idea!

Corey
patti47
Lynnwood, WA
(Zone 7a)

December 21, 2010
9:33 AM

Post #8270685

As much as I liked my expensive Vitamix in the kitchen it has been converted to compost work. All my kitchen scraps, including daily avocado pits, go in there and get ground up when it is full. Then I pour it into sealable, large Tupperware containers with Bokashi, which I have just been introduced to, and after 2 weeks fermenting under the sink, they will be poured into the garden. I'll scoop some leaves out of the way, empty the containers, and cover up with leaves, about 6 inches deep.
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

December 21, 2010
6:55 PM

Post #8271647

The above is yet another way to build soil for better plants and then better produce any way it can be evaluated. The nice thing about it the system produces the fine quality finished product without expensive supporting equipment.
patti47
Lynnwood, WA
(Zone 7a)

December 22, 2010
5:45 AM

Post #8272157

I spent many years making compost piles that required huge amounts of labor to turn. I read all I could find about temperature and proper carbon/nitrogen ratios. Turning it required an open space to turn it to. A good system required a "waiting" green pile and a "waiting" brown pile from which to assemble a new pile. All of this took up a good amount of space. The finished pile had to then be moved to where it was needed. I never felt that I was using nature's power as well as I could. So eventually I turned to composting in place, which is what I call my current method. It is still not perfected and it is not labor free but when I walk into the garden with my gift for the soil I feel a connection I didn't before. It's similar to feeding pets. I don't literally call to my babies the worms and microorganisms, but they are in my thoughts. This is still a system in progress. I trust my "babies" to make the most of it.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

December 22, 2010
8:26 AM

Post #8272349

In the summer months, I sometimes dig a hole and empty the kitchen compost bucket into it. The stuff breaks down very quickly. I don't do this in the winter, 'cause my dog will dig it up!
Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 23, 2010
3:19 PM

Post #8274193

I have about a ton of leafs, grass and some certified straw sitting on the lower, (future) garden area. Next Spring I plan to just move it aside with a mini trackhoe in preperation for bringing in about 12 cubic yards of course sand to mix with the rock & clay that's there now. I will mix the sand & clay together in pile and strain out the rocks. Then I will mix in the organic material plus Doctor Earth 4-4-4, Peat moss and acidified cotton boll compost. Probably I will put copious amounts of alfalfa tea on it to really get things cooking. I will let it mellow over the Winter and in the Spring I should be ready to plant my new orchard. Hooty Hoo! :).

A note for all, I live in the western US so phosphorous & low pH are not problems. I believe it is far easier to raise an acidic soil pH than to lower a base soils pH. Pulverised or powdered lobster shells should be an excellent way to gently control an acidic soil pH.

I have found that mixing raw garden material into the soil works very well, but is very temperature dependent. Most of our beneficial bacteria, fungus, michorizae and earthworms do best in a moderate temperature environment.

Sonny

This message was edited Dec 23, 2010 4:33 PM

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

December 24, 2010
10:58 AM

Post #8275309

I was told by a local Agricultural Extention Agent that mixing sand with our NC clay soil will produce cement!

Your experience may differ.
JoParrott
Richland, WA
(Zone 7b)

December 24, 2010
11:07 AM

Post #8275317

Hi- I just came upon this thread, and very timely! It is dungeness crab season here- last week I bought 8 lovelies, and picked them all out, simmered the shells and froze all the meat packed in the seasoned broth for later. I hated thinking of wasting all the shells, so I got out my Vitamix extra container which I use for compost- added shells to the top, a little water, and wizzed away- I now have a dutch oven full of finely ground shells. As soon as the snow goes away a bit I will go dig holes and put the mix in the garden. At the moment it is on the bach porch-frozen, so there's no hurry. My worms should love it whenever they come up in the spring!
TX_gardener
Brady, TX
(Zone 8a)

December 24, 2010
11:12 AM

Post #8275323

Honeybee, sand + soil = cement is correct, esp. a fine sand like sandbox. Larger 'grit' sand would be much better and would still need to be added in large amounts.
Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 24, 2010
8:51 PM

Post #8275873

Honeybee & TX_gardener,

When I mix clay & sand together I first run the native dirt which consists of clay & rock through a two stage strainer when the dirt is dry. I add 42% coarse sand to 28% clay plus 15% peat moss and 15% acidified cotton boll compost. This is a very friable mix.

If you dug in sand directly to clay you probably would end up with cement becuase you can't get a true humogonous mix. The dry clay has been sifted through quarter inch mesh after dropping several feet so the clay is loose and distinct before it is mixed with the sand and organic matter.

Picture below of the strainer which removes all rocks over one quarter inch and breaks up dirt.

Sonny

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
Click the image for an enlarged view.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

December 25, 2010
6:14 AM

Post #8276132

I purchase crab shell in a big bucket each year from Worms Way.

http://www.wormsway.com/detail.aspx?t=prod&sku=NHC410
patti47
Lynnwood, WA
(Zone 7a)

December 25, 2010
6:36 AM

Post #8276167

Impressive system you have there Pew
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

December 25, 2010
7:02 AM

Post #8276193

All the good things are happening here. Admittedly I see only perhaps a beginning.

As of this day in time all good practices should certainly include Mycorrhiza and some source of trace minerals. Add this to the above soil prep...stand back and watch it outgrow all your neighbors.

Rule of thumb is that gardens and flower beds need ENDO while trees and foundation plantings need ECTO Mycorrhiza. Even potted plants benefit from these two items I believe more so than from all other single items.
TX_gardener
Brady, TX
(Zone 8a)

December 25, 2010
7:29 AM

Post #8276225

Sonny, I like your system. Is there a thread where you explain the construction? Like, what's the 'filter' on that top rack, what's the whole system sitting on (that black-looking rubber)?

Also, you said "I add 42% coarse sand to 28% clay plus 15% peat moss and 15% acidified cotton boll compost." How do you measure to arrive at these percentages? And is it 'critical' to be exact on the measurements?

This message was edited Dec 25, 2010 9:51 AM
Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
8:31 AM

Post #8276299

I will post a couple of other pictures.

The top panel is an old steel grate, the angled panel below is quarter inch hardware cloth, (wire screen). The bottom panel can be raised and lowered as needed, the bottom panel is held in place with quarter inch bolts in 5/16 inch holes so that they are loose fitting.

You throw shovel fulls of dirt on the steel grate and it catches most of the rocks and dirt clods. The dirt then falls to the lower grate where smaller rocks roll down the slope and end up in a pile at your feet while the pulverised clay ends up below the lower panel. The rocks that roll off the lower panel are usually pretty good for use on foot paths!

When the top grate becomes clogged with dirt clods and rocks, you take a flat nose shovel, (use it upside down) and scrape it back and forth across the upper grate and then pick off the rocks from the upper grate and throw them in a wheel barrow.

When the area below the lower starainer is filled with clay sand, you just pivot up the lower strainer and pin it in place with a couple of loose bolts and pull the whole contraption forward. See picture for the contraption in the "up" position.

If you mix sand and clay in a 50/50 mix you will surely end up with concrete. That's why I added lots of sand and organic matter. When I mix the soil I just count off the number of shovel scoops, create a layer of the mix that consists of sand, clay, peat moss, compost, green sand & Dr. Earth 4-4-4 organic fertilizer, (Contains endo & ecto michorazae, bacteria, fungus and all the other goodies that are good for creating soil). Then I run a rototiller over the layer which is usually about six inches thick. After about three or four layers I have a great garden bed that has good water retention, with good drainage, good permeability for oxygen and the basic start for a soil with good tilthe. This Spring I actually plan to buy a pound or two of earthworms in order to get things moving along.

When doing this I have found that it is much better to rip the junk dirt out and pile it up off to the side of the new bed using a mini trackhoe!

The black rubber is the asphalt driveway.

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
8:55 AM

Post #8276321

This will give you an idea of the project I finished up last summer.

The picture shows my excavation between a stormwater retention basin & the sidewalk. Before, it was just a three foot strip of very hard rock & clay that dropped off into the basin. I dug down two feet, (I found the gas main!), sifted the native dirt and threw it up on the sidewalk, ( you can see it on the sidewalk waiting to be mixed), put in a retaining wall, mixed my soil and now I have a 10' X 24' terraced garden bed.

I did all of this by hand because previous landscaping prevented me from using heavy equipment. After all is said and done I moved 76,000 lbs. of material by hand. I also found out what bursitis is! LOL? :(

I plan on planting veggies in this area until I can work on the lower garden area which is about 30' X 60'. That is where the new orchard and veggie garden will go. Fortunately I will be able to bring in a mini track hoe which will make a huge difference in the amount of work! If your dirt is already piled up it so much easier to just shovel it on to the strainer than having to use a pick & shovel at ground level.

Sonny

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
9:03 AM

Post #8276326

Here is the 10 cubic yard pile of "reject concrete sand" waiting to be used in the mix. This was a great option because it was only $8.00 a cubic yard. The gravel pit didn't tell me about this coarse sand which doesn't have the necessary range of particle sizes for use in concrete, and it is not consistent enough for mason's sand. Both the concrete & mason's sand run about $30.00 a cubic yard. A contractor friend told me about this because he used it on another project.

sonny

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
9:11 AM

Post #8276330

Here is a picture of the finished teraced garden bed. I am letting it sit over the winter. The "blonde" look to the soil is caused by deteriorated alfalfa pellets that I spread on the top of the soil mix in order to help innoculate the soil and kick start the soil biology.

Sonny

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
9:18 AM

Post #8276333

Here is a picture of what I started with on my project. A small weed infested strip of very hard clay & rock between the stormwater basin and the sidewalk.

In the background of the picture you can see the lower garden area on the end of the of the stormwater basin. Notice the compost piles which will be incorporated into the soil mix.

Sonny

This message was edited Dec 25, 2010 10:22 AM

Thumbnail by Pewjumper
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TX_gardener
Brady, TX
(Zone 8a)

December 25, 2010
9:21 AM

Post #8276335

There's a possibility of moving to a different location where I will need to clear out existing flowerbeds and add/improve soil so I'm really interested in what you've worked on.
What I've done in my current location was accomplished on a much smaller scale than what you've done -- using small individual sifters (15" x 15") of 1/4 and 1/2 meshes, and buckets, tubs, etc. for clearing old soil and mixing new, etc. No longer have my Mantis tiller and, truthfully, using it caused some problems by stirring up weed and grass roots which began a whole new crop, so I shovel and rake and mix! I don't have local access to bulk soil, amendments, etc. except for a gravel pit and when I got a small load of gravel I sifted out the bigger stuff (1/2 mesh) to use for mulching in a cactus bed and added the smaller (1/4 mesh) to the planting bed. But any/all soil mixing I've done hasn't been measured in percentages, just mixing and checking how it "clumps" -- all of this to say I've not been very precise or scientific...
Mary
patti47
Lynnwood, WA
(Zone 7a)

December 25, 2010
9:44 AM

Post #8276355

My most admiring kudos to you Pew!
Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
9:49 AM

Post #8276360

Mary,

Actually by giving your soil mix the hand test you are utilizing some of most advanced insturments known to man! There is no lab "tests" that I know of that can replace your experience and the awesome sensors that God created; touch, sight, smell even the sound soil makes when you squeeze it in your hand!

I must admit that my soil mix feels & sounds a little "gritty". So I will probably adjust it a little bit when I start on the lower garden area next year.

When I mixed soil for my five wine barrels I just figured out what kind of mix I wanted and made a pile in the street and just mixed it up on the hard asphalt. This gave me lots of room to work and a nice easy surface to work on. I just loaded it into the wheel barrow and transfered the mix to the wine barrels.

It will be interesting to see what the lab says about my soil compared to the results from before I started my project.

As far as stiring up weed seeds, it can be a real problem. we have a fair amount of thistle seeds laying dormant. When I start a new bed, I try to fertilize and water heavily which forces weed seeds to germinate. Along with the fertilizer I usually scratch in a lot of corn glutten which will prevent many weeds from making a transition from germenation to growth stage, thus killing many weeds. The corn glutten breaks down releasing nitogen at a 9-0-0 ratio. Anything that persists I hoe or pull. If the weeds are overwhelming then I may consider using Round Up.

A picture of the retaining wall from across part of the pit. I have planted Russian Sage at the base of the retaining wall to help with erosion control. It seems like the perfect place for the right plant. A tough, sunny, hot place where it will be difficult for Russian Sage with its extensive root system to escape from.

Sonny

This message was edited Dec 25, 2010 11:00 AM

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Pewjumper
Glenwood Springs, CO
(Zone 5b)

December 25, 2010
10:10 AM

Post #8276388

Patti47,

Thanks for the compliment!

Although my project has caused a minor problem with some of the neighbors. The ladies get garden envy and their husbands end up with a major project! ;) LOL

My landscaping and gardening work is aimed at ending up with something you may see in Sunset Magazine. A place that is relatively easy to take care of but provides immense enjoyment.

Sonny
docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

December 25, 2010
1:39 PM

Post #8276564

Indeed the building of existing soil is well underway here. Most of we Easterners have no idea of which you speak and the base conditions from which you started.
Keep up the year by year build along the lines you are already practicing any you will be more than pleased with the improvement. A cover crop for your winters will add much for your program if you are not now doing cover crops.

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