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Compost Happens (Part 5)

BioBag Employee Sharpens the Saw

Sandwiched in between Earth Day last week and International Composting Awareness week next week, I thought it would be perfect timing to conclude the 5 Part Series of Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw with, Part 5 – Identifying finished compost and how to apply it correctly.
Finished Compost
Now that you are a composting guru from reading Parts 1 – 4 as well as getting hands-on experience with the process which included learning all about composting, identifying compost’s resident creatures, finding the ideal location and assembling your compost pile. I’m also sure you have been adding proportional brown/green organics to it for months, as well as turning the pile and monitoring its progress. So, how can you tell when it is finally ready?

Here are some simple tips that let you know all your hard work, and the efforts of the microbes, have paid off.

Ding! Compost is Done!

The compost should be ready to use after 1 – 12 months, depending on the thoroughness of your management and how finely the pieces of organics were shredded when added to the pile.

The compost pile isn’t generating a substantial amount of heat as it did during the most active cycle.

The material will look dark, will be crumbly, fairly dry and have an earthly odor. You shouldn’t have any recognizable organics.

Where to put It, What to do with it?

Depending on the intended use, the compost can be put through a ½ inch screen before using. The larger particles can be returned to the pile for further decomposition if needed.

Soil Amendment: The compost can be worked into the garden soil adding beneficial nutrients. Do this by adding a layer of 1 – 3 inches. The compost also increases a sandy’s soil ability to retain moisture, improves drainage of clayey soil, increases biological activity of earthworms, reduces the adverse effect of excessive acidity and allows the plant to hold more nutrients for longer periods of time.

Potting Mix: Compost can be blended with perlite, soil, sand and other potting materials to make a great potting mix for your plants.

Mulch: Compost as mulch is extremely valuable because it reduces rainfall runoff, decreases water evaporation loss, helps control weeds and keeps the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Apply a 2 – 3 inch layer on the top of soil around trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants.

Compost Tea: “Compost tea” can be used to water your plants, adding the advantageous nutrients from the compost. Fill a burlap bag with compost and place in a barrel of water, then use the water to fertilize and hydrate your plants.

Now, keep up the good work and continue the cycle. Your garden, your wallet and the earth will thank you!

Compost Garden

Great idea: Why don’t you take before and after photos of your yard? You’ll be amazed at the drastic difference between the photos. Just for fun, send those to us. We’d love to see them!

If you would like to take a composting class, check out your local county website. My class was put on for FREE by the Florida Cooperative Extensive Service of the University of Florida. There are classes just like this one across the U.S

Compost Happens (Part 4 – Maintaining Your Pile)

BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw

Once you have decided on which type of compost pile you wish to have – a holding unit or a turning unit – it is time for the fun part – composting!
Composting

Turning the Compost Pile

Composting might appear to a novice as terribly complicated and only for the green thumbed gardener, but anyone can do it! The below outline of how to manage a compost system is mainly for a holding unit.

Location, Location, Location!

How to Make Your Neighbors Green with Envy

Once your compost unit is built and in a prime location, you are now ready to add the ingredients! It is recommended that you add mixed green and brown materials in 4” layers, making sure to water each layer separately as you add them. If you need a refresher on what materials can and should be composted, revisit Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw (Part 2)

In the early days, your compost pile will be very warm. It might even steam a little, but no need to sound the fire alarm since this is normal. Heating indicates that the material is composting normally.

In order to maintain your neighbors envy with the perfect compost, you will need to turn your pile frequently with a pitchfork, shovel or tool. By turning the pile frequently you are helping provide oxygen to the compost-creating microbes. More microbes = Faster decomposition = Quicker compost.

Check the temperature of your pile on a regular basis and turn the pile when it reaches about 140F+ or below 100F. If it is too difficult to monitor the temperature on an ongoing basis, just try to turn the pile about twice a week.

Also, regularly check the moisture level. Add water to the pile if it looks too dry. A good rule of thumb is to add water every time you turn the pile. If the compost looks too wet, add more dry browns to the pile.

Make sure you monitor the odor as well. Too much water in the system causes overly strong, odorous piles. If this is the case try adding more browns to the pile like mentioned above.

So how do you know when the compost is ready? … Be on the look-out for Part 5: Identifying finished compost and how to apply it correctly.


Compost Happens (Part 3)

BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw

This is the third part of the Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw. For those of you that missed part one & two, you can read it on the BioBag blog, here. I appreciated all the comments and I hope someone learned a thing or two from the previous installments. Let’s now leap into the continuation of Compost Happens.

Part 3 will go over the Two Most Popular Types of Compost Units.

Types of Compost Units

Compost units can be classified in many ways but the two most popular are “holding units” and “turning units”. Holding units include bins which have been constructed from wire, wood, masonry, plastic, or combo of these materials. Turning units normally include barrels that are turned horizontally or end to end.

When setting up a holding or turning bin, make sure it is in an area protected from drying winds and where it can be reached by a garden hose. It is also a good idea to place the unit/bin in a shady area, away from direct sunlight.

Holding Bin Units

Holding Bins are most popular type of home yard compost unit. They are the simplest and least expensive type of bin however, they are slower to product compost. Depending on the maintenance, these can take 6 months to 2 years to produce finished compost.

No matter if you are using wire, wood or plastic, the bin composting units should be at least 3 feet wide, 3 feet long and 3 feet high. Larger constructed units will work even better because of better heat retention.

Holding Bin
It is very beneficial to construct two or three units/segments like the one pictured. These types of units facilitate turning and maturing of the composting material. You start at one end of the unit by adding your mixture of browns and greens (30:1). As the first pile decomposes, you move it down to the second section and start all over in the first section. As the second section breaks down even more, you move it to the third section for final curing. Once the third section is finished composting and the compost has been collected, you move the second into the third, the first into the second and start all over again with the first. You’ll always have compost in its different decomposition stages.

Whether you use the sectional holding bin or a single section holding bin, the best way to go about creating a compost pile is the Sandwich Method.

  • Alternate 3” – 4” layers of green and brown material
  • Water each layer until moist (not wet) before adding an additional layer on top
  • Keep layering until the pile is about 3 feet tall, ending with a layer of browns (Smaller particles decompose faster so try to mulch or cut up the larger yard and food scraps)

Turning Units

The turning units should produce compost more quickly than a holding unit, if they are attentively managed. They can produce compost in two months or less. Barrel units tend to have smaller capacities than most other bins, including holding bins, which make them better suited for people with small amounts of yard trimmings and food scraps. Turning units are a great option for deterring pests however, organic waste shouldn’t be continuously added but stockpiled until the first batch as been processed. As you can imagine, stockpiling organics in itself can be problematic.
turning unit
The most commonly used turning units are plastic barrels like the one pictured. Barrel compost units can be turned on either the vertical or horizontal axis depending on the manufacturer set up or how you build one.

To purchase a holding unit turning unit, check out our Vendor of the Month: mygreenmind.com or gardeners.com

If you are looking to build your own composting unit, check out the step-by-step instructions on The University of Missouri’s Extension Web page here.

Looks like we will be continuing on to Part 4 where we will talk about maintaining your compost pile. Parts 1- 3 and future “parts” will all be archived on our Blog!

If you would like to take a composting class, check out your local county website. My class was put on for FREE by the Florida Cooperative Extensive Service of the University of Florida. There are classes just like this one across the U.S

This Month’s BIG SHOUT-OUT goes to San Francisco, CA!

On November 22, the City of San Francisco celebrated its one-millionth ton of collected organic waste. The city has the highest organic collection rate in the nation. This massive program collects the city’s organic waste, diverts it from landfills and turns into nutrient-rich compost. The symbolic one-millionth ton was collected at Scoma’s Restaurant where Chef Bennett said that they have given tours of their dumpsters to people from all over the world and they recycle 95% of their total waste.

San Francisco-based Recology, the hauler that collects the city’s organics, started collecting food scraps and other organic materials from residents and businesses in 1996. It took 15 years to get to the first million but Recology’s Mike Sangiacomo thinks they’ll do the second in 5.

Currently, San Francisco is recycling 78% of its garbage with a 2020 goal to be a completely zero waste city.

Congratulations to the City of San Francisco and all the participating businesses, organizations and residents of this program. One Million Tons is truly an amazing and inspirational accomplishment.

For more information and the full article visit, NBC Bay Area.


My r-Awesome Life Blog and BioBag Q&A

BioBag Q & A Check out the Q & A session between Mindy Goldis, blogger of My r-Awesome Life and our very own Marketing Manager, Jennifer Wagner. How would you have answered question #6?

Halloween, The BOOgest Waste Producing Holiday?

Halloween
Pumpkin guts, old jack-o-lanterns, costumes from the ghosts of Halloween Past and of course, the TONS of leftover candy! (well maybe not the most desirable chocolate ones but you know those, yucky black and orange wrapper ones)
Halloween Candy

Lots of waste on Halloween and after

What to do with all of this waste? All holidays can produce an enormous amount of holiday cheer surplus but is Halloween the most? Probably not, but it does it’s fair share of competing. What is someone eco-friendly like yourself to do with all that waste? Well, luckily all the candy rejects, the moldy jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin innards can be composted! Hurray!!!! Check out Green Halloween’s video here to see how easy-breezy it is.

As for the old costumes, donating will probably be the best option as well as participating in a costume swap next year!

Green Halloween
For some other great greening your halloween tips, visit: http://greenhalloween.org

And a big shout-out to Portland, OR!

Portland Oregon Composts

Portland Oregon Starts Residential Composting

Starting today, (Oct 31) Portland residents can now put out their food scraps for collection at the curb along with their yard debris in their green carts. Every household (about 180,000) received a 2-gallon food scrap collection bucket and coupons for compostable bags.

Residents may use newspaper, paper bags and approved compostable bags (i.e. BioBags) to line their pails. If you or someone you know lives in Portland, you can get BioBags at the approved retailers linked here.

For more information about the Portland Composting Program visit, portlandcomposts.com


Compost Happens (Part 2)

BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw

This is the second part of the Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw. For those of you that missed part one, you can read it on our blog. I appreciated all the comments and hope someone learned a thing or two about Aerobic and Anaerobic composting, the bacteria involved in the process and the larger organisms that inhabit the piles. Even some BioBag employee’s saws were a little sharper from proofing and reading the previous blog entry.
compost man
With that all said, let’s jump into the continuation of Compost Happens. We will go over Compost Terminology, Benefits of Composting and What To Compost and What Not to Compost.

Composting Benefits

  • Improves soil condition and structure
  • Increases the soil’s ability to hold water
  • Support leaving organisms
  • Helps dissolves mineral forms of nutrients
  • Buffers soil from chemical imbalances
  • May provide biological control of certain pests
  • Helps return organic materials to the soil and keep them out of landfills and waterways

Wow! Compost is black gold!

Compost Terminology

Here are some simple composting terms:
  • Composting: Controlled decomposition of organic materials
  • Compost: Partially decomposed organic matter
  • Humus: Completely decomposed organic matter
  • Mulch: Organic or inorganic spread on soil surface
  • Browns or the Carbon component in the composting process: Leaves, sawdust, wood chips
  • Greens or the Nitrogen component in the composting process: Manure, food waste, spent flowers, nitrogen fertilizers, grass clippings

The Ideal Mixture of brown to green when composting is a ratio of 30:1 (30 brown : 1 green)

Compost what?

Now, depending on what method of composting you participate in will determine the material input that can be composted. Of course through industrial composting where machinery, technology, manpower and time are readily available, many more things can be composted including dog waste, meat and dairy products. These three items are not normally recommended for home composting.

This is a sample of items that should be A-OK for your home composting.

  • Fruit and vegetables left overs (stalks, seeds, peels, skins)
  • Breads, grains, rice, flour, cereal, pasta
  • Yard trimmings, wood chips, plants, flowers, leaves, straw, hay
  • Natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen)
  • Hair (human and animal)
  • Feathers
  • Herbivore manure
  • Coffee grounds and filters as well as tea leaves and bags (no staples)
  • Newsprint, paper, cardboard, paper plates, cups and napkins
  • Eggshells
Looks like we will be continuing to at least a Part 3. I haven’t even scratched the surface of HOW to actually compost. Part 1, Part 2 and future “Parts” will all be archived on our blog!
 

If you would like to take a composting class, check out your local county website. My class was put on for FREE by the Florida Cooperative Extensive Service of the University of Florida. There are classes just like this one across the U.S

Schwag from Composting Class

Free Composting and Irrigation stuff I got from the class

Scrap collection bucket, GeoBin composting system, Compost thermometer, vegetable garden watering system, rain gauge & water hose timer.
 

Compost Happens (Part 1)

BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw

Stephen R Covey published his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” in the late 1980’s. The 7th and maybe the most important habit is to “Sharpen the Saw”. Sharpening the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you.  Luckily for me, I work at a company that supports and promotes its employees taking the time to enhance themselves personally and professionally.
compost
To expand my knowledge as well as reconnect with nature, I took a class last week on Composting. I would consider my knowledge of composting intermediate from working here at BioBag, but I could use a little sharpening. I’d like to share with you some tips, that I either newly learned or that were refreshers, from the class. We went over a lot of information that day so I think it best to break it up into parts. This is Part 1.

Composting:

  • Anaerobic (without oxygen): decomposition that is often called fermentation or putrefaction. It is usually accompanied by the release of methane or the foul odor of hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell). Anaerobic decomposition occurs slowly and little heat is generated.
  • Aerobic (with oxygen): a naturally occurring process in nature where organic waste is converted into humus. There is little to no smell. The process creates lots of energy in the form of heat. The heat is an advantage as it destroys pathogens and parasites.
  • The cast of characters that aid in composting are: bacteria, fungi, millipedes, earthworms and other living inhabitants.

There are 3 types of bacteria:

  • Psychrophilic (low temperature bacteria)
  • Mesophilic (40 – 110 degrees F) they do most of the work in the compost piles
  • Thermophilic (104 – 200 degrees F)
All bacteria need nitrogen and carbon to survive and thrive. Nitrogen provides the microbes with the raw element to multiply. Carbon is the energy source. Bacteria get a complete meal when the carbon to nitrogen ration is 30:1.

Moisture content of 40% – 60% is ideal for bacteria. If it is less than 40%, the bacteria slow down and go dormant. If the moisture content is 60%+, it is too wet which means the pile looses too much air and anaerobic conditions set in.

Turning the pile brings fresh air to the microbes in which their numbers multiply quickly. More microbes = Faster decomposition = Quicker compost

As the pile cools or in the later stages of decomposition, other larger organisms settle in.

  • Fungi are major decomposers in the compost pile however, not as efficient as bacteria
  • Nematodes or roundworms
  • Fermentation mites
  • Springtails
  • Wolf Spiders
  • Centipedes
  • Sow bugs
  • Ground beetles
  • Earthworms

A slight detour. One cool factoid about Grass Clippings:

Grass clippings can be directly recycled by letting them fall back in the lawn as you mow. Clippings are 90% water and break down quickly, releasing nutrients equivalent to one or two fertilizations a year.

Like I said, this only covered a portion of what was presented in the class. Be on the look out for Part 2 next month with a possible Part 3.

If you would like to take a composting class, check out your local county website. My class was put on for FREE by the Florida Cooperative Extensive Service of the University of Florida. There are classes just like this one across the U.S. Take some time for you, our earth and Sharpen that Composting Saw! (Plus you might get a lot of cool composting schwag like I did. I plan to start my own composting pile soon. See photo below.)

Schwag from Composting Class

Free Composting and Irrigation stuff I got from the class

Scrap collection bucket, GeoBin composting system, Compost thermometer, vegetable garden watering system, rain gauge & water hose timer.