Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Completing the circle: Farm scale composting

Left side is unturned, right side turned.  
 I have to deal with tons of manure every week.  To do a proper job of it I've got to make sure that I do it pretty systematically -- I have a system, and I follow the system, and it's clear where things are from how it's laid out.
So what I do is to have a large compost pile, with an open space next to it.  I want to turn that compost at least once a month in the winter, and every two weeks in the spring.  Now I don't have enough time to turn the entire pile, so what I do is take my excavator and start moving compost from one pile to a new pile, eventually making it look like it's a trench.  I'll spend an hour or two every day moving a small bit of the compost, eventually ending up with one big pile again.
turned compost on the right, unturned on the left
 By doing it with the excavator the first scoops from the pile will be the top, and the last scoops will be the bottom, and so I'm physically literally turning the compost over.  I've found that this gives me the fastest breakdown.  The compost isn't steaming much as I move it, but it will heat up a great deal right after the move.
random plastic in the compost pile
One nuisance in my using recycled food in my operation is that some plastic almost always shows up in the compost pile.  In this case it's a scrap of a wrapping off of a round bale I think, or maybe a plastic bag that blew onto the farm and got mixed up in the manure.  As I work I have a rake and a garbage can, and I'll pluck out the plastic and get most of it, but it seems like there's always one more piece.

Municipal composting facilities deal with this problem by just grinding the compost up so that the plastic is in small enough bits that people don't notice it.  I don't like that solution because those little bits of compost don't really ever break down, and I know animals will eat it.  I'd rather keep the plastic out of the compost entirely, but given our societies love affair with plastic food packaging I know that this will be an ongoing (and never ending) process.

This particular compost pile is almost done.  I'll be growing my household vegetables in it this year.

1 comment:

Bill Gauch said...

I'm extremely jealous. I compost all my kitchen scraps and chicken litter and some leaves whatnot. I get half a yard of compost out of my pile, at most. If I want to buy it, the cheap stuff, which is ground up old mulch that didn't sell the previous year, is $20/yd. picked up. The good stuff is $70/yard, picked up. Delivery fee is $50 for any quantity less than 11 yards.