Compost Happens 101

By Lori Caldwell, CompostGal

Lori Caldwell covered all the basics of successful home composting during her recent talk. In this blog, she takes the opportunity to answer some of the most common questions and some of your specific questionsYou can watch Lori’s talk in the video here and read her responses below.

Find the handouts from Lori’s talk and more soil resources here.

Connect with Lori:

Lori Caldwell

compostgal@hotmail.com

Facebook & Instagram @compostgal

Thank you so much for your attendance and participation at our last webinar about the wonders of making and using compost! As promised, here are some answers to some of your questions. I’ll be throwing in some links, etc. as well. Composting is a wonderful addition to any garden!

Can we compost weeds?

As a new rule, I’ve stopped putting weeds in my compost pile. My concern is that the seeds, stems, roots of the weed would not be killed off by the lower than needed temperatures in my compost pile.

Can you include small flooring samples?

This is one of the items on the Do Not compost list. Wood products that contain glues, waxes, resins, etc. will do harm in the bin and most likely never break down.

Are maggots bad in compost? My compost has hundreds of them. What should I do?

Maggots are not welcome in a compost pile. If maggots are seen in the pile, most likely there’s something in your pile that shouldn’t be. Items such as cooked food or meat will attract the maggot fly. Remove the item from your pile, water and aerate. Top this pile with a thick layer of browns (leaves or chipped wood).

Do you have suggestions for getting rid of beer brewing grains?

Absolutely! These will be a great addition to a compost pile. Just a heads up: They will have a lot of nitrogen and if added fresh, also hold a lot of water. You’ll need to aerate often and help absorb the moisture by adding those browns! You can also expect your pile to get hot as well! Lucky!!!

Are there special worms to get? I heard there’s worm that are not earthworms.

So, if you are talking about worm composting, yes! The red wriggler (Eisenia fetida) is the specific worm used in vermicomposting. They are the type of worm you’d see on a hike, under the leaf litter. If we are talking about basic composting, then the purchase of worms is totally unnecessary. When you place your compost pile on top of the soil, then you have a direct line to the “wormverse.” They will come and go in your pile in great numbers, enriching your compost with their castings.

Can I just bury the kitchen scraps next to the fruit tree root as compost?

Pit/trench composting as it’s usually called is a much slower way of composting in place. Digging a hole/trench at least 6-12 inches deep and burying your scraps can work, but since there’s no aeration or addition of water it breaks down much slower than basic composting. You still must make sure there’s a balance of browns and greens. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend pit trenching too close to existing plants. If the balance isn’t right, then the materials break down without the aid of oxygen (aka anaerobic). Anaerobic conditions can be problematic for adjacent plants.

Should newspapers be shredded?

When you include newspapers in your pile, hand shredding is the way to go. You want thicker pieces to help absorb excess moisture. Just be mindful when you add newspaper to the pile that it can mat quickly. More aeration will help with that.

Will the heat in the bin kill any diseased plants?

If you can get your bin to temperatures above 130 degrees and if you can maintain those temps for about three days, then yes. Getting temps that high will require some extra work on your part:

  1. Creating a pile 3’x3’x3’ or larger
  2. Utilizing high nitrogen feedstocks such as grass clippings from untreated lawns and/or fresh chicken manure

What should I do with my compost bin during cold winter months?

Winter climates doesn’t mean that composting must stop! The goal is going to be trying to keep temperatures high as possible and to keep it from getting too wet. In preparation for the snows, you should try to increase the size of your pile (3’x3’x3’ or larger). Some composters like to surround their piles with bales of straw too. I’d consider covering the pile with a tarp to keep it from getting too wet and even an old blanket or rug to help insulate from the top. Keep maintaining it as usual.

I have mushrooms growing on top of my compost pile

Completely normal!! Fungus is part of the process, so a welcome sight. Sometimes you’ll see white, cobwebby matter in the bin. Again, totally normal! Actinomycetes is present. It’s what gives compost a sweet, earthy smell. Sometimes, items germinate in your pile too. Potatoes and tomatoes are the usual suspects.

I spoke briefly about the Marin Carbon Farming Project during the talk. I’d thought you’d like to read the article. Compost rules always!

Marin Carbon Farming Project

Video: How to use compost

https://youtu.be/G87wRvVCuCg

Video: Planting Seeds with Compost

https://youtu.be/JH4Hp0o1EWg

 

If you are looking to purchase compost in bulk for your larger projects:

Marketplace | Lawn to Garden

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The talk was generously funded by Republic Services and the Solano County Water Agency.

A Lesson from the Rain on Healthy Soil

By Alexis Koefoed, Soul Food Farm

Soul Food Farm‘s Alexis Koefoed shared these photos and thoughts during the rainstorm Oct. 24 that over the weekend brought more than 10 inches of rain to parts of Vacaville and at least 4 inches or more to other areas of Solano County. We wanted to share her insight about the importance of healthy soil in helping to address extreme weather events — a why farms like hers that use regenerative practices are so important.

Photos courtesy of Soul Food Farm

I thought today was a good opportunity to talk about the benefits of leaving living roots in the ground.

The first photo is the ranch directly across the road from Soul Food Farm. For 20 years this field was grazed by cattle and then rotational hay cropped, seeded and baled. While those old time farmers would not have called their farming practices regenerative, they knew how to take care of their land resources. Every year the soil provided grazing and hay crop.

Two years ago a new owner took over the same property and immediately began to overgraze the field with his cattle. To the point that the soil became completely pulverized.

Durning our frequent wind storms, a huge cloud of fecal dust blows over Soul Food Farm.

I’ve watched this living, thriving soil become degraded. A property I used to enviously wish was mine now is watched with worry about how its failure will impact our farm in a severe weather event. Like today.

So the first photo shows major flooding. Without soil cover, weeds, a crop, wild grasses, etc. There are no roots to hold the soil in place. And by extension no biology in the soil to convert carbon drawn from the air into food for the billions of living organism found in vibrant soils.

The next two photos are the fields on my farm. Where we have been practicing and learning to implement regenerative and no till practices for the last six years. The photo of the large field has no flooding.

The photo with some sitting water is roads and walking paths. A mini example of what happens when you have exposed dirt without a living plant on top.

Today while we celebrate the rain, but worry about such a huge moisture dump in a short period, I’m reminded of how important it is to manage our farmlands with integrity.

Extreme weather events are not going to diminish. And we have a huge opportunities as farmers, big or small, to use our soil as buffers to extreme weather conditions.

Healthy soils translate immediately into clean water ways, carbon sinks, healthy crops, thriving microbiology and productive domesticated animals.