Layer Cake

This week in the Flog:

  • Article 3 of The Unconventional Composting Series
  • This week: Layer Cake!

Phew, Week 2 of the Compost Series! In case you missed it, check out Week 1 here or Week 2 here. It’s been a fun composting series so far. I can’t wait to use it on the garden – but there is so much to compost still!

Now I’ve been back for a bit and the garden looks great – in fact it’s overgrown! It needs to be trimmed. Both balconies have a lot of extra vegetation that needs to be cut back.

It’s a shame to waste all the plant matter. I have the compost pile on the balcony, so it’s time to compost!

This will be a more traditional pile than the previous round of composting. You might recall I composted coco coir and copra meal together – a pretty powerful combination of ingredients. Well this time it’s plain old garden clippings. I’m going to reuse that compost pile though. It was only turned once so it needs some more action anyway.

Lets look at the trimmings. These are mostly from the ‘experiment’ balcony – there are some big plants here that need to be cut way back. The trimmings from the vegetable garden balcony have pests – best to avoid composting infested plant material unless you are sure the pile will heat up to over 50 degrees Celsius for at least half a day – that should kill the pests, spores, weed seeds, etc.. Some of the garden trimmings are sticks up to the diameter of my thumb, so we’ll see how they compost in this little pile. I filled a 5 gallon bucket with them, it’s ready to go on the pile:

Dry Compost - Garden Trimmings

Got all the trimmings into the bucket in this funky picture

The compost pile is dry enough, I can spray it down a bit and it’ll be the right moisture level for composting. This is great because it’ll give me a chance to inoculate the pile once again with microbes. I got a little lazy this time and just added a bunch of nutrients to the 2L sprayer. Here’s what I added:

  • Bloom Fertilizer
  • Fish hydrolysate fertilizer
  • BIM
  • Grow Fertilizer
  • Lacto serum
  • Molasses

About 1tsp of each. This is more than I needed to add, but I’m using much less inoculant this time so I overcompensated with strength.

Compost - Microbial inoculant

All the nutrients gathered together, to be added to the sprayer for compost inoculation

Now comes the fun part and the reason for the title of this article. If you don’t have time to mix up your pile thoroughly (the best way to start the compost), you can layer it so greens alternate with browns. Aka nitrogen-rich materials with carbon-rich materials. Like a layer cake (not the English crime thriller style though). In this case I’ll alternate layers of compost and garden trimmings (the garden trimmings have a decent balance of green and woody matter already, as well as the compost). First we have a layer of compost. It gets a nice misting with the nutrient/microbe inoculant:

Compost - Inoculating

Dampen the bottom layer of the pile first

Then comes a layer of garden trimmings. This too gets a misting of the microbe/nutrient inoculant. That’s a nice layer of garden trimmings:

Compost - Add trimmings

Add trimmings and mist them also

Each layer can be 1-4in thick, thinner the better though really. The more contact there is between “greens” and “browns” the better. Each of my layers is about 2in thick. As each layer goes on, it gets a misting with the inoculant. That’s one advantage of this style, you can inoculate the pile as you go, so there is a nice even introduction of nutrients and beneficial microbes to really kick-start the decomposition.

What a great little compost process. The final outside layer is all compost, while inside are alternating layers of trimmings and compost. The whole pile is inoculated with nutrients and microbes, we’re ready to compost!

As usual I’m recording the temperature inside the pile throughout the composting process. I’ve taken the time to have this done already so we can jump right to the good results stuff. Check out the temps:

Compost - Temp Readings

The temperature of the pile vs ambient temps over time

You can see it didn’t get quite as hot as the coco compost. I guess the ingredients aren’t quite as nitrogen-rich. The Nitrogen fraction of the compost usually determines how hot the compost becomes during breakdown. Another way of saying that, the lower the Carbon:Nitrogen ratio, the hotter the compost. To the point of combustion! I have a friend whose pile caught fire when he turned it. I visited later and saw the huge charred patches – pretty impressive. Keep in mind this is only a risk in very large piles that are nitrogen-rich. His pile was about the size of a house, he was using a front-end loader to turn it.

You can also see, only 1 hump in the graph.  The temperature would have gone back up if I had a chance to turn the pile.  However I didn’t get that chance, as I have more composting to do!  But that will be a new post.  We still have to cover Bokashi, worm, and BSF composting.

Anyway let’s look at the pile after that 9 days of composting. It’s pretty well broken down! The woody material is all that remains, and it is super weak and kinda crumbly. I’m happy with how much matter the pile was able to break down in 9 days. Check out the pile on the morning of day 10:

Compost - Partly Composted

Here is the pile after 9 days, pretty well broken down already!

There you go, classic composting with a little natural farming twist. I can’t wait to use this compost on the garden but it still has some more evolutions to go. By the time we use it, it’s going to be awesome stuff!

Any questions or comments on the composting series so far? Shoot me a quick comment. It’s super fast and easy, you can do it here.

  • Rodney Galarneau

    Will you bury this compost as they advise with bokashi or use it on top?

    • Patrick

      I’ll use it as a top dressing. By the time I’m done with it, it will be degraded enough that it shouldn’t need to be buried like bokashi.

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