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Composting at La Casa

March 10, 2009

There are two general approaches to compost: cold and hot.  The cold compost method is slow, doesn’t need turning, and will happen naturally if you pile food scraps in your yard.  This method is known as anaerobic digestion and its being explored by industry because it retains more energy within the system and produces usable methane.  The drawbacks of cold compost are 1) smells like death when it is outside 2) doesn’t sanitize the materials and 3) takes months to occur.  Hot compost on the other hand doesn’t smell, generates a lot of heat which kills harmful microbes, and breaks down fast.  In a Hot Compost pile, much of the energy is released as heat by the thermophilic bacteria.  To get Hot Compost, you need to balance the ingredients and turn the pile regularly.  For the first time since I moved in our compost pile was steaming yesterday indicating aerobic breakdown was taking place.


Hot Compost requires 4 inputs. Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Water. The Nitrogen comes mostly from the food scraps and is the main input. We add Carbon in the form of straw and yard trimmings. Balancing the C:N ratio is the biggest trick to getting a good pile going. I’ve recently begun adding chicken poop from the coop which should add a lot of Nitrogen to the mix. Getting Oxygen into the center of the pile requires turning the pile. Turning the pile is bane of the composter’s existence, but it’s needed to get air to the aerobic micro-organisms doing all the real work.

Hot compost will let off lots of steam.

Keeping our chickens in mind, we separate out coffee grounds and eggshells from the main compost pile.

links:
Comparison of anaerobic and aerobic digestion wikipedia
Composting wikipedia
Composting for the Homeowner Illinois Extension
Tips on Composting http://www.composters.com

Along with fuel efficiency, water conservation, and reduction in meat consumption, home composting is one of the most environmentally beneficial activities of modern society. Yard and food wastes make up approximately 30% of the waste stream in the US. – http://www.composters.com

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