Monday, October 1, 2012

Hot Composting

Never look a gift horse (or cow!) in the mouth.  This old saying came to mind when Dave came round with the gift of a few bags of cow poo - ( I had tempted him with rainbow chard and basil seedlings).  I was about to make a HOT COMPOST pile and this was just what I needed?

"My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that let's you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap". Bette Midler

HOT COMPOSTING is all about striking it rich in your own backyard! It's all about using what you have to make the best conditioner for your soil to give you the healthiest plants -  and that means healthier for you - making sense yet?

HOW MUCH WASTE does your home and garden produce?  Do you know that a lot of this could be put to good use as vital components of a compost heap?  Heap - WEEP! - that's what I want to do when I see my neighbours raking up leaves and putting them in the garbage; tossing their lawn clippings in the bin; seeing green waste prunings poking out of the top of their wheelie bins etc. etc................................

"Under Mpu Dibiaja's tutelage, Kusuma Sari learned that farming was the management of life and death. She knew that life's richest food is death, and understood the usefulness of discarded things: the peels of a mound of garlic, the carcass of a humming bird, the wastes of the stable and expired offerings.  Such things she put back into the earth with the same cheer as that with which she cut down the ripe baggage of bananas or bid permission from a tree to harvest its fruit and flowers.  Kusuma Saris learned early to appreciate the ingenuity of nature"  
The Painted Alphabet, Diana Darling (A wonderful book I read while working in Bali)

GARDENERS NEVER HAVE ENOUGH COMPOST - this is the life blood of good gardening - so let's roll our sleeves up and get down to it.  You make this in ONE GO - so get the mower ready, and all the garden waste that you can find.


1.  WHAT YOU NEED TO GET YOU GOING: 1.  A frame - I made this from old timber pallets held in place with some metal star pickets. 2. Flossie - the goddess of composting.
THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM THE COLD COMPOSTING BIN METHOD.  We are going to make something that is real SOIL FOOD and not just a SOIL CONDITIONER.

2.  THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COLD COMPOSTING AND HOT COMPOSTING.  When you make compost in a bin like this it is really only useful as a soil conditioner.  WHY - because to break it down it uses the nitrogen contained in compost scraps - this depletes it of most of its available nitrogen - a valuable plant nutrient.  HOT COMPOSTING uses nitrogen from the air to activate the heap and therefore RETAINING much of the valuable nitrogen.
3.  RULE NUMBER ONE for HOT COMPOSTING - the finer the components, the hotter the pile will get, and the quicker it will break down.  So here we have Dave's cow poo - the pats were so dry they were really only good enough for playing frisbee.  A moment of divine inspiration came to me and I decided to mow them up.  Normally I would soak them in water to make a slurry - but I was short of time and water (it hasn't rained for ten weeks).  ANY KIND OF MANURE or URINE acts as a COMPOST ACTIVATOR - it fires it up!!  (I did get covered in clouds of bull dust, but I figured it was worth it)
FACT:  Urine is extremely high in nitrogen and therefore too valuable to flush down the toilet.  Use it to activate your compost heap!!  IT'S FREE!!!


4.  RULE NUMBER TWO - DON'T THROW IT AWAY - mow it up to put in the compost.  Before I mow,  I go around and do any weeding and pruning that's needed, then it gets chomped by the mower (better than ending up in the tip?!)  This makes the perfect combination of carbon to nitrogen - just right for your compost.
5. RULE NUMBER THREE - SAVE YOUR BACK FOR SALSA DANCING!.  Compost piles need air, and most books will tell you to 'turn them'.  You can save yourself the effort by putting a couple of perforated pipes in the middle of pile.  In Africa I have seen them replicate this by building the pile around several bamboo poles and periodically wiggling them.

6.  RULE NUMBER FOUR - LAYER, LAYER, LAYER.  Just think 'lasagne' and you will get it.  For hot composting you need about 50% GREEN stuff (fresh lawn clippings, animal manures, green waste, comfrey, green weeds, kitchen scraps, seaweed) to BROWN (dry grass, straw, shredded paper, dry leaves, wood ash).  Repeat the layers and make sure to WATER EACH LAYER.

7.  RULE NUMBER FIVE - Keep going until the pile is at least one metre square. It needs to be this big to work - to create enough heat so that the heap breaks down and kills any weed seeds.  CONVENTIONAL HEAPS DO NOT DO THIS and you cannot put seeding and rooting weeds in them.

Flossie, being unusually modest, working her composting magic!
8.  RULE NUMBER SIX - Cover the pile and leave it for six to 12 weeks.  IT WILL GET HOT - this is the energy being created by the activity of all the micro-organisms - it will gradually loose heat as   it breaks down and this activity decreases (then the worms take over!)

The compost is ready when it looks like this - happy days!
This kind of heap is ideal for the backyard gardener.  If you have land and lots of waste go to Hot Composting with Dave to see how to do it!

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