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Soil and Composting: I completely filled my new composter in an hour - Now what?

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pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

December 27, 2008
3:36 PM

Post #5932624

I got a new tumbling composter for Christmas. Although I initially asked for the biostack, when I went to Smith and Hawkins, the salesperson was quick to point out shortcomings that I would face since
1) I didn't have a concrete area to place the composter on
2) Rodents would be drawn to it
3) It would require more work to mix the items

Based upon this, my husband decided to purchase the backyard tumbler. I noticed that there was a large difference between the two in terms of capacity, but as a complete beginner, I wasn't sure that I would be able to fill either one. Well it took just an hour.

Now, I still have a sizeable amount of leaves left, and kitchen scraps that I would like to put to use. I am debating what I should do with this. The problem that I see with the tumbler or batch composter is
1) If continue to add scraps to this then it wont fully decompose
2) Where would I store the scraps until I could use them

I guess what I am questioning now is should I just go ahead and purchase a second larger composter or is it possible to have some type of holding bins that wont become stinky until my compost has been completed. I would probably not get a second small tumbling composter.

I never expected to have this full within an hour!

Thumbnail by pennefeather
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graceful_garden
Hahira, GA
(Zone 8b)

December 27, 2008
10:38 PM

Post #5933894

WOW!! Pennefeather, that's QUICK!!- I have the larger, double-sided tumbler, and fill one side while harvesting from the other. I've only this year really begun composting in earnest, and saving every compostable scrap from the kitchen, and collecting coffee grounds from a local shop. (Most of these go into a "lasagne" bed I am working on). I would recommend that you stop adding scraps for a time to let it compost; you're correct that you'd have chunks of un-composted scraps if you don't. The main thing I failed to do the first couple of years was water it! Here in South GA, especially in summer, our insane heat cooked all the moisture out - I had to water almost daily this past summer to keep it cooking! I think I'm getting the hang of the basics, now! I'm pretty sure if it's kept in full sun, turned often (every day or two), and kept moist, it will compost pretty quickly. As far as keeping your scraps..? Other than making a "lasagne" planting bed, which would be PERMANENT, not temporary, I don't know. Maybe a more experienced composter can help! Happy Composting! Samantha
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

December 28, 2008
2:14 PM

Post #5935567

I think your salesperson was misinformed on composting. My compost bins have sat on the ground for 20 years with good results. Having a concrete floor would be counterproductive in that soil organisms wouldn't be present there and moisture can't sink into concrete. Concrete on the bottom would work, but soil underfoot is preferable. It has worked well for me for 20 years.

Good luck with your tumbler. I've never used one, only bins for many years. I currently have 2 Biostacks which I like a lot.

Karen
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

December 28, 2008
8:40 PM

Post #5936646

Karen,
I just got back from Smith and Hawkens because I wanted to take a second look at the Biostack. I think that I can handle the lack of a floor on it, and can definitely see the advantage in having it open to worm colonies. I still have a question, and you would be a great person to answer this.

How do you get the compost out of the biostack? If you are continually putting more items in, the finished product should fall to the bottom, but there is no door to scoop it out. If you are aggessive, then you are regularly aerating the pile, in which case, the finished compost wouldn't be at the bottom, but mixed in the pile. So, how do you get to the finished product?
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

December 28, 2008
10:44 PM

Post #5937031

pennefeather: You are absolutely correct. In any compost- be it an open pile, a pallet bin, a tumbler, or any other method- at some point you have to stop adding to it. Then, just let it sit and finish until it is as you like it for use in your garden. This is true of your tumbler, too.

I have 2 Biostacks for this reason. I sort of use them in sequence. First, I don't really compost in winter simply because I don't WANT to be out there in zero degree temps. So for me, composting is essentially a 3 season job. Right now I have 2 bins full of materials, the 1 I filled first is composted with only straw identifiable. I will let that sit all winter and spread it in spring. The 2nd bin I started later and it's materials are not yet broken down, might not be by spring. As I worked it all summer, stuff that looked about finished was tossed into bin #1. I flip it every week or two. If that is the case, the second bin will most likely be left to sit for a little longer period.

In a Biostack the finished product is not necessarily in the very bottom. I flip stuff into the "maturing" bin as it looks finished, other material is left in the active, hot compost bin. It gets flipped like this:
1. Remove top tier, place it next to the existing bin in it's own new spot, where it will now form the bottom tier. Wilth a fork, flip the contents from the top of the existing stack into the tier you just placed on the ground in the new spot. As it fills, remove tier 2 from the old stack, put on top of the new stack you started with and fill that by the forkful, finish with the last tier and fill. Move stuff previously near sides to center. Add new material as I flip, sometimes it's on top, sometimes bottom, wherever. I'm not picky about it. As you rebuild, adjust the moisture, adding water if necessary. Then, I don't touch the pile. If I have yard waste to add, I just throw it on top. I don't compost a lot of food waste because of critter problems, but if I do add them, I cover with carbons. After flipping the whole thing, I monitor temp which usually will heat to 140-160 degrees. As long as it's hot, it's active, and I don't disturb it. After the temp falls to about 100, I flip again, turning one tier at a time, adding new material, adjusting moisture, etc. Repeat the process: flip, heat, cool, flip, heat, cool, add, etc.

Your compost can be considered "finished" when it is to your liking. If you want it to be totally broken down, unable to identify anything in there, you have to stop adding at some point and let it sit. For this reason, it's good to have a second bin. Three bin systems are very popular, managed about the same.

Hope this helps, my description might be pretty confusing as I re-read. Did it make sense to you? Really, the Biostack concept is totally different from those solid bins with a door at the bottom. I find the Biostack much easier to manage and far more efficient. (I had a bin with door at the bottom for about 20 years, don't ever want that kind back!)

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

December 29, 2008
1:50 AM

Post #5937814

Pennefeather, you will have a great opportunity for comparison between the results of using a compost tumbler, and a Biostack. I look forward to hearing your observation of the results.
Karen has done an EXCELLENT job above of describing how the method works of tossing your compost in the three-tier Biostack compost bin. It's amazing how quickly, relatively speaking, that the Biostack creates useable compost. After some years of composting, I now have five bins, which is maybe overkill--but they are full of leaves, grass, clippings, and kitchen wastes, waiting for Spring to unfreeze them. Meanwhile I know that the wonderful process is continuing, even in the winter.

pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

December 29, 2008
3:43 AM

Post #5938234

Firstly, Karen, thank you for the explanation. I can certainly understand the need for one than one bin.

CapeCodGardener, OH My GOODNESS - 5 bins! That's incredible, but it is going to feel so good come spring and summer. I don't think that I would ever be able to support so many, but I could see myself with two or three in the future. We have only have a few trees, but they do produce a good amount of leaves. If I had decided to do this in the fall, I probably could have filled five with all the leaves my neighbors had.

I think that I am going to purchase one of the biostacks this week, and see how this works out. I'm a little leary of investing so much when I don't honestly know how well I will be at pursuing this long term. While I think that it is a great resource, I have to admit to being overworked between family and work. Being in the garden is usually relaxing to me - even when I am doing back breaking work, but I don't like gardening in cold weather.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

December 29, 2008
1:55 PM

Post #5939084

I agree, I hate cold and I pretty much ignore the compost thru Dec, Jan, and Feb.

Flipping the compost is hard work, but much easier with biostack than with the solid bins with doors at the bottom. And doing it this way gives much better aeration and moisture control, therefore better results than just trying to get a shovel into bottom doors. At least, it works a whole lot better for me. I'm only 5'3", 56 years old, and female, so you know I'm not all that strong. Good exercise, though, flipping compost.

I really think you will like using the Biostack.

Karen
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

December 31, 2008
9:14 PM

Post #5948745

Just got home with my new Biostack from Smith and Hawkins. One of the guys that previously tried to talk me out of it was there, but didn't say boo.

I'm starting the new year with a new compost pile. I spied several bags of leaves just a couple of blocks away from the house that I will be picking up tomorrow!
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

January 1, 2009
12:30 AM

Post #5949508

Hope you like it, I really think that you will. It works so very well. It is a pretty $$$ investment, but I think it should last for a long time.

Karen
garden_mermaid
San Francisco Bay Ar, CA
(Zone 9b)

January 1, 2009
2:13 AM

Post #5949979

pennefeather, I think you will like the Biostacks better than the tumbler. We have ~10 Biostacks in our community garden. When I lived in the Sierras, my mom and I just had a fir strip holding pen for the compost. We used that for many years without any rodent/critter problems, then one year found all our worms were missing since something had tunneled up underneath and feasted during the snow season. This was remedied by putting down a weldwire screen at the bottom. In the unlikely event that you do find a tunnel leading to the bottom of your Biostack, just put some mesh or chicken wire on the bottom and your problem will be solved.
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

January 5, 2009
1:36 AM

Post #5967071

I know that I am still not taking full advantage of my biostack. I haven't taken the layers off and moved it over yet, but I am using a garden fork to aerate my pile. It's only been a little while, but I can see how things have begun to settle, and the pile is definitely lower.

I decided that I needed to add some more leaves today, and went to a house a few blocks away that had bags of leaves in their front yard, and asked if I could have some. I think that the woman that opened the door was surprised when I asked, but she was happy to get rid of them. I explained to her that I didn't want to to find some stranger out there picking through her bags, and wondering what I was doing.

When my husband asked me where I was going as I left, I was too embaressed to say that I was going to pick up some one's leaves. I did tell him when I returned - he just shook his head and sighed. I then stood in the semidarkness (it was almost 5:00 when I left to get the leaves) crushing leaves in my hand, and putting them in the composter. I have three large bags, so I will try to add the rest over the weekend, when I have some light.

He thinks that I am overdoing it now. Wait till I tell him that I am researching vermicomposting too!
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

January 5, 2009
2:07 AM

Post #5967177

Ask him to withhold judgment until the growing season.
phuggins
Fairmont, WV
(Zone 6a)

January 6, 2009
1:31 PM

Post #5972526

Pay no attention to the eyerolling husband, I'm sure he has his own obsessive hobbies. :) And as PuddlePirate said, he'll probably change his tune come harvest season. My DH still cheerfully maintains that I'm a nut, but every year he asks me to plant more veggies. :) Come play with us here at DG, many of us can commisserate (sp?) about spouses who just don't understand, poor things.

BTW my compost piles are simply contained within a 3' diameter/4' tall ring of welded wire, since I'm too cheap to buy half a dozen composters. :) I toss in a more or less equal amount of greens and browns and ignore them during the winter (except to add veggie scraps). I usually water them with stored rainwater and flip them once or twice during the growing season and voila, compost. It's not very fast, but it's low maintenance. The cool thing about compost is that you can be very rigorous about its creation and maintenance, or you can just toss selected stuff in a pile, depending on your personal preference. It's hard to screw up compost. :)
Darlacooper
Jacksonville, FL
(Zone 9a)

January 6, 2009
10:30 PM

Post #5974785

I just run over my leaves with the lawn mower. Works much faster and is easier on the hands. I raided my father in laws front yard around Christmas and snatched 6 really big bags. I thinks I'm going to spread them in a new bed and put a good layer of composted horse manure on top. Come spring I'll rototill it in.
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

January 11, 2009
3:58 AM

Post #5991296

Today was the first time that I turned my pile over since Sunday night. I was pleasantly surprised to see steam coming out. It looks like it is heating up! I don't have a thermometer, so I don't know how warm it was. Then I ending up adding quite a bit more leaves, as well as some coffee grounds.

It was wonderful to actually see that the pile was warming up. While I have read about it in theorey, it is different to actually see it happening - kind of like reading about delivering a baby, and actually having one.

PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

January 11, 2009
5:49 AM

Post #5991594

Isn't it satisfying to see that steam? I wish it wasn't so cold here in NE Ohio, but at least I can vicariously enjoy your success, pennefeather.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

January 11, 2009
12:46 PM

Post #5991864

Pennefeather: Did you flip the whole thing, moving the bin to another spot? Did you like the way the Biostack works for this? I think it's design makes the process much easier because you don't have to lift each fork full so high to move it.

I never could flip the whole thing when I had a solid side bin with the doors at the bottom. I have a bucket of UCGs in my garage to add but haven't gotten them out there yet. In winter, it takes a lot to get me outside in the cold.

Karen
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

January 11, 2009
1:08 PM

Post #5991889

Karen,

I still haven't flipped the layers. First of all, it was too cold to stay outside for long. (I did buy some Atlast insulated gloves yesterday afternoon though - I can't wait to use them since I hands were frozen by the time I finished the compost yesterday morning). Secondly, I was concerned that if I was too rigorous in my aeration, I might cool things down too much.

I still think that I may have overdid it just because I added a lot of extra leaves, but I also put in the coffe grounds to balance it.

It was actually kind of funny, the second layer of the Biostack came apart, so I ended up taking off the second layer, and praying that the compost didn't spill all over the ground. Then I took the third layer, and put in on top of the first one. I had to keep tucking the compost in. Once that was together, I was able to fix the original second layer and put it on top. I do have room next to the compost so that I could actually flip the layers. If you could reassure me Karen that it would cause it to lose a ton of heat, I will try it out next time with my new gloves.

Pirate, I want you to know that you were my inspiration for this, since you posted your message about heating up a compost around the time that I got my first new composter.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

January 11, 2009
3:04 PM

Post #5992162

I don't flip mine in winter either, too cold for me. We'll probably start to see a few warmer days in late February and then I'll get out there and flip both bins.

Often flipping it will actually reheat the compost due to increase air and, if used, moisture. As long as yours is steaming though, it's at least warm and actively composting so I wouldn't flip it either.

Do you have a compost thermometer? Not at all necessary but kind of a fun toy to have. If my bin hasn't been flipped in a while, I check the temp before the flip and a day or two later. Often the flip alone is enough to reheat my cooled-off compost. But if the temp is considerably warmer than the air temp I know it's working OK, so I don't flip it until the temp drops.

Karen
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

March 9, 2009
3:21 AM

Post #6240643

This is my biostack update. I flipped the layers for the first time on Saturday. The only reason that I did this was that in my regularly vigorous "forking" of the compost, I managed to totally dislocate the middle section of the composter, and was forced to empty it in order to fix it.

There was one real advantage to going through all the compost, I could see that the lower layer was really disintergrating. All though I was going through it regularly, apparently, I wasn't really getting to the bottom. The bottom had very few leaves that I could recognize. The compost was mostly dark material. In the middle, and top, there were quite a few leaves, but there was still a good mixture of dark compost. Considering that I started this just after Christmas, I was very pleased.

I also managed to score 10 bags of leaves from my neighbors today, as they were cleaning their yard. They were outside raking leaves when I came home from church. I asked them if they wouldn't mind giving me a few bags when they were done. It turns out that they were just dumping them in the back of their property to get rid of them. When I came out of the house again an hour later, the bags were sitting in my driveway.

My next project is the find a decent leaf shredder. I have over a dozen bags of leaves hanging out in my yard now. I don't want to add any more to the biostack, until I get late April, because I want the current batch to continue to cook. My goal is to try to do the 6 - 8 week composting that some one else mentioned on another thread. If I shred everything, that will vastly improve my time to usable compost. I'm planning to sift through my material in April, and take what I can, and start the cycle over again.

Karen, the compost in the biostack is definitely ahead of the tumbling composter. I still have lots of brown leaves in the tumbler.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

March 9, 2009
11:03 AM

Post #6241321

Did you "flip" the whole batch with your fork? Even if you did that without adding any new materials, it might well reheat again just from the additional air it receives. I've checked with my thermometer, and within a day or 2 the temp usually rises after flipping. After it cools, you can flip again if you're trying to speed it up. As long as you don't add any new materials, it will eventually stop heating when flipped. At that point I often use it and start a new batch in that bin.

This is the reason I like the Biostack so well. I honestly can't mix a whole bin adequately from above, so it doesn't get adequate air. The Biostack eliminates that problem.

I flipped one of my bins on Saturday while the weather was warm. It's pretty nice with only straw and a few leaves still recognizable, and I'll be spreading the contents of 2 full bins very soon. I'll apply it as a top mulch, an inch or two thick. It's just under 2 cubic yards, so it should cover a pretty large area. Several flower beds, I hope. Straw takes a looong time to break down for me, so I use the compost in that state.

Karen

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