Compost at Blake Garden

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Education, Sustainability, Video
[media id=4 width=480 height=360] This semester three Albany High School Students have been interning in the garden. They are diligently working on our three pile compost system. It is a fairly new system started by volunteers about a year ago. At first we thought that we might not have enough nitrogen (greens) to create the chemical process that breaks down the plant material. But we have recovered many wheelbarrows of amendment that we have been adding to new plantings and old soil to boost the nutrient content and to build our soil structure. Below Alex, Remy and Miguel describe the composting process and what is happening in the timelapse video. -- Lauri Twitchell, Blake Garden manager First  we acquire green plant material which will become the nitrogen in our compost pile. For this we went and cut some end of the season asters and coreopsis . With our wheelbarrow full  we headed over to our compost pile. The compost pile is comprised of a few major parts; oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and H2O. The green plant material (and kitchen waste) provides  nitrogen, the brown plant material provides  carbon, oxygen is provided as you turn the pile, and water is added as the pile is constructed. Make sure that this pile is not compacted as that will hinder oxygen from reaching the inner reaches of the pile. Once you have all of this in place, it will begin to heat up in the center until it reaches a temperature of about 125-160 degrees Fahrenheit.  This causes it to decompose much faster because it is breaking down the chemical bonds.  The pile  works best at a 6' x6' x6'. To accomplish this we take the existing pile, remove the outer layer, spreading it out in donut shape. Then we take the rich inner material, which should have a composition of moist soil. Taking this we put it aside into another pile which we will deal with later. Then, taking our new nitrogen providing plants & old vegetable and fruit peels, we place it into the center of the pile. While wetting it , you layer the carbon and nitrogen materials, building it up to a  6'x6'x6'  again. The optimum ratio  should be  30:1 carbon to nitrogen. Then just make sure that it stays un-compacted, and that it stays moderately damp, similar to  a wet sponge. Then repeat this process every week, and you will have wonderful rich soil to plant with. -- Alexander Barrington Stepans After the compost has been decomposing for a while, we move it to a second pile.  In the second pile, we take the compost and put it on a sifter, which is positioned on a wheelbarrow, in order to separate the decomposed materials from the plant materials that are not fully broken down.  The broken down compost then gets moved to a third pile, while all the other twigs and breaking down plants are returned to the first pile.  During the sifting, we encounter many fascinating things, like millipedes, mice, centipedes, earth worms, ants, roly polies and sow bugs, which work as decomposers.  Decomposers break down dead material, so they are very necessary in the compost. -- Remy Alexander Nutrient rich soil is the final product of this composting process. Once sifted from the second compost pile the soil is placed in its own pile; the third pile. From there it will be put into wheelbarrows and carted to areas of need in the garden. The soil is used as fertilizer and a light mulch layer for new and old plants. The soil can also be used to bring nutrients back into old soil that has had its nutrients absorbed by the plant life or compacted by the weight of the gardens visitors. -- Miguel I. Mejia