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Old 04-22-09, 09:37 AM   #1
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Default Composting rules & guidelines questions

I was reading up on the site insaneintention posted where he got his composter from. They say that you shouldn't mix in too much green grass clippings, but you can mix in all the brown you want. Why is this?

Somewhat close to this question is that my wife replaces indoor tropical plants from accounts where they are no longer deemed up to standard. I'm guessing I should limit the amount of green tropical plants added to a composter as well?

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Old 04-22-09, 10:04 AM   #2
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It's for nitrogen/carbon balance. Basically, the "brown" (wood, dry leaves, etc...) is very high in carbon. Grass clippings, fruit and vegetable shavings are all moist and dense which is high in nitrogen If there is too much carbon, the pile won't decompose very fast. If there is too much nitrogen, it will start to form ammonia gas, which can cause odor problems.
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Old 04-22-09, 10:15 AM   #3
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My problem is that I have lots of brown and not so much green. I'm always scrounging for more green to put in my compost.

Higgy is dead on.
Too much brown = nothing happens.
Too much green = odors.

http://organiclifestyles.tamu.edu/compost/index.html
http://www.compostguide.com/Composti...tions-s/36.htm
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Old 05-04-09, 10:23 AM   #4
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but "too much" is open to a lot of interpretation
It is all about balance. If you have a lot of green stuff (N rich stuff), then add some brown to balance it out--- dead leaves that are dry, newspaper, wood chips, palm fronds*, manure**, shredded cardboard, sawdust, etc

Also- turning the pile frequently will add oxygen and allow the N-rich stuff to break down more quickly.

Note: *palm fronds take forever to decompose. A looong time. Be sure to chip them.
**manure is actually pretty "green" and not so "brown" but it is less "green" than ... lawn clippings, for example, and can help balance out the high nitrogen content of the clippings. You would still want to add more "brown" to a pile of grass and manure, but the grass/manure pile will decompose better than a pile of grass alone.

also: if you spread out grass clippings and allow them to dry, they are much less "hot" in decomposition and act more "brown" than "green"
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Old 05-04-09, 11:47 AM   #5
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From Tim J Fowler's page, links at the bottom: http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H-110.pdf

Quote:
While most organic materials in the pile vary in their
carbon:nitrogen ratios, they must be balanced to produce
the ideal of 30:1. Most dry or woody materials are
high in carbon, while green wastes or livestock manures
are relatively low (table 1). Because plant materials vary
in C:N ratios due to water content and growth stage,
tables of C:N ratios can be used only as guides in mixing
materials. Thus, composting is as much an art as it
is a science.
Quote:
Table 1. Carbon:nitrogen ratios for selected organic
wastes (by weight).
Material C:N Ratio

Low C:N materials
Grass clippings 12–15:1
Food scraps 15:1
Vegetable wastes 11–20:1
Coffee grounds 20:1
Cow manure 18–20:1
Horse manure 25:1
Poultry manure 15:1

High C:N materials
Leaves 30–80:1
Straw 40–100:1
Corn stalks 60:1
Paper 170–200:1
Sawdust 200–500:1
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Old 05-04-09, 01:23 PM   #6
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Looks like I was mistaken re: manure C:N ratios.

One thing I do know: mixing a bunch of stuff together seems to break down faster for me vs. doing a pile of just 1 or 2 ingredients.

Seems like horse manure is nearly that ideal 30:1. So adding it to whatever else you are composting should bring the pile back towards 25:1 Ditto w/ Coffee grounds (which I use heavily).

Thanks for that post PaleMelanesian. Very informative.
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Old 06-29-09, 05:37 AM   #7
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We're next to an empty lot so the family has been tossing grass and leaves over the fence for years. The owners don't seem to mind, when they move in one day they'll have some mighty good compost waiting for them...

Most of the material in our small compost bin are fruits and veggies, plus coffee grounds, so there is a lot of nitrogen. Hence: the smell. It's bad, especially after turning it. LOTS of worms and jurassic-looking rollie-pollies, plus fruit flies and snails. I tried pulling some compost out yesterday, but it was too wet (it's been raining here for the lat 2 months), plus the smell...

Nitrogen isn't that bad, in fact I read (I believe it was John Seymour's book "Blueprint for a Green Planet") that adding nitrogen (like peeing) to a starting compost pile helps to get it going.

We also have a lot of egg shells. They seem to take a few years to decompose, but supposedly they add calcium to the soil.

Maybe I should look around for some sawdust to add more carbon?

Last edited by Piwoslaw; 06-29-09 at 05:39 AM..
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Old 06-29-09, 10:53 AM   #8
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Sprinkling sawdust over the top of the pile will eliminate fruit flies and probably hep with your c:n ratios. Just be aware that fine-cut sawdust can really pack together and hamper circulation. Straw or dead leaves also work well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
We're next to an empty lot so the family has been tossing grass and leaves over the fence for years. The owners don't seem to mind, when they move in one day they'll have some mighty good compost waiting for them...

Most of the material in our small compost bin are fruits and veggies, plus coffee grounds, so there is a lot of nitrogen. Hence: the smell. It's bad, especially after turning it. LOTS of worms and jurassic-looking rollie-pollies, plus fruit flies and snails. I tried pulling some compost out yesterday, but it was too wet (it's been raining here for the lat 2 months), plus the smell...

Nitrogen isn't that bad, in fact I read (I believe it was John Seymour's book "Blueprint for a Green Planet") that adding nitrogen (like peeing) to a starting compost pile helps to get it going.

We also have a lot of egg shells. They seem to take a few years to decompose, but supposedly they add calcium to the soil.

Maybe I should look around for some sawdust to add more carbon?
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Old 07-28-09, 05:52 PM   #9
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I regularly throw in stuff like toilet paper rolls/paper towel rolls (cardboard), scraps of notebook paper (better than the trash, and closer than the recycle bin when I'm in the kitchen) or other paper/cardboard products. Seems to work ok.

Straw is good, but watch out for seeds.

small sticks (smaller than pencil) decompose slowly and usually have leftover chunklets in the final product, but add structure to the pile and are mostly carbon.

Used lightly, some fireplace/bonfire/bbq ash doesn't seem to hurt anything, and it is a convenient way to smother stinky rotting veggies.

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