I originally intended “Compost Guy” to be my primary site for sharing my passion for composting (and related topics) with the world. Over time, while I certainly HAVE shared quite a lot of information here, my REAL focus has been on my other composting site, Red Worm Composting – which has definitely become my main stomping grounds online.
Apart from not having enough time to fully develop both sites, I was worried that I’d end up being too redundant with my content (posting similar articles), and thus basically defeat the purpose of having two sites. I thought perhaps that I could bring some contributors on board to freshen things up, but…well…that plan didn’t work QUITE as well as I had hoped. People weren’t exactly beating down my door to get their articles posted. Haha
Anyway, I have decided to put things in suspended animation here at Compost Guy for a while. I know I will be back at some point to further develop the site, but for now I need to keep my focus elsewhere. If you are a composting fan, please be sure to see what I’m up to over at Red Worm Composting. I add at least a few new blog posts over there each week – that is also the best place to get in touch with me!
Last summer I wrote about the serious aphid infestation on my honeysuckle bush, and my serendipitous encounter with lots of lady bug larvae on my fence (larvae that I then moved over to the honeysuckle). As it turned out, my rescue attempt was “too little, too late”, but I did end up with a decent population of lady bugs on my property in general, which was great!
Hopefully this year, with closer monitoring and (hopefully) more lady bugs in the area, the honeysuckle will be back to producing a nice show of flowers!
Not one of my better images, but this milk carton (and others like it) served me very well! Before switching over to an “official” food scrap hold (a plastic jobby that holds “official” BioBag inserts! haha), I always used to use empty milk cartons as my scrap holders (the containers that would sit under my sink and receive kitchen scraps before being emptied into various worm composting systems). Milk cartons (especially the 2 litre size) work well since they are waxed (so resist microbial attack) and can be closed up reasonably well, plus they contain just the right amount of scraps so as to avoid the risk of creating a stink while you wait for the thing to fill up.
Speaking of stink – really, there is no excuse for having a stinky scrap holder when it comes down to it. Aside from having good air flow another really helpful feature is a “false bottom”. Rather than simply letting the scraps sit on the bottom of the container, where they will rot and create a nasty stench, I highly recommend adding a fairly thick layer of shredded, absorbent cardboard. This wicks up excess moisture and prevents those nasty anaerobic conditions from developing down at the bottom.
This set of images definitely represents a “blast from the past”. I took them while I was working on my (ill-fated) masters program at the University of Guelph (04/05). My project involved composting liquid pig waste mixed with straw, using small (by industrial standards) in-vessel composting systems (built by Transform Systems in B.C.), and measuring the ammonia gas being released. The idea was to see if a brief “precomposting” period, followed by vermicomposting would help to reduce the overall amount of ammonia being released.
All I wanted to to, of course, was play with my worms and see how well they would grow in the material – which probably helps to explain why I am an online worm compost educator and entrepreneur – NOT an academic!
Last summer I had a lot of fun taking pictures of the various sunflowers in my all natural “privacy fence” – I used a seed mix called “Monet’s Pallete“, and it certainly lived up to the name.
While capturing some images of these flowers, I also happened to catch some bees and other insects as well, which was really cool. I’ll definitely share some of the other shots over time (don’t want people to get sick of seeing sunflowers right off the bat! haha).
Those who have followed this blog at one time or another, or at least toured around the site, will likely know that I get a kick out of setting up winter composting systems every year to see if I can keep them fully active throughout the winter. I’ve jokingly referred to this annual challenge as my “Winter Composting Extravaganza”.
I wrote about my Extravaganza here for one of the four winters I’ve been doing this (and of course, set up my Winter Composting page at that time as well). The following year I moved things over to Red Worm Composting, and that’s where it’s remained.
Last year, I set up a huge straw-bale worm bed over at my dad’s place (with his assistance). It worked very well, and we ended up having no real problem keeping it active all winter. The main issue however, was the fact that it was at HIS house, not mine. This made the project into a rather time-consuming endeavor, and as a result I didn’t do as much with it as I would have liked.
This year I decided that it only made sense to host the Extravaganza in my backyard once again – this time testing out a different strategy from any of the previous years. I set up a big windrow bed, using lots of straw for insulation (along with a black tarp over top). I was guardedly optimistic about my chances of success. After all, the system didn’t hold near the volume of my straw-bale bed, and it was located in a totally unprotected location (i.e. not directly behind the house, or in a sheltered backyard, as my other two systems have been).
Over the holidays, my worries seemed to transform themselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I watched as the temperature in the bed dipped down very close to the freezing mark (in fact, there were plenty of zones that were totally frozen. In my defense, this DID happen to be a busy time for me, so I definitely didn’t give the system the attention it deserved!
I decided enough was enough in the new year, and worked hard to get the bed back in good shape. I added lots of new food material (food waste, hay, leaves, manure. coffee grounds) and some additional insulation (straw + a blanket). I even ran a string of rope lights through the middle to see if a little artificial warmth would help to get things going.
Well, as you might guess, everything turned out just fine, and as it stands, I would have to say that this has been my most successful system to date! Temperatures in the core of the pile have been above 20 C (68 F) for the better part of a month now. I have been monitoring the temps from inside my house using a remote weather station device (with the weather probe sealed in a ziplock bag and buried in the pile).
We just had a big snow storm yesterday, and as you can see, the snow is melting off the top of the bed.
I’m happy to report that the Red Worm population is also doing very well. I dug around in the pile a few days ago and found nice masses of worms munching away on the wastes down below. I am actually planning to start harvesting worms for customers fairly soon.
Anyway, if you are interested in reading more about this year’s Extravaganza, be sure to check out the posts over at Red Worm Composting. Here they are (in chronological order):
I’m UK based (Cambridgeshire) and new to vermiculture. Last summer I purchased 2lbs Dendrobaeana worms (European Nightcrawlers – Dendrobaena veneta / Eisenia hortensis) from Kathy at Witneyveg.blogspot.com. I’d already built two containers for my garden compost from four by one timber, treated and jointed using simple halving joints (allows me to reduce the height to enable turning the compost).
Initially I split the worms between the two compost heaps and hoped for the best. I cover the top with some old carpet (not foam backed!) which helps keep moisture in and the birds out. I just left them to it initially, let them acclimatise. Since I fill the bins alternately throughout the summer (grass cuttings, weeds, dead flowers, shredded hedge clippings etc) I’m afraid it wasn’t nicely rotted food they were getting. I set up a kitchen waste container, a plastic ‘bucket’ that holds a couple of pounds of waste, and we fill it with leftover (raw) foodstuff, mainly vegetables. This is fed to the worms, probably once per fortnight? I alternate between the bins, or split it between them.
In using the compost I tend to fill one and leave the other till it’s mature. Once I’ve used the mature one on the garden (I leave about six inches in the bottom for the worms) I swap over and start to fill the near empty one, leaving the fuller one to mature. I should turn the bins over every few weeks… but like others, I’m a bit lazy. I guess I do it about twice or three times a year. OK, I’m a lot lazy, but I do get my compost! My worms are there though I’ve no idea on quantity. I’ve tried shredded paper and cardboard, which they seem to love, coming up to the surface to munch on it! Other than that they have the place to themselves and seem to manage.
Winter bothered me at first, but it’s now February and I can still find worms fairly easily, even in the (what was) near empty bin with barely six inches of ‘food’ for the worms. So I guess the temperature didn’t drop to low values for too long, although this winter has been harsh by UK standards.
More recently, my wife bought six chickens (don’t ask) which we duly set up in the garden. We tend to let them loose in the garden after noon, but so far the carpet has kept them out of the compost bins! One of the benefits of the chickens this winter is that they scratch up the leaves from our boundary fence (Hawthorne hedge) which keeps them moist and over time has created a great layer of mixed grass and leaves, which I’m frantically trying to rake up and feed to the compost heap… worms (not sure which benefits the most!). Either way I’m grateful to the chicks for the service! Now if only they would rake up my lawn, get the dead grass out of it? Ah well. Another problem they posed was what to do with their droppings collected in the hen house each week. A mix of straw(for the laying boxes) and chicken muck. I have read it’s a bit acid (alkaline?) to go directly on the garden and I was tentative about putting it in the compost heap, so I’ve split it between a new part of the garden I’m digging over… the chickens are better at turning over loose soil than I, and the compost heap. No damage so far, the worms seem not to have reacted negatively.
In summary, my compost quality has improved, the chickens have increased the volume and the worms are still there as we approach spring!
Dave Pawson is a software engineer, nearly retired, with gardening pretentions
but little skills! He maintains a couple of web based standards FAQs. His homepage is: http://www.dpawson.co.uk
Let me answer that question with another question. Why not? I started my first raised bed garden out of desperation. I live on the Mogollon rim in Northeaster Arizona. Translate: Mogollon rim to rock cliff. When I first moved here, I painstakingly sifted a tiny bit of dirt from rock and planted in containers. The pine forest soil is so poor, that even with ample fertilizer, my plants were stunted. I had heard of square foot gardening, and decided to give it a try. After the first rasied bed season, I asked myself, “Why didn’t I do this before?”.
1) Lessen or Eliminate Bending and Kneeling
Creating a raised bed garden gives you, the gardener, ultimate control. You control the height of the bed. So, if you have trouble bending over or working on your knees, make the bed a comfortable height for yourself. However, it’s my personal belief that a raised bed doesn’t “need” to be any taller than 18 inches.
2) Weeds Be Gone
Your backyard soil has probably decades of weed seeds just waiting for the right conditions to sprout. This is especially true if you live in the arid southwest as I do. Add water, and you’ve got weeds up the whazoo.
By filling a raised bed with everything but your native soil (or maybe just a little), weeds are a thing of the past. This was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise with my first raised bed garden. No weeds.
Any weeds that do happen to sprout are easily plucked from the soft, airy soil. The soil mix I use is basically coir (peat substitute), compost, and vermiculite. Then I add other stuff I have around that’s handy, maybe some sifted soil, pine bark mulch, horse manure, or charcoal.
3) High Density Planting Uses Less Space
Thanks to the wonderful soil mix used in raised beds, you can get more yield from a smaller space. This benefit is two fold. One, the plants can be closer in physical proximity because of the readily available moisture and nutrients. Two, the plants will produce more because of readily available soil and nutrients.
There’s so much more to be said about the benefits of raised bed gardens, but I’ll save it for future posts. For more information on creating a soil mix, see my article: “Soil Mix for Raised Bed Gardens”
What’s your favorite part of raised bed gardening?
I came across this cool video while I was doing some searching for my new ‘Compost Bin Plans‘ site (and have included this video there as well). It is more the concept itself, rather than the technical building details of the system built in the video, that I find really interesting. You certainly wouldn’t need to buy expensive decorative blocks in order to create something just as functional. Basic concrete construction blocks would certainly do the trick. If you are going to use blocks like this it is probably not a bad idea to do it PROPERLY as outlined in the video (with a sand foundation etc), especially if you live in a cold region where winter ground heaving might occur.
That being said, I’m sure you could get away with simple stacking the blocks – you could always go back and make adjustments if ends up a little off-kilter. One thing about the regular building blocks to keep in mind – they obviously won’t look nearly as nice as those used in the video, so you may not want to simply build it in the middle of your lawn.
Speaking of which, if you happen to have any hills on your property, building a system like this right into the side of a hill would be a great way to create more of an ‘all-season’ composter, since the earth will be great for insulation. If you took it a step further, simply using straw bales instead of concrete blocks would help to provide even more insulation value. The only downside of this approach is that the bales will need to be replaced every couple of years, or perhaps even more frequently if you live in a fairly warm, wet location.
I know I am biased here, but adding composting worms to a system like this would also be really cool. Just make sure you wait until temperatures in the system are low enough (assuming you add a bunch of materials at once when setting it up).