Extreme Composting

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Forerunner, Feb 22, 2010.

  1. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    I've put this off long enough.

    It snowed....... again.:grumble:

    My work outside is buried.
    The timing of the Michigan meeting and the need for incentive
    inspires me, so, here goes......


    I have long been an extremist, taking normal activities to their absolute most ridiculous extreme for no other reason than to amuse myself with what can be done by one man if effort is applied...... and, composting is no exception.
    I had no long-term ambitions when I started my first pile in the late 90s, (after a few years dormancy since my youth) other than to make fertile soil to feed my family. Well, as usual, opportunities have since come knocking and I've turned none of them away. Things got out of hand....

    This isn't my first pile, and I didn't build it just with that pitchfork.....but I don't have a picture of my first.
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    Here is a dated pile, taken a month before the power company came to take their poles....
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    Here is a picture of what was the biggest pile for a couple years.
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    Here's another shot of that pile as it grew.
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    Here are the humble beginnings of the new, main pile, as the latter has been spread on the fields.
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    Here's another pile built from our own stall cleanings.
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    ....and here is an up and coming compost engineer standing on the new, main pile as it grows.
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    The focus of this thread is going to be on sources of material and how one man can make extensive use of what the world throws away.
    Obviously, if this catches on, such waste material will regain its long lost sense of value, and I say it can't happen soon enough.
    Between the yard waste, farm waste, kitchen/restaurant waste, sale barns, food processing plants, sawmills, animal shelters, barber shops, stone cutting facilities, municipal sewage disposal, etc. there is ample, mineral and nutrient-rich material being wasted to at least keep ME up nights...

    Following will be a rather haphazard narration, illustrated, of how I've made use of what is readily available. I have tried to get others interested, and they are, but they like to watch me, rather than take up the pitchfork, themselves. The day will come, I am sure, but until then, I gather.....

    Feel free to comment. I'm going to make installments to this thread over the course of the next week or so.
     
  2. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    Rather than making large piles have you considered scattering the material onto fields and simply sheet composting? That should work when there is no growing crop on the land.

    No matter which method one uses I'll bet your soil is teeming with worms and the soil has become dark, rich, and deep with great tilth.

    Way to go!
     
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  3. salmonslayer

    salmonslayer Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Forerunner, I know that you need about 140 degree or better to kill bacteria from animal waste so do you take mechanical temp readings in your pile or do you just judge the breakdown by looks, smell, etc. before using on food crops?
     
  4. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    Having been somewhat of a woodsman all my life, and cutting my share of firewood, cleaning up maple groves to facilitate more enjoyable syruping, clearing township roads of brush, etc. it naturally fit that I procure a wood chipper. We made extensive use of the outfit pictured below, and used the chips for bedding, mulch, paths around the house, and, of course, for compost base.

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    After years of working so hard for wood chips (work which I enjoyed, but others did out of a sense of duty, more or less) imagine my surprise when my father told me about Canton's municipal yard waste dump.
    Tree services, private individuals, city parks, street sweeper, etc. all dump material here year 'round. They were either spreading it out to moulder, then shoving it over the hill.... or burning it. :eek:

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    Here's a shot of the grass clipping and leaf piles that were everywhere.....

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    There were stump grindings, piles of someone's wet hay, spoiled straw, excess garden produce, corn stalks, etc. etc. etc.
    It didn't take long for me to start making regular trips, 15 miles one way, with tractor and wagon.

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    Now, obviously, my initial efforts at the yard waste dump were rather labor intensive. I had the big tractor, and only one wagon short enough to facilitate loading by hand. My backhoe is old, and I hate driving it long distances, so a change was in order.......
     
  5. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    Having the equipment and the time, I'd rather make the piles and compost them properly.
    Materials like grass clippings, leaves and slightly aged manure I would incorporate directly, but I come up with some nasty stuff, :) pics of which will be forthcoming.
    I NEED the heat.
    I don't temp test my piles other than to watch the steam rise and occasionally dig in to a pile and burn my hand for fun. According to Joe Jenkins (Humanure Handbook), a sustained 110 degrees is hot enough to kill pathogens. My piles will burn your hand, so I'm sure I'm regularly hitting the 150 degree range and, given the yardage I'm dealing with, maintaining that temp for months.
     
  6. fishhead

    fishhead Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Why not tell the waste haulers to come to your place and pay you for dumping?

    Do you use the compost heat to heat your home or other buildings?
     
  7. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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  8. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    It's funny to me now, after years of being in the demolition and excavating business..... I've made some major investments in my time, but this little 3010 Deere, with loader, weighing in at $ten grand, has been the most valuable yet. We bought it late last summer, and I'm sure I've put 5000 miles on it already.

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    Having procured the loader tractor, the next step was to get away from running gear wagons and build something with serious weight hauling capacity and durability. I went out to the scrap yard and looked around.
    An old single axle semi tractor tentatively raised it's hand, so I drug it up to the shop and started doing surgery.

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    After removing some key extra pieces, I cut and bent the frame together in front and moved the project inside.

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    A strong hitch is crucial.

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    I built two of these. Here is the finished frame on the second one.
    It burned in the fire shortly after I built the hoist and box for it....

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    I had built a steel dump box for one of my running gears, and used oak planks for the runners. Here I'm replacing the oak with some 7 inch steel beams in preparation to put that box on my heavy trailer.
    The backhoe comes in handy for tweaking otherwise uncooperative chunks of heavy steel for welding.

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    I couldn't be happier with the finished dump trailer.
    It will haul ten tons with ease. I've had 13 tons on that single axle.
    What amazes me is that the 3010 handles that dump wagon AND a regular running gear dump wagon behind it. I regularly haul 16-18 tons.
    My larger tractor, a 4630 Deere, does a far better job of pulling long, steep hills, but it drinks more diesel, too......

    [​IMG]
     
  9. Shepherd

    Shepherd Well-Known Member

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    I've really enjoyed reading about this! Anxious to hear more.
     
  10. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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  11. Callieslamb

    Callieslamb Well-Known Member

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    Great pictures! Okay, why does my barn 'pile' not look like yours? Mine doesn't even melt the snow off the top of it. It is just straw, hay and manure. Too much straw? Or could it be working down inside and not on the outside layers? What can I do to get it to heat up? Since I put hay in my stalls this year for bedding, I want it composted really well before I use it in the garden. Otherwise, I will have to find some one with a "LITTLE" 3010 to come visit to spread it on my fields. The pile is way too large to leave it where it is!!!
     
  12. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    If you build the pile cold, it may not heat until the thaw.
    If you add cold material to a working pile, it may take a few days, but the heat will spread. My experience is such that too much manure is more detrimental to heating than too much carbon.
    Once the pile is built, if it absolutely refuses to heat, you may have to turn it. The easiest way to do that is to simply re-pile it next to the original. The easiest way to do that is with a loader. :( I try hard to err on the side of overmaturing a pile rather than spreading material not quite digested. The difference in the crop is definitely worth the wait.
     
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  13. 7thswan

    7thswan Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Tell me about the Electric company coming and taking the poles. This has my jaw on the desk.
     
  14. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    Somewhere in the vicinity of the year 2000, I asked the power company if a social security number was required to maintain an electrical hookup.

    They said no. I asked for that in writing. They hemmed, and before they hawed, I told them to pull the plug. It was five years or so after when they finally consented to my wife's incessant badgering for them to remove the poles. I guess the time lapse was necessary for them to decide we were serious.

    Told you I was extreme.

    I've been making my own power ever since. We burn three gallons of gasoline a week to power the house and a small shop.
     
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  15. Forerunner

    Forerunner Well-Known Member

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    Now back to compost :)

    After making multiple trips to the Canton yard waste dump, still with a pitchfork or two for loading..... the city workers began to take notice.
    They didn't seem to object to my frequent withdrawals.
    I asked one of them, early on, whether or not it would be OK for me to bring my backhoe in and hire a semi or two to make some real progress.
    The man promptly handed me the phone number of Canton's public works superintendent. I tried calling him once, and got no answer.
    As I was already in process getting my loader tractor bought and delivered, I wasn't terribly concerned.

    A few weeks later, I had the loader, and two dump wagons, and was loading away when the fellow who comes in with the Cat loader to push things around a couple times a week rolled over and opened his window. He asked, with a wry smile, "What the hell are you doin' with all this stuff ?" I told him I was making compost, and he got a look....
    He left, and a few minutes later, a pretty important looking Public Works pickup truck pulled in....kinda fancy....
    Turns out the driver was second in command....Canton Public Works.
    The passenger was that curious loader operator. Turns out the two of them are pretty good friends and the loader man knew his boss/buddy would have a keen interest in what I was doing. He was right. "George", the boss, was a farmer at heart who had never followed his life's passion further than to tend a well-kept garden. When I told him my story, he almost started to cry. He told me that he had been hearing about me for a while now, and thought I was working too hard. We talked a bit about my operation and he expressed a sincere interest in paying a visit. I didn't know until I got home with my load that day that he was serious. He pulled in, city truck and all, right behind me. He was noticeably impressed with the size of my piles, and the deep green of the gardens. We talked about food, and then compost, and then wine, and then watermelons. Then he said he was going to have his crew start bringing me the yard waste in the city trucks because they were running out of room to dispose of it.

    Then I just about cried.

    So far, they've brought me over 150 dump truck loads.
    As humbly as I can admit it, that increased the size of my pile by about 33%.
    George retired in December. The city workers assure me that George's boss is as interested in maintaining the relationship as George was, but for other, more practical reasons. Apparently I've done them a tremendous favor, offering them a permanent place to dispose of yard waste...... delightful, but sad in a knowing sort of way.
    Several of those city truck drivers are gardeners.....and they don't even compost. :eek:

    True to George's word, they showed up a few days later.

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    Let me tell you, it was an odd feeling pushing up piles that I didn't have to haul.
    Some days, they brought 25-30 loads. I didn't mind hanging around to shove the material up as they dumped.

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    There's nothing so satisfying as a tidy pile of rotting organic matter.
    Notice the watermelons growing on the older pile to the right.
    George inherited a pickup load of those when they came ripe.
    He made wine out of them.

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    Last edited: Feb 22, 2010
  16. Jerngen

    Jerngen Perpetually curious! Supporter

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    I am really enjoying reading these :)
     
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  17. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    I had no idea about the scale of your operation so understand about not sheet composting.

    Sounds like a win win for all. Thanks, enjoyed the info.
     
  18. 7thswan

    7thswan Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Well I sure don't blame you at all. I had just thought, They did it to spite you.
     
  19. Ezekiel's Garde

    Ezekiel's Garde Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for sharing!! You've inspired me!! I don't get near that amount, but can at least do my part with what we have around here between the chickens, the goats, and us...
     
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  20. Callieslamb

    Callieslamb Well-Known Member

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    forerunner- that is amazing. What do you DO with all that compost. You cannot be putting it ALL in your own garden, do you? Do you market garden? 150 dump truck loads = 1/3 of your pile. I bet you cried to see them coming! Glad you have that arrangement. You need to write a book - with pictures!
     
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