Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to Hot Pile Compost

"Coffee grinds are the city folk's manure." I loved this quote from one of the compost experts at Garden for the Environment's 2-hour composting workshop. San Francisco has a goal of zero waste by the year 2020. One step in this direction is to educate its citizens on how to compost and use the green bin.

Everyday San Franciscans fill one football field 3-6 feet deep with garbage. (I wrote down 6 ft. in my notes but that sounds so deep that I am writing 3-6 feet because I am just not sure of the exact depth of the pile. In any case, it's a lot of trash.) Thirty-five percent of this waste could be composted if people used their green bins. When food is thrown into the black trash can, only 20% of it breaks down at the dump. The rest of it heats up the dump pile, doesn't break down quickly, and releases methane gas. When food is composted from our green bins to the huge compost pile in Vacaville, it benefits the environment instead of hindering it and we don't have to do any of the work! Landfills are responsible for 36% of the methane emissions in the United States. Let's use those green bins! We are lucky to have them here in San Francisco. Most counties don't offer them. Marin with all its beauty and environmentally conscious inhabitants doesn't have them.

The Sunset Scavenger website has a page with what you can put in your green bin. I can tell you quickly though, it's all your food and gardening clippings that don't have paint or glue on them. If you compost in your backyard, use your green bin for things like meat, fish, diary, grains, bread, beans, weeds, diseased plants, blackberry clippings, and any cooked food. These things aren't good for small home compost piles or a worm bin.

How to Compost in your backyard?

Here are my notes and some pictures on how to compost using the hot pile method.

1. Build a 1 to 3 bin composting system or buy one. I reference a book below that talks about building all sorts of different containers for composting. Use rodent wire and wood. Raise it a little off the ground. The structure should be 3 by 3 ft. or 5 by 5 ft. if you live in SF. Here's a picture of the one at Garden for the Environment at 7th and Lawton.

2. Make a pile next to your bins as you garden.

3. Cut up the pile into small pieces that are no more than six inches in length.

4. Add to the compost bin. Add anything dry (leaves, branches) and anything wet (green leaves or uncooked vegetarian food). Start and end with dry things.

5. This first pile turns into the "working pile" after it is full.
If you turn it once a week, you'll have compost in a month. To turn a pile, shovel it out of its bin and then shovel it back in. This process turns the pile. See picture below. The shinny thing in the other picture is a thermometer to see how hot the pile is getting.

6. Then the working pile turns into a "done" pile. You know it's done when the temp reads 120-170 degrees and the consistency is that of a rung out sponge. A done pile can sit for as long as you'd like. When you're ready for some compost, sift the pile. When this "done" bin is empty, start a new pile in the empty bin and start with step 2 again. Here's a picture of the "done" pile and the sifting screen. Shovel out and sift into a something like a wheelbarrow.

7. The final product: compost!

There's nothing like seeing the process in person. If you live in SF, I highly recommend one of these free composting workshops. You can also click on my photo slideshow to read through my captions on Picasa. They might be helpful.

I am going to next Saturdays workshop (Jan. 17, 2009) on Winter Gardening. In my Victory Garden, my lettuce has run its course so I am looking for some good ideas to see what to plant next.

Composting workshop is offered on the first Saturday of every month. Check the schedule and drop by. It's free!

The Rodale Book of Composting, easy Methods for Every Gardener.
Worms, Eat my Garbage, by Mary Applehof


lauren said...

Hey there! I was one of the folks teaching that workshop! You are awesome... Thanks so much for your sweet comments about the workshop and GFE and for thanks being a compost ambassador!
(And it IS 1 football field 5 feet deep. 6 million lbs a day! Outrageous!)
Anyways, keep it up, maybe I'll see you around the garden!

Spinach and Honey said...

Hi Lauren - Thanks for the correction on the size of SFs waste per day. It's mind boggling.

I cleaned out my worm bin today and I am getting ready to buy some new worms.

I also wanted to mention to my readers that you don't have to be living in SF to attend the workshop. There were people there from all over the bay area.

Thanks again Lauren!

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