maandag 19 mei 2014

How we use our compost.

This is our well decomposed fresh compost, made ​​of grasses and herbs, which we mowed, made hay and composted during the previous season. It is a bit sticky and it contains undigested sticks.

Last winter it was colder and wetter than expected. This would definitely affect the composting process. So the time it took, to compost these materials, was longer than we expected. The regular three months were not enough. For this it took one month more.

One big bag of compost is so badly decomposed that it might have to go back into the process. This seems like the best way to do, because on its own some further digestion will not occur, on the short term. (In cold weather conditions this could take a year.) When we mix it with manure it is ready in a short time... is our experience. The result of this we then call compost, but in fact it has become a highly enriched compost, equal to manure​​.

In addition to good weather conditions, the C/N quotient of the starting material must have a proper ratio. When the nitrate level is too low, composting may take long. We can protect the process against weathering, as best as possible. But here we can not measure a C/N quotient by ourselves. So a bit of guesswork will remain, to know how much manure should be used in the grafting fluid, to obtain a good result. So we have to use our nose. Does the process smell sour, then it is no good. Does it smell sweet, then it goes well.

When you scratch fresh compost through a sieve manually, it will stick to the screen. It is still wet and it works awkwardly. But it is doable and you bring air into the compost. However, if you use it right away it will subsidence. It should dry for a while, by turning it over occasionally. One could also mix it with old compost. And so we often do.

Meanwhile we learned to be cautious with fresh compost. When we were growing directly in fresh well-sifted compost (thus where using it as a potting soil) the crop result was disappointing. This fresh compost does not have a good structure yet, it does not contain enough air. It is too sticky and compact for the tender rootlets of a plant. Oxygen is important for the plant roots. Especially at the stage of rapid growth. Old compost does have those qualities. In the old compost microbial life is sufficiently available, which is especially important. For this purpose, vice-versa, air in the compost is a condition.

The advantage of the an-aerobic composting is also a disadvantage at the same time. The advantage is that the organic matter is maintained. The disadvantage is that the result is compact. When you compost the aerobic way and turn and aerated during the digestion process, you lose a lot of valuable organic matter. The advantage is that you can use the compost right away. Grass however, can not be transformed into compost by turning and aerating it. It needs manure to decompose and it needs a more or less an-aerobic condition.

In pots.

We have made a good habit, of putting (1/4) fresh non sieved compost on the bottom of the pots and (3/4) old compost on top. Optionally mixed with a little bit of sieved (red Portuguese) soil, or some rock flour. This gives a very nice growing result. The rooting is very good and the capillary effect (absorbency) is perfect. A small scoop of rock flour, or some sifted soil, if necessary, takes care of a complement of minerals.

In the raised bed.

'Fruits' from the raised bed.

In our large raised bed next to the house we also put a layer of fresh compost at the bottom and topped it with old sifted compost. We harvested beautiful healthy beetroot, leeks and carrots. After the harvest, we took the planter completely empty, then filled it again in the same way. On the pictures one can see that the fresh compost on the bottom was completely digested. So it can serve as old sifted compost again. So later, this onetime fresh compost went back on top as old.

Aerate the compost only until it is composted.

You can shred fresh compost mechanically. Previously, when we had this composting company, we did it that way. A simple manure spreader did the work. This would aerate the compost and it then dried off quickly, after which it was to be sieved in a drum sieve, then transported to the packer or the grower.

For new discoveries read:
How we use our compost - Part 2, 'An important moment'.
How we use our compost - Part 3, 'The raised bed solution'.



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