Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My own little R2 unit!

My mother in law and I went to a composting workshop sponsored and run by the Penn State Agricultural Extension office in Adams County. Every county in PA has an office, some are more active than others. Be sure to check out your county’s website and see if your office has any nifty classes or information available. (In the same building is a state Water Conservation office, where we both also received free rain barrel kits. We like free).

I had wanted to take this class last spring but never signed up. The class is 1.5 hours long. They are run by local Master Gardeners who sign up to teach the classes. Classes are free. Instruction is….spotty. My coworker who also took it and I compared notes and decided that they really need a train the trainer class.

At the end of the class you receive your very own plastic compost bin. It is heavy plastic, very nice, and looks like a black R2D2 unit, which is what I’ve nicknamed mine. I’ve seen similar compost bins in catalogs going for $100.

They have slots on the side and top for airflow, and the bottom is open. You need to keep it in a shady spot so it doesn’t get too hot and bake your organisms (ahem), microbes and buggies. The formula for filling it is 1 part greens (kitchen waste, lawn scraps, weeds, etc) to 3 parts browns (dead leaves, dried brown grass, dried weeds, hay/straw, etc). If you put in too much green it will get mucky and a little smelly. If you put in too much brown it will be too dry and will take longer to decompose. No meat, bones, dairy, oil or grease, etc, or the pile will turn rancid. We do put in crab shells, and you can put in shredded newspaper or cardboard, hair, and paper towels if you are hurting for browns.

They really don’t start to actively compost stuff until they’re full. Well, I finally filled mine up over the weekend, so I am now in Heating Mode (stage 1) for the next 4 weeks or so. This means the bin will slowly start to heat up to well over 100 degrees. I have to keep it about as moist as a rung out sponge, and I have to turn it once a week.

Keeping it wet enough is going to be the most difficult part, I think. I have no idea how much water to spray in and how far it is actually sinking down into the pile. I’ll water it down when I turn it, that should help, then water it down a couple times during the week. I also had been taking the top off when I knew it was going to rain, but now that I’m in ‘cook’ mode I can’t do that.

So, stay tuned! I’ll try to get pictures of the turning and such to see how it goes and how long it actually will take to get good black gold out. They told us that if you do it right, turn it when you should and keep it wet enough you can get finished compost out in 3 months.