Ask a Question forum: need composting help please

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John238
Apr 1, 2017 8:22 AM CST
i am new to composting. I am using a Good Ideas Compost Wizard dueling tumbler i started in early spring 2016. i was scrupulous about adding a good mix--50/50 grass clippings and dry leaves, plus kitchen scraps and a small amount of shredded cardboard and fireplace ash. i rotated it every few days. i added small amounts of water when it looked dry. by fall i was seeing no results at all. the contents kept forming into baseball sized round, claylike clumps i had to break apart by hand. scraps such as eggshells etc were still just sitting there after six warm months. i have purchased a bag of starter to add to the mix in the spring in the hopes of jump-starting it. any other ideas please?
Name: Barbalee
Amarillo, TX (Zone 6b)
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Barbalee
Apr 1, 2017 10:06 AM CST
No idea, John, but I'm sure watching this for the experts to chime in as I have a similar issue. Welcome aboard! Welcome!
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 1, 2017 10:20 AM CST
My best guess is that you have too much 'brown' and not enough 'green'. You may also have too much ash and eggshells making the compost too alkaline. Add some manure, alfalfa pellets or more grass clippings (probably what your activator contains). Don't add anymore leaves, ash or eggshells and skip the cardboard all together.

I have never figured out how you can add enough air into the mixing process in a closed bin.
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Name: Adam
Broward County, FL (Zone 10a)
cadinkis
Apr 1, 2017 10:43 AM CST
I thought the correct ratio was at least 2:1 brown:green. John Kohler from YouTube's Growing Your Greens has a ton of videos on composting. I can't post any links, so just google him.

For air, I took two 3 ft long 2" pvc and drilled 1" holes in them every 6", then put them in the bin I have. I put a 2-into-1 manifold on the top of the two pipes, and use my shop vac to blow air for about 15-20 mins.

I'll post pics later.
[Last edited by cadinkis - Apr 1, 2017 12:51 PM (+)]
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Name: Adam
Broward County, FL (Zone 10a)
cadinkis
Apr 1, 2017 12:49 PM CST
Correction to the size of the holes in the PVC. I think I used 1/2"...definitely not 1".

As promised. You'll also see that I drilled 1" holes into the sides of the bin.

And I threw in some worms I found in the soil around my house when we were landscaping.

Thumb of 2017-04-01/cadinkis/2226d6

[Last edited by cadinkis - Apr 1, 2017 12:50 PM (+)]
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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
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Weedwhacker
Apr 1, 2017 4:04 PM CST
Welcome to NGA, @John238 .

Many years ago, when I was a new gardener, I moved into a house that came with a compost tumbler. I really had no idea what I was doing and just threw in my vegetable scraps and weeds and such, and for my "efforts" I was rewarded with a nasty, slimy mess. I now make compost very successfully with a pile of "stuff" on the edge of the yard; I don't worry much about proportions of this or that, but do have a good mix of greens and browns, and it turns itself into "black gold," as they say.

I now really wonder if it's even possible to make decent compost in a "tumbler." I think Daisy's advice is good, and maybe throw in a shovelful of garden soil. You aren't the only one with problems making compost that way, and I really hope someone who has had success with a Compost Tumbler will have some advice!
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Name: Abbey
Eastern New York State (Zone 6a)
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Garden10
Apr 3, 2017 3:28 PM CST
My aunt was an expert gardener, and she bought a Compost Tumbler after it became a running gag on Letterman -- my idea...she never put anything into it but kitchen vegetable scraps, lawn trimmings and dried leaves that she had put through a shredder first, and her compost was terrific. Truly black gold. I just got a compost bin, nothing sexy and the bottom rests on the dirt, and I was surprised by the things it said I should put in there, like dryer lint. I'm only guessing, but I would think fireplace ash would contribute greatly to that balled-up, clay-like consistency, along with the cardboard. Yes, on paper, no pun intended, a lot of this stuff is compostable, but in a domestic setting, I would keep it simple. That's what I'm doing now, and it will take a year to see whether or not it works!
"Every now and then I leave the book on the seat and go and have a refreshing potter among my flower beds from which I return greatly benefited, and with a more just conception of what is worth bothering about, and what is not." The Solitary Summer -- Elizabeth von Arnim
Name: Barbalee
Amarillo, TX (Zone 6b)
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Barbalee
Apr 3, 2017 3:36 PM CST
Compost takes a year? I read places where they say they have it in 3 weeks! My tumbler is a year old and sure hasn't given me any "black gold" yet!

I had a compost pile that heated up to about 120 for several days. I mixed it after it cooled down, and the temp hasn't come back up. Should it?
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Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Apr 3, 2017 4:35 PM CST
There is such a thing as "over thinking" compost. I aim for 2 parts brown to 1 part green but I sure don't measur anything. Oh, and I always allow grass clipping to dry completely before adding them. Just throw the stuff in a pile, remeber to add a few shovel of soil, water it when there is not enough rainfall. The pile should be in contact with the ground to allow the local earthworms to invade the pile and do their share of the work. I add eggshells that have not been crushed as they seem to provide a safe haven for the baby worms. I generally add a bit of manure cow/chicken/rabbit. Some people add a handful of ground limestone. Some add a handful of fertilizer. Turn the pile occasionally. That's it.

I have tried to use purchased bins. This one does not work very well:
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/708ba0

This one did not work very well either:
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/6afea1

This one at my friend Jane's urban garden made from pallets works just fine.
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/193042

My friend PlantSister uses rice bags to make compost; add vegetable matter, one shovel of soil, some water, poke holes in the bags, set in the shade and wait a few weeks.
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/a73b6a

This simple 3 part bin made of metal wire fencing works for me the best of all. The pile heats up quickly and is easy to turn.
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/441e8f

Another garden friend, Liz, had great success with a compost bin made of concrete blocks. That's me moving every bit of the compost, one plastic tubful at a time, that she was giving away when she moved across country. Can't take it with you!
Thumb of 2017-04-03/greene/1c3274
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Edited to add a link:
https://garden.org/learn/artic...




Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
[Last edited by greene - Apr 3, 2017 4:37 PM (+)]
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Name: Abbey
Eastern New York State (Zone 6a)
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Garden10
Apr 3, 2017 4:55 PM CST
Barbalee said:Compost takes a year? I read places where they say they have it in 3 weeks! My tumbler is a year old and sure hasn't given me any "black gold" yet!?


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"Every now and then I leave the book on the seat and go and have a refreshing potter among my flower beds from which I return greatly benefited, and with a more just conception of what is worth bothering about, and what is not." The Solitary Summer -- Elizabeth von Arnim
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 3, 2017 5:08 PM CST
Your friend Jane's compost pile looks like the one I had when I was a 'farmer' before retirement. I actually had two that big. I added stuff to one for a year before switching to the other. After another year, pile #1 was ready for the garden and pile #2 was ready to 'bake' for a year. I just kept it going.

I added kitchen scraps (We didn't have a lawn) including paper towels and eggshells. No coffee grinds because I don't drink coffee. Twice a year, I cleaned my chicken coop into the pile (a bale of pine shavings and a lot of chicken s__t. Smiling All the dead vegetable plants went in but none of the weeds. My husband turned it with his tractor and I put a sprinkler on top that went off with my drip irrigation (2 - 3 times a week). I had the most amazing soil!

Yes, it takes a year.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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[Last edited by DaisyI - Apr 3, 2017 5:09 PM (+)]
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Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 3, 2017 5:28 PM CST
I had (oh, I still have it but am not using it) a tumbler made out of a plastic 55gal. drum. In Salt Lake where we had grass clippings to compost, it worked great and did indeed produce small amounts of "black gold" in 3 to 4 weeks from a full barrel of mixed grass, leaves, kitchen scraps etc. But it didn't compost nearly enough "stuff" as we had quite a bit of lawn and a lot of trees. I'd have needed a dozen tumblers to compost all my leaves and grass clippings in the fall, so I had a large traditional pile as well. It was a real pain to turn, but I did get lots of nice compost out of it, too.

It sounds to me as if your compost got too wet early in the process, and stuck together in lumps. My advice would be to empty out your tumbler and start again fresh. Use only stuff that was once a plant, and make sure it is shredded into small bits before putting it in the tumbler. Don't let it get too wet again - damp is what you're going for. I did used to compost paper and cardboard but I put it through a paper shredder first. Lots of green stuff needed to balance it.

Btw, the eggshells will not actually "compost" so you need to break them up into small pieces. They are only beneficial if you have soil that is on the acid side because they (very slowly) add calcium and raise the pH. We have seashells in our soil here so I don't bother adding any egg shells.

Daisy, my tumbler has a pvc pipe down the middle with holes drilled into it for air also. That and the regular tumbling gives lots of air, plus you're never supposed to actually fill the thing completely full, so there is always air inside, and the bottom drains and lets in air.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
[Last edited by dyzzypyxxy - Apr 3, 2017 7:48 PM (+)]
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Name: Barbalee
Amarillo, TX (Zone 6b)
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Barbalee
Apr 3, 2017 6:47 PM CST
Great help, Daisy and Elaine! I guess I'm going to have to hunt up a "patience" hat...I lost it somewhere! Still wondering on something, though... should a pile heat up more than once? Thank You! Thank You!
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Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 3, 2017 7:22 PM CST
Absolutely, it can heat up every time you turn it depending upon if there's enough "fuel" to make the chemical reaction happen. Aerobic decomposition is what happens when the compost is heating up and "burning". That's what takes the right mix of stuff.

Once a pile gets too wet and is just rotting, that's when it starts to smell and be slimy. Then you've got anaerobic decomp going on. Need to mix in dry, fresh stuff - green and brown - and get it burning again to get rid of the smell and slimy goo.

After it all turns dark brown and starts to look like real stuff is when you can let it rest and finish decomposing. But with a tumbler, you turn it right up until it's ready, and it comes out all crumbly and fluffy, ready to use.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Barbalee
Amarillo, TX (Zone 6b)
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Barbalee
Apr 3, 2017 7:30 PM CST
Got it, Elaine! Time for me to do some adding! Thank You!
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