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Composting in the desert (AZ)

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8a)

Hi all,

I am so glad I found this group. I am seriously considering trying composting, but I have never done it and don't even know anyone else who does so I am nervous about it. But our soil here (SE Arizona at 4800ft) is seriously bad and I want to be able to amend the soil without having to buy it all the time. I have read a little and I know that you need to add "greens", kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and other stuff, but since I am out here in the desert, we don't have a lot of grass or other "green" stuff to add to the pile unless you count mesquite trimmings and I don't know how quickly those will break down. So I was wondering what do other people in the southwest use. Can I use the old dried mesquite leaves that pile up under the trees? Can I use tumble weeds, or would they just take over the pile? I have some small pine trees, can I add pine needles?

Also, since it is so dry and sometimes really windy here, I figure I should get an enclosed composter. I want to put it fairly close to the house so I will actually use it, but is that a bad idea? Should it be in the sun or in the shade?

Does anyone have a good link for a step-by-step or do's and don'ts? Composting for idiots? LOL


Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8a)


Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

A good one to trot out every so often....but we don't compost here in Texas, we just moved here. It seems like it would be much easier in a hot climate, though.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I LOVE the Marvelous Compost bin- Thanks Carrie, it's been a while.

1- put in shade. or morning sun. PM sun would have to be way too hot there.

2- the things you name (mesquite leaves, pine needles) all make good mulch but are Brown for composting.

There's no getting by that composting is a moist rotting process. You'll need to add moisture with kitchen waste, or other other wet nitrogen source.

What do you generate in kitchen waste? Maybe you should start very small, with kitchen waste and just a small amount of dry stuff . You won't have to be concerned with generating heat. But wait- what are your day and night temps like?

And how tidy are you? Would you want to just put small amounts of kitchen scraps under your exisiting mulch?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

WSell, "they" say that a compost heap can be as "lean" as 20 parts brown to 1 part "green". If true, you could mow or chip woody waste until you had a whole cubic yard, then add just 1.5 cubic feet of greens and have a workable heap.

I tend to have more greens, and the heap cooks faster, but maybe gets a little slimy on the bottomn and "good stuff" leaches out the bottom.

Coffee grounds are "greens" - quite nitrogen-rich! Starbucks or 7-11 may give away pounds and pounds.
Does the municiple waste treatment department give away free Class-A biosolids? Pure gold!

You can hold mositure in the heap b y surrounding part of it with a plastic tarp, or even pavin g stones set on edge will help hold in some moisture.
Save the bags that you used to buy soil in, and line the heap with those!

On problem with desert gardening: iks your soil sandy, and warm or hot much of the year?
The sand gives the microbes lot6s of oxygen, and warmth mjakes them grow faster and eat faster.
They may be able to consume organic matter (compost) faster than you can add it!

Some people turn the raw compost mateirals directly into the soil instead of composting in an above-ground heap. Or use it as top-dressing mulch.

Just beware of burying woody stuff like sawdust or wood chips. As they break down, they CONSUME nitrogen. That com petes with plant roots and it is hard to provide enough N to get any to your plant roots. Compost woody stuff, at least part way, before burying it.

Buty wood chip mulch, on the surface, is great. It can't steal N from plant roots, up on the surface. It holds in water. As it gradually breaks down, organic matter and "humic acids" truickle down into the soil and everyone is happy.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Hey RickCorey_WA,
I'm really not fastidious at all - grew up having horse pucky fights with my buddies, but your
"Does the municiple waste treatment department give away free Class-A biosolids? Pure gold!"
even grosses me out. I need to go show this post to my wife, she will be so proud that I was finally grossed out by something.


Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Class A Biosolids

Class A biosolids contain minute levels of pathogens. To achieve Class A certification, biosolids must undergo heating, composting, digestion or increased pH that reduces pathogens to below detectable levels. Some treatment processes change the composition of the biosolids to a pellet or granular substance, which can be used as a commercial fertilizer. Once these goals are achieved, Class A biosolids can be land applied without any pathogen-related restrictions at the site. Class A biosolids can be bagged and marketed to the public for application to lawns and gardens.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> she will be so proud that I was finally grossed out by something.

Now I am proud! Where is The Sheismeister when we need him? I forget his DG screen name (Paul something?) but he's an engineer at an alcxhemy plant where they turn "municipal waste" into Gardening Gold. He's p;roud of his output.

>> Class A biosolids contain minute levels of pathogens.

No doubt true, but so does city water, doorknobs, air in public places and restaurant food. I don't even want to think about the supermarket produce section! But I wash twice with soap.

My guess would be that Class A biosolids do average higher levels of human pathogens than good restaurants, but I stopped going to what WAS my favorite Chinese restaurant after they gave me really explosive food poisoning. That hasn't yet with anything I put on my compost heap. Althoguh I admit that I eat a really big bowl of hot and sour soup when I go to a restaurant, but have never eaten even one teaspoon from my c ompost heap.

I may be gross, but I'm not THAT dumb!

On the other hand, I KNOW that sewage plants are inspected frequently and honestly. All I know about folod is that the feds were cutting back on inspectors and inspections during recent past administrations.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Now Rick, the treatment "reduces pathogens to below detectable levels." The pathogens on anyone's kitchen counter are detectable! Just interested, not composting right now AND not eating out more than 3-4 times a week.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8a)

LOL thanks for the laughs and the advice. I just bought one of those little kitchen compost buckets to collect greens and we already collect coffee grounds, as we drink at least 1 strong pot a day and I collect my tea bags as well.

I am going to look around to see what composters they have locally and if I can't find anything I will search online. We get too much wind to try doing it on the ground.

Virginia Beach, VA

Commercial composters are pricey, you can make your own.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> AND not eating out more than 3-4 times a week.


I think you're wise to maintain a balanced diet!


Oh, I thought you meant not eating out of the compost heap; more than 3-4 times per week ...
you meant not eating out at restaurants too often! That's smart, too.


Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Boo hiss. ^_^

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I chipped large amount of wood recently with my lawn mower and spread the resulting shreds over my compost heap. As a result, for once it looks tidy and clean.

Of course, on the surface, they stay dry and are not composting at all, so I need to turn it and expose the coffee filters and apple cores and other garbage ... but I always try to hide the ugly bits deep where they will break down faster.

I tried to show off my compost heap to my SO when she visited, but she just looked at me funny and was not interested. She just doesn't share my enthusiasm for compost!

But I don;'t go so far as to make tea from it as some do. I prefer English Breakfast.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)


Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

This is getting to be the most entertaining thread on the site - thank you all for the "tasteful" comments!


(BTW, I am a retired engineer but am NOT the sheismaster that Rick referred to above.)

This message was edited Jul 9, 2012 7:28 AM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I noticed that some people add coffee grounds, molasses, even honey. That's more ingredients than I usually COOK with!

Yesterday I tossed in some tea leaves, then reflected that it had been "cinnamon and spice" tea. IKsn't cinnamon anti-bacterial? I hope I haven't deterred any beneficial bacteria.

I wouldn't wnat to stgray away from the topic: "Composting for Desert".

This message was edited Jul 2, 2012 3:00 PM

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