Making lost of compost heaps quickly

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by sun burn, Jul 22, 2010.

  1. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    Hi again guys. I've started searching back but there's a lot of false leads to follow (though some into interesting areas) so I thought i might as well start a new thread and cut to the chase.

    Now that i am totally converted to composting as much of my place as possible, and certainly wherever i need to plant new things, i need to make a lot.

    According to my composting book (by Tim Marshall) its better to reduce the size of the stuff to get a faster and better result. I can't afford to hire a mulcher, not even for an hour really. Besides gather all the material that can be put through a mulcher in an hour is still a lot of work and it won't be enough to provide all the compost i need. So i am stuck with doing it all by hand.

    I've decided I can allow a year for a fairly big pile to compost thoroughly and I am wondering if this is enough time and if so, JUST HOW SMALL DO I HAVE TO CHOP UP THE COMPOST MATERIALS? the idea being minimise my time spent on preparing compost materials but at the same time, not extending the time it takes for the compost to do its job properly.

    In the heaps that i've begun in the last few days i've been taking ages to cut things down to a small ssize. Green palm fronds i am chopping into about 7 pieces. (and i am not going to include the tough end at all), with the prunings of the exora bush, i am chopping the leaves off with a bit of twig and the softer smaller twigs into pieces about 10 inches long. This is all very slow work. And don't forget i've already spend time pruning hte actual exora bushes which are huge, and chopping out the green fronds. (I am chopping out some of my golden palms and just thinning the rest). So do i really need to be so fastidious with my preparation of my materials for hte heaps or am i going over the top. I thought permaculture was supposed to be about avoiding work but at this stage, the needs of this place are just going up and up. And i am the only one doing it all.

    Of course i could just say bugger it and chop everything up roughly but i don't have a clue how long this would take to break down and become lovely compost.

    Note i am adding manure to the pile, and previous compost as a starter and also mixing the pile with wet and dry stuff to get a mixture of nutrients going through it. These piles will probably be used mainly for fruit trees and lawns areas and broad areas where as i have faster easier compost for my immediate vegetable gardening needs.

    In addition to teh above question about the size of my materials, has anyone any good tips as to how to make the hard work of my compost happen effectively at a good speed. I know i need to get the heat up as high as possible. I think i will put covers on my heaps which will help protect them from rain and drying out too and make them warm. In a couple of months time, the summer sun will do a lot to warm my piles up but is that counter productive for the organisms? I am not sure.

    Any more advice?

    Thanks
     
  2. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    I found the answer to my question here. https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicgardening/compost_pf.php

    Hedge clippings and prunings

    Chop or shred tough prunings and clippings from evergreen hedges before adding to a mixed compost heap. Compost large quantities separately; even unshredded they will compost eventually. Mix with grass or other activating material; water well. Tread down the heap, then cover. In anything from a few months to a few years you will have a coarse mulch which can be used on perennial beds.
     
  3. permup

    permup Junior Member

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    I spent years doing my own "chopping" of material by laying it on the ground (I had grass at the time) and chopping into it with a machette. Its good exercise and the more you can break down the material, the faster the compost. If you have a lawnmower, use that and a catcher to chop your stuff up.
     
  4. Speedy

    Speedy Junior Member

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    SE Asian Big blades for chopping garden trash

    Hi Sunburn,
    In the tropics and subtropics esp. wet climates if you're prepared to leave stuff for a year, things will break down on their own pretty well.
    chopping roughly can make a big difference though.
    When gardening in these climates, my must have tools are a parang or golok ( SE Asian big blade , more robust than a machete) for cutting anything from 10cm high standing grass to trees up to 15cm thick.
    Very versatile tools designed and used for centuries in the forests of Indonesia (golok) , Malaysia (parang) and The Philippines (bolo).
    400-500gm is a good weight 600-700gm or more takes quite a bit more effort for continuous use.
    and "let the blade do the work"

    the other favorite type of tool is the Arit (Indonesia) , or sabit (Bali) which is essentially a long handled sickle but with a scythe type blade ie. no teeth like European sickle and a different shape.
    Kept very sharp, I use them to mow small patches of grass, trim palm fronds and depending on the blade even cut live branches up to 3cm dia.
    The sabit is also very handy for slicing palm fronds into pieces onto a pile while still holding it.
    a frond can be 'dealt with' in about 10-20seconds.
    fruited banana stems in under a minute.
    it's also the best (only) tool for trimming dwarf date palms, it makes them look very neat.

    for goloks and parangs , there are two sellers in Aust that I know of atm
    Suwandi at https://www.valiantco.com/
    available in plain carbon (spring) steel and Damascus (pattern welded) steel
    see the various goloks of Java
    parang lading of Sumatra
    Clurit and calok of Madura- I use a Balinese style calok (longer handle) for trimming living fences, hedges, weeds etc.
    Borneo parang
    any of which would be an asset to the tropical gardener.

    or Keith and Joan at AKC/ Knives Australia
    https://www.knivesaustralia.com.au/knives.html#SICUT
    I use their sicut parang for chopping garden trash on the compost pile itself,
    its a medium-heavy blade with the centre of gravity way forward on the blade.

    As for sabit, get a few on your next trip to Bali, or get someone to bring some back for you.

    There's no worries bringing them back, just not in hand luggage!:D
    nothing else can substitute for the sabit.
    I have one that I've used pretty much every day for the past 16 or so years and it's just got better with every sharpening.
    If I get organised I'll post some pics here.
     
  5. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    Speedy that could be useful to know. I will keep those tools in mind. We do have a machete but it needs sharpening. AT the mo i am using secateurs and a big secateurs or pruners but 10-20 seconds is definitely an advance on what i am achieveing at the mo.

    A scythe is also something that i may want down the track.

    I think i am also going to have to start getting up earlier to get all this work done. :)
     
  6. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

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    I no longer mix all my compost ingredients together.

    When I am collecting the stuff, I separate it into two main groupings. Each group has separate piles.

    The first is the easy-to-break-down materials (weeds, grasses, small green twiggy stuff, spoiled veggies, etc. This is my main source of compost. It's a lot easier to turn when there aren't large chunks and branches in it.

    The second is the hard, dense, larger, rougher materials. This doesn't get turned, it just piles up and eventually rots. Alfalfa meal is said to be a good bio-activator for compost, so I toss some in sporatically. Mostly, this pile is just left to the weather and nature. If I notice that it has broken down some, I will occasionally just shift the pile to the side and plant a tree or something there.

    I've read a lot from people who advocate putting branches on the ground, then building your compost pile on top, 'to let air into the pile', and I consider that just a bunch of nonsense. The first time you turn it, you're hitting all the large stuff, and then you have to stop and pull it out. My time may not be worth much, but it's worth something.

    Sue
     
  7. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    That's sort of what i am doing sue. I have two types of compost. An easy soft one for my vegetables. But this thread is about the second pile and its about how much i have to chop up the materials.

    About the large branches, I'd agree with you. But i think those people advocating this are not thinking of turning the pile at all. And i suspect they intend to leave the pile there for eons and rot down. Another thought that come to mind about this is that they may have taken the idea from the NO-DIG gardening method or similar. In this method, which is probably a slow cool composting method if you were to name it, the gardener creates a bed that is quite high. They will put things like branches on the bottom for aeration. But on top goes layer upon layer of good stuff such as hay mulch, compost blood and bone etc. You never turn it. You just plant into the top of it. And of course eventually it will settle. The aeration is needed for drainage. I could be wrong but it sounds to me that this is where the idea may have come from.

    With my larger branches now (but not my biggest stuff) i am going to put them directly around my fruit trees to rot down slowly because i read that fruit trees like this sort of stuff. I can put nice compost and mulch on top later. I will chop it up a bit so its not too ugly. The really big stuff i will still burn as i have nowhere to put it. But for those who read my earlier thread about what to do with weeds, I have advanced a long way now. I will be burning a great deal less than before. I do have a forest patch where things that i want to burn could go instead but its a fiar way to drag it all. And then difficult to take it inside. My forest is about 1/3 hectare and its all rainforest timber trees. The floor is full of humus and dead branches and stuff. One day i'd like to tidy it up and put some more undergrowth in it but i haven't got time yet. Grass still grows in there as well and from time to time i go down and pull out all the grass and all the litlte seedlings (which are off the same species adn i consider a pest).

    With the main pile that we are discussing here, i like the sound of putting in alfalfa meal. I will google it.
     
  8. adrians

    adrians Junior Member

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    I have done a fairly good of chopping things like corn stalks with a sharp spade (ie, put them all in a pill and just shove the spade through with your foot).. palm fronds might be too tough though.
     
  9. pierre

    pierre Junior Member

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    Hi sun burn,

    Having access to a good mulcher is always an advantage.

    But lacking that sort of technology, have you looked into hugelkultur (pron. hoo-ghul-kool-toor)? It basically amounts to in-situ composting where you pile the woody stuff (unchopped, I've seen tree stumps the size of a human body used for this!) where you need to intend to have your garden. You then cover the wood with soil, and plant your vegies of whatever in small pockets of good compost. No dig gardening "married" to low tech composting! Hugelkultur is an age-old German method of planting/composting, and works well even if you're living in a cold area.

    The rationale is that the wood takes a long time to break down, all the while attracting moisture (via the fungi that colonise the wood) and slow releasing nutrients to your plants while it breaks down. The slow rate of decay apparently also causes the woody materials to release heat (not the sort of stuff that would burn your hand, again think "slow release") which keeps the plants' root systems cosy when it's cold. First read about hugelkultur in Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden.

    I know Paul Wheaton recently added some video clips about that on www.pemies.com. Go check it out and let google be your guide!

    Hope this can be of some help.

    Cheers,
    Pierre
     
  10. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    That's an interesting idea for dealing with the larger stuff. Up here though we don't need anything making the soil warmer. I live in the tropics where cold soil is never an issue. However I wouldn't expect the rise in soil temperature to be very much to be honest.

    Still although its a really nice idea and I will see if i can incorporate the larger pieces of wood this into landscape planning, its not an answer to the original question. Those little green branchlets i figure still need to be chopped up. And I still need the compost.

    But there is a place where we do have a large pile of felled trees which if I can find the soil from somewhere would do as a raised bed. (Perhaps i could just build my compost heaps straight into the gaps between the branches. It might be a bit of a trick turning the heaps over. I will have to give it more thought. ) And that's something i hadn't thought of for that spot before. BAsically i'd prefer to move the logs to another location. I'll mention to it to the family and see if they can find time to help me move them. Thanks for the sharing the idea.
     
  11. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    Thanks again Pierre. Today I started a big hugulkultur bed since the logs were pretty much already in place and it just needed tidying up. I added some more as well. Now the bed is 30metres long. The problem is I don't have any soil to put on it - yet. I guess I will make a compost to go on it. I want to plant fruit trees in it.

    I also transplanted a pomegranate and put a log at the bottom of the hole.

    I'm really chuffed with this idea.
     
  12. pierre

    pierre Junior Member

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    No worries sun burn.

    While the logs are lying there waiting for you to cover them with soil or compost, they will still be doing their thing, i.e. rotting away slowly and supporting a great many microorganisms. Goog on ya for providing these millions of critters with shelter and with food!

    Sorry I couldn't offer anything on breaking up those small twiggy bits... Of course... unless you could perhaps leave the brances where they could be "trampled" a bit by cars or other motor vehicular traffic...

    Cheers,
    P
     
  13. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    The best thing for breaking down carbons (including branches and logs) is urine because it's full of nitrogen. And if you make piles of sticks/branches/logs it will make a safe haven for some good critters like snakes and dead-wood-eating beetles and even catepillars to make their cocoons. My main speedy method is to keep the pile very damp, even wet, covered with a tarp and weighed down with blocks, boards, tires so that the contents are compressed. there is plenty of air in there to do the job, but even if it's soggy and not smelling so great it's breaking down at a faster pace. If it's really soggy and shrunken, I might turn the finished product for a few days at the end (much less work!) so it dries out into lovely compost. Otherwise I don't turn the pile, I just use a flat shovel to take from the bottom, maybe a fourth at a time, and I keep adding on the top. I never let it dry out, and the sides are just as damp as the center and top. I have a tough stuff pile as well, and I keep it really full of urine and as many clippings of small things as I can afford, but not taking away from the fast pile, covered and weighed down.
     
  14. heftzwecke

    heftzwecke Junior Member

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    it's called Huegelkultur and the e is correctly written as two points on the u.
    I think it would be very good having a mechanical chopping device for post oil times anyway (if someone would like to make a livin building stuff like this).
     
  15. heftzwecke

    heftzwecke Junior Member

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    The Huegelkultur thing seamed to me very interesting, so I read a bit about it. It is practically a raised bed, only that it is formed like a dam and that they use wood clippings branches etc underneath.
    At least this is a method to get rid of all the prunings.
     
  16. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    I would rather not put my prunings in my H bed as i need them to make compost but i have too much or even enough i will surely do it.
     
  17. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    heftz, actually Hugelkulture is about digging a ditch below the surface level, filling that with wood, covering that with dirt.

    I tried making a raised bed of pithy wood and dirt, and the rodents moved in and multiplied in horrifying ways. That was the end of that!! :(

    I know that Sepp Holzer makes mounds, but he's using so much dirt with a bulldozer that it makes a big difference for burrowing animals, apparently he doesn't have that problem. There's an awful lot of things he doesn't talk about that I wish he would, like how do you keep the rodents from eating those seeds that are just tossed out there?
     
  18. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

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    I wonder if it really matters where you build up or dig down. Its the logs that count. I saw a good video online where the garden had been done ages ago and the plants were growing profusely on it. The owner just stood there and talked about it. It was above surface level.

    But sweetpea i think you raise an issue that's crossed my mind of late. I sometimes wonder if these professional gardeners make things look easier and less problematic than they really are. If it was too hard to reach success the shows wouldn't get such a following. Not that i think their approach is so terribly wrong. What could go well in one garden might find other problems in another such as the rodent problem you mention.
     
  19. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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  20. heftzwecke

    heftzwecke Junior Member

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    I looked up in the German pages and it was above ground, but none of the pages was Sepp Holzers.
    Actually I don't think we could use all our branches in so called Hügelbeete, and they always admit that this is more work. I didn't think of the rodent question.
    The other thing mentioned above is the urine which breaks the twigs down. We could construct movable garden toilets.
    Isn't there a mechanical device for cutting these prunings down to, say 10 cm pieces?
     

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