Composting Trials and Tribulations


So I discovered recently that I’d been mixing up my compost totally wrong. I’d been thinking (or attempting to) of the mix purely in terms of the carbon to nitrogen ratio, and of course, to my decidedly unscientific mind, this didn’t really give me much of an idea. I talked with the designer of my system for a while, and also did some more research on-line (and found this great page on it), and realized that I hadn’t been quite accepting the full concept of what I need to add to all the food waste I was putting into it: I need to add at least two times the amount of “bulk material” to mix with the food waste so that the pile could breathe and start the composting activity. I also hadn’t been mixing it up appropriately; I was simply layering, and thinking that because I had put a layer of shredded cardboard and newspaper on top and the cut the smell down, that that was enough.

So two key concepts I’ve gleaned thus far: mix well, and double the amount of “bulk material” to food waste, which in the case of the inputs I have, are sawdust and horse manure. I had been having putting way too little bulk material, and the whole thing was just a wet, disgusting mess, infested with flies and with squirrels and chipmunks and mice circling around it, and bears sniffing around in it. So I had to spend a whole day long of shoveling out this mess, re-mixing it with horse manure, and then shoveling it back into the bin. This was tedious and somewhat gross work. I was blowing horse manure out of my nose for the rest of the night.

Now the bin is full, with all the bulk material, and I started the aerating blower. All seemed well. It didn’t smell as much, and the flies didn’t seem to be propogating in it, although they were still lingering all about the area. The temperature went up to 110 degrees, although still not at the ideal 130 degrees where I wanted it.

Just when I thought I had this thing finally mixed right, a bear went in last night and knocked off the front panel and sniffed around in it. I had thought all that manure would discourage a bear from bothering with it, but apparently not. This is a big set-back for me, firstly, because I will probably have to re-shovel all that shit all over again, and a secondly, because my whole purpose in doing this was to demonstrate that composting could be effectively done at our mountain resort, without causing problems with vectors.

So it’s back to the drawing board for me. I have to determine if the reason was simply that I hadn’t yet placed a top barrier of “biofilter” on top of the pile, in order to keep it from stinking (a mix of finished compost and bulk material), or if I still hadn’t mixed enough bulk into the whole pile. Either way, it’s still discouraging. However, I’m going to get the pile going again, put a biofilter on it, and then keep monitering the temperature, maybe messing with the aerating times, and see if I can’t get it fully composting at high heat the way it should be.

This is what learning is all about, of course. Getting down in the muck and struggling.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

1 thought on “Composting Trials and Tribulations”

  1. Update: Good news. The pile is now in full swing, steaming at 133 degrees. No flies, little smell. The bin is a little battered from the bear’s attack, but just needs a small fix up, and is otherwise fine. No re-shoveling necessary.
    My guess is that the bear was not attracted necessarily by the pile itself, but from the residual food odors from when I had taken everything out and then put it back in.
    So everything is back on track, and looking good.

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