Compost troubleshooting

Red-Stars-in-RI

Crowing
7 Years
Mar 24, 2014
1,319
3,084
316
Rhode Island
That’s destined for compost? Why? It looks like perfectly edible produce…

I work with a local food pantry...as food comes in and they portion it out for their clients, they sort anything past it's prime (or worse) into my buckets. I pick up twice a week.

Could some of the stuff still be eaten by people...probably. I think the labor to cut off bad spots and the like would be too much. I'm just glad to be able to keep it out of the landfill, where it'd have been headed if I didn't get involved.

My chickens have learned that white buckets mean "buffet time" and come running as soon as they spot them.
 

Braun4

In the Brooder
Sep 13, 2021
17
40
36
I work with a local food pantry...as food comes in and they portion it out for their clients, they sort anything past it's prime (or worse) into my buckets. I pick up twice a week.

Could some of the stuff still be eaten by people...probably. I think the labor to cut off bad spots and the like would be too much. I'm just glad to be able to keep it out of the landfill, where it'd have been headed if I didn't get involved.

My chickens have learned that white buckets mean "buffet time" and come running as soon as they spot them.
Makes sense. True that compost is far superior to landfill!
 

DonyaQuick

Chirping
Jun 22, 2021
81
193
86
Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
Yesterday I added the old mucky dried grass from my run and did my best to turn the pile. I found a couple dry patches in it - so I guess that's part of the problem. My area had so much rain I didn't think that would be possible and was always more worried it would get water-logged because it isn't covered. Now I feel really dumb for putting the compost so far away since I can't get a hose over there and clearly need to be watering it. I added several buckets worth of water to the pile since I also needed to moisten up the new stuff I added, and an hour later the temperature had gone up 10 degrees. It held at 80F through today. I guess I have to haul water out there on no-rain days.
 

Red-Stars-in-RI

Crowing
7 Years
Mar 24, 2014
1,319
3,084
316
Rhode Island
Glad to hear things are moving a little with the compost...hopefully water hauling doesn't turn into too big of a project...you want damp but not wet.

Whatever "greens" you do have, maybe add them...food scraps and the like....sounds like you may be a little carbon heavy...but the good news is that it WILL rot down eventually, it just may take a little longer.
 

addctd2plnts

Songster
Aug 24, 2019
264
545
156
St. Charles County, MO
In July I set up a compost bin for a mixture of grass clippings, veggie scraps, and dirty litter from my coop (roosts are too low for deep litter; had a chicken that couldn't jump onto them, long story). I took a spare 10ft roll of hardware cloth and made a circle out of it to hold everything.

My pile is steadily consuming all of the "green" that I add from rotten bananas to grass and appears to be leaving the "brown" almost untouched. It will heat up when I give it grass clippings or veggie scraps, but then it cools down a few days later and eventually all I find is shavings when I turn it. It's always moist/wet but not saturated when I dig around in it. I read that it might need to be full to work properly, but I also can't seem to get it more than halfway. I add more and it just compresses back down in a week even if I turn it. For a long time the pile was sustaining around 15-20F above ambient daytime temperature for most of the time, which meant it got up to 90F a few times but mostly was lower. Today it's just dropped to ambient temp.

This is what it looks like. There is grass on the top because I recently added some.

View attachment 2853644

There is also some grass in places around the sides about halfway down, but it doesn't extend to the middle. Early on there was a brief hint of ammonia when I turned it, but that's been gone for a while.

What am I doing wrong with this thing? Will it actually cold compost like this or am I going to just have a bunch of washed shavings when the snow melts in the spring?

This is my first time trying to do compost. Nearest I've ever done to compost to date is an indoor potted tree were I throw veggie scraps and indoor plant trimmings in the pot and a pill bug colony breaks it down.
Your compost needs to get much hotter to kill weed seeds and to truly decompose faster. There's multiple ways to do it. Some people put down their layers of green and brown, then a thin layer of regular dirt from the yard, then water each layer. We have 7 horses, and I garden and need those weed seeds to die. So I water in a layer of compost starter each time we dump a front load of stall waste. I've been using a compost starter from Arbico organics and adding a little dry Urea and it really heats the pile up. On cold days you actually see the heat coming off the pile. Another way to heat up the pile is to get more air into the pile. There are some videos on how people used simple leaf blowers on a timer to accomplish this on Youtube. There's a super neat company that also sells micro compost bins and bigger systems for farms like ours: https://www.o2compost.com/why-o2compost.aspx

Here's the Compost Starter: https://www.arbico-organics.com/product/bio-dynamic-compost-inoculant-starter/composting-supplies

Here's Urea https://www.amazon.com/Urea-Premium-Nitrogen-46-0-0-Fertilizer/dp/B07Q6M2JGH/ref=sr_1_3?crid=OM6GFHJ4DPBU&dchild=1&keywords=urea+fertilizer+46-0-0&qid=1634346178&s=lawn-garden&sr=1-3&th=1

Happy Composting! And for MUCH better quality soil, make LEAF MOLD! See videos on Youtube!
 

DonyaQuick

Chirping
Jun 22, 2021
81
193
86
Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
I'm wondering if you need to have maybe 3 compost bins, one that is the most mature just keep turning it but don't add more, the second is just midway between starting and finishing so keep turning it, and the third is where you are adding new material.
I'm definitely going to need at least two; could easily see three if the current one is super slow. I'm hoping the one I've got will fill up before snow starts and then I'll need to start another in a better location. My husband suggested clearing a patch of thicket on the other side of the house where it would be within range of the hose, so I will probably do that.

I realize I have also been "over-cleaning" thee coop litter to a degree. I found it difficult to separate clean from dirty early on, so I was taking out a lot of perfectly good shavings to get rid of all of the dirty ones each day. I'm slowly getting better at just taking out the dirty patches and the manure-to-shavings ratio is improving in what I throw on the compost, but the excess shavings going out previously won't have helped things.

The thing I really want to avoid in all this is something my family did a long time ago when they had horses. They didn't know what to do with the manure and bedding mixture so we all just dumped the wheelbarrows of it in the forest on the property and hoped it would break down, but it never got piled up more than about 3ft deep and nothing else ever got added to it. 10 years later when I left home, that mess covered an embarrassingly large area and had compacted a bit, but aside from being covered in leaves there was not a lot of breaking down going on! It just created a horrible spongey ground that was still shavings if you dug into it. Hoping I can do better this time around.
 

Sally PB

Crossing the Road
Premium Feather Member
Aug 7, 2020
8,134
35,366
933
Belding, MI
I'm definitely going to need at least two; could easily see three if the current one is super slow
I have a 3 bin system. The far right bin is the "collection" bin. I dump used chicken bedding and poop, kitchen waste of all kinds, and garden debris. There it sits until it's a big enough pile to...

Pitchfork into the middle bin, where it sits for a few days. This is where the work starts: mine, and the composting.

After 4-7 days, I pitchfork it into the left bin. Two days later, back to the middle bin. And back and forth, left, middle, left, middle. Until it's done. Depending on how often I turn it, and how active it gets, it can be done in 3 weeks.* Then it can go on the garden, or sit until I need it.

Meanwhile, the right bin is collecting stuff.

*This is the "hot" method of composting. Yup, lots of labor, but sometimes I'm in a hurry for some compost.
 

gtaus

Free Ranging
Mar 29, 2019
3,033
11,517
637
Northern Minnesota
My Coop
My Coop
Composting is one of my favorite topics to talk about with others. Many great comments on this thread already, so I'm using the magic quote feature to add my two cents worth of advice in case it might help.

I use grass clippings in the run so it will be a good dose of almost entirely a mix of that and manure. It's just weird that another portion of my run seems to be doing a better job at breaking down woody stuff than the actual compost pile.

I live in northern Minnesota, and my compost piles take forever to break down. Everything will break down given time, but I've more or less given up on the idea of hot compost and fast turn around times. After I got my chickens, I discovered that the litter in my chicken run was breaking down faster than my compost piles. So, I turned my entire chicken run into a composting system and never looked back. The chickens do a much better, and consistent, job in turning over the compost in the run. About twice a year I harvest compost from the chicken run using my cement mixer compost sifter to sift out the larger unfinished bits.

I throw just about everything, and anything, organic into my chicken run. Leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, old coop bedding with manure, food scraps, etc... The chickens love to scratch and peck through the compost in the run all day long. So they not only get good stuff to eat, but it brings out their chicken behavior to scratch and peck.

Over time, I have more compost in my chicken run then I can use. So I just let it sit there and age more until I need to harvest it. Makes life easy for me as I don't have to manually turn my compost piles, I just let the chickens do their stuff in the run.

You could move the compost pile into the run, let the chickens spread it around, and let it decompose there.

I started out with a pallet compost pile in the chicken run, and that worked fine. However, I discovered that just throwing everything on the ground in the chicken run worked even better for me. If you turn your chicken run into a composting system, you do not need a compost pile in the run.

I worry it would attract animals to the run due to the food scraps.

I have never had a problem with rodents in my chicken run due to the food scraps I feed my chickens. Having said that, my chickens eat all the food scraps I give them every day and there is nothing left in less than maybe half an hour.

I compost in my run...just built my 4th in-run composter...chickens LOVE turning compost, and will turn it a lot more than you ever could.

Yeah, you really got a good thing going with all that food waste product. If I had that much food scraps for my chickens, I doubt they would need any commercial chicken feed at all.

I work with a local food pantry...as food comes in and they portion it out for their clients, they sort anything past it's prime (or worse) into my buckets. I pick up twice a week.

Do you get some food waste that is old and moldy? If so, do you bother to sort it out from your material for the chicken run, or do you just throw everything in the run and let the chickens pick out and eat the good stuff? I know everybody says not to give moldy food to your chickens, but I wonder if there is moldy food in the mix that the chickens will just eat the good stuff and leave the moldy food alone?

Yesterday I added the old mucky dried grass from my run and did my best to turn the pile.

I just keep everything in the chicken run to compost till I need it. I do everything I can to avoid turning compost piles. If you have too much green in your chicken run compost, then add more carbon to the mix. I use leaves and wood chips as carbon in my chicken run and the chickens naturally turn and mix the material themselves. So I just layer my material in the run and the chickens do the mixing.

the good news is that it WILL rot down eventually, it just may take a little longer.

Composting takes a long time where I live, so my strategy was to let the chickens do all the work. I still have some pallet compost bins, but I just let them sit there for years and compost on their own. I harvest more compost than I can use from my chicken run maybe twice a year. So the rest just continues to break down and age until I need it. My pallet compost bins are used for material that I don't want to throw into my chicken run - like old moldy, rotten to core, forgotten food in the back of the refrigerator type of scraps.

I'm wondering if you need to have maybe 3 compost bins, one that is the most mature just keep turning it but don't add more, the second is just midway between starting and finishing so keep turning it, and the third is where you are adding new material.

I currently have 6 pallet compost bins. I just fill about 2 bins every year to the top with material and let them sit. If all my bins get full, I'll harvest my oldest bin(s) after about 3 years. I am not into turning the material in the pallet compost bins, so I just let nature break down the compost over a few years. I get more compost than I can use from my chicken run composting system, so the pallet bins are just overflow or material that I do not want to give to my chickens.

They didn't know what to do with the manure and bedding mixture so we all just dumped the wheelbarrows of it in the forest on the property and hoped it would break down, but it never got piled up more than about 3ft deep and nothing else ever got added to it.

There are a number of YouTube videos where people who free range their chickens have them move into a pasture as they rotate their cows/horses/sheep off that portion. Evidently, the chickens love to scratch and peck through the manure for bugs and worms to eat. That spreads the manure naturally. So, the chickens get feed and the land gets prepped for fresh growth.

I would think you could put horse manure and bedding in a chicken run and just let the chickens go at it. Of course, everything might have to have a good balance as you don't want too much manure and not enough chickens or space to work it up. I don't have access to manure, but I do thrown just about everything organic into my run. If I have too much greens, I'll add a layer of leaves or wood chips to balance it out and just let the chickens mix everything together. My chicken run compost never smells bad. After a good rain, my chicken run smells like a forest floor and the compost naturally soaks up water and keeps it at that wrung out sponge stage.

This summer we had a terrible drought, with no rainfall, and my chicken run had no smell at all. Everything dried up and I imagine composting slowed down to a crawl. Every once in a while, I'd set the sprinkler to water the chicken run because we had no rain. As I said, I currently have more finished compost in the chicken run than I need, so I was not worried about everything drying out this summer.

In my experience, you don't have to pile compost 3 or 4 feet high in a pallet compost system if you use the chickens to constantly scratch and turn your chicken run litter. My chicken run compost system at maybe 12 inches breaks down faster then I ever got with my pallet compost bins stacked 4 feet high. Besides, chickens love to scratch and turn the litter in the chicken run. Just let them do the work they love to do.
 

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