Building a New Compost Pile

Vegetable gardening in the production zone presents a number of challenges (opportunities, hopefully).

  • Clay soil – most of the biomass of a rainforest is above ground, alive in lush vegetation. The topsoil is notoriously thin (Terra preta being a notable and fascinating exception).
  • Slope – the production zone is entirely sloped. Some parts quite so. Most of our gardens are terraced into the least sloped areas.
  • Water – it comes in torrents during the rainy season (December – April), threatening to wash away precious topsoil, then abandons us for the dry season (April – December), wherein the gardens and orchards require regular watering). We’re working towards designs that shed excessive rain during the winter while retaining precious moisture during the summer. And we welcome suggestions!
  • Sun – solar orientation on the equator calls for East – West corridors. It’s possible to have towering trees to the North &  South so long as you have a good tunnel for that sunlight from dawn till dusk. None of our gardens have great exposure right now, but arborist-intern Evan clark is helping us out by thinning some of the nearby culprits.

Here I’ll describe building a compost pile to make more topsoil for our gardens.

We just built a Berkley rapid compost pile. Depending on the composition of your pile, this can reportedly convert organic waste into rich soil in only 14 days. We’re shooting to finish ours in 18.

The composition, roughly:

  • 40% carboniferous (“brown”) waste – dry leaves and small twigs
  • 40% nitrogenous (“green”) waste – fresh green leaves and weeds
  • 20% high nitrogen – in our case, kitchen scraps and a pile of invasive snails (whose shells lend some extra calcium to the mix!)

The construction:

  • Alternating layers of 4 inches brown, 4 inches green, & 2 inches high nitrogen, with any “kickers” like rotting snails going squarely in the middle.
  • Water, water, water! Water each layer as you build the pile, and give the pile water through 14-18 day turning process. Good to use as a temporary urinal. Rule of thumb: a compost pile can “drink” as much water as an animal the same size.
  • Other good kickers include: road kill, dead fish are great, anaerobic muck, fermented urine (let sit a couple of days), menstrual blood, a shovelful of newly finished compost or really great garden soil.

The process:

  • Build; wait four days & flip the pile; continue to flip the pile every other day until it stops heating up in between flips and/or you notice that your rotting mess has disappeared and you have rich, beautiful soil.

N.B. If you don’t have the energy or free time for such intensive compost production, don’t let that stop you. Keep and eye to the ratios and just leave your organic waste in a pile and it will do the work for you in somewhere between 4 and 12 months (depending on your climate and pile composition).

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