dinsdag 5 februari 2019

Valuable Experiences

Even from hay you can learn...

It actually was a complete natural proces, the way in which Hendrik started composting here in Portugal. "It has been a natural and a logical development," he says. "A development of trial and error... searching, finding, doing and experiencing. If it works then it works, if it doesn't, I have a problem to solve. This for me, has been working out perfectly well. I asked myself, 'how do I compost grass in miniature'. And now, my small and compact system runs completely logical, It could not be bigger, not any smaller and no different. Which in itself is a rather amazing fact."

Mowing with the scythe.

Here in Portugal Hendrik started in the summer of 2012 with a small plastic barrel, containing some wet grass and hay. He used manure water for wetting, as he used to do in the Netherlands. In the cold and wet Netherlands we composted in-very-large and he wandered if it would be possible to follow the same proces in-the-very-small. This was his first disappointment. His barrel of grass dried up, even before there was any heating starting.


In the past we already found out that hay can be composted much more easily than fresh grass. Dry hay immediately absorbs a lot of moisture, because it already has lost its own. So with the adding of this moisture you can easily put (immerse) a lot of bacterial starters in the hay.
Here in Portugal the grass dries on the land, so you can mow it as hay with its roots still in the ground. A great advantage, which makes the pre-drying of grass unnecessary.

Upward pressure

Hendrik bought a somewhat larger (300 liter) barrel to immerse his hay. This immersing of the hay with manure water (grafting fluid) did not take place as spontaneously. The hay turned out to have an enormous upward force, due to all the air in the stalks. But a complete immersion of all the material is really necessary to bring sufficient bacterial life into the hay, in order to eventually achieve a good start. Without this total immersing you can not compost grasses... in small amounts, within a reasonable time, with a good result. In a large pile... okay. Due to the large amounts a pile will start up heating. But certainly not with the small amounts Hendrik is working now.

Hendrik uses his own weight to push the hay down. More than 60 kilos on the hay in a 300 liter barrel, to about 200 liters filled with hay, grafting fluid and later during the process some leachate also.

An immersing of twenty-four hours has proved to be sufficient. But we do not expect Hendrik to stay in the barrel to keep the hay down for all these hours. So he made a necessary flat weight of about 60 kilos in reinforced concrete, to take over the pressing during this time. A very useful and essential bamboo mat goes under the stone to distribute the weight over the entire surface. Just notice, when you skip this part... Do not let it happen, that your stone sinks to the bottom of the barrel with the hay coming floating up again! Be creative.

And do not forget to make a high spot where you can put your stone down when you do not use it. You might easily put such a weight on the ground, but lifting it up? Maybe you have a strong back... but be sure you can will hurt it on the long-term...
With an extra weight.
About the past

Our Dutch piles of whetted hay were as high as the barn. When the rain fell too often and to much, a cover was enough to bring the whole process to a good end. Whetting (with manure bacteria) was done in the open air, in a silo where it was driven into and out with a shovel and where it was engorged using a specially developed water machine. The shovel simply drove over the material, while doing so ensuring sufficient whetting.
Tellus Natuurkompost, a completely different world:

Tellus Natuurkompost December 1989. Grasses already heating, in the barn in winter.
Second chance

Meanwhile (2012-2013), here with us in Portugal, winter was coming. We again counted on a mild Portuguese winter in which nothing would blow dry, as long as it was covered properly. Hendrik grafted a good amount of hay, laid it in a nice spot where it could stay for three months, covered it well and waited. He had made a pile of just over 1m3 that fell quickly to half and later reduced to a small layer. It was a beautiful winter, but his pile unfortunately did not transform into a good compost. The amount was reduced, but it was not properly digested. In a beautiful winter the cold cannot be blamed. It was the wind? In fact, the moist in the pile leaked into the ground. Again the amount of materials was too small to be able to compost well in a pile like this on the ground. And now, not unimportant, the mild winters seem passé. They are getting colder, with frost in the night and cloudy skies during the day.

Big bag

This was the moment (2013) when Hendrik realized that a big bag could be a welcome addition to the process. You can collect everything nicely in a big bag. You can push (stamp) the hay down well, you can stack it high and you can pack it well against the weather. Hendrik built a rack in which he could hang the big bag in a way that it could be filled with a fork. Later on top, an extra box-wall was added to make the stack in the big bag even higher. If the hay had dropped (because dropping it does constantly) the amount was large and compact enough for brewing. With some trial and error (later more and more cover plastic was used) he managed to achieve a very reasonable compost product.

On the right the well packed big bags. On the left a big bag in the crate that Hendrik used as a support, with a large head of grafted hay on top, which must first shrink, before the crate goes off and the big bag is packed like the others.

Later (2017) we discovered that a cold winter could also throw a spanner in the works, because the heat is then difficult to get started. And yet it is more a matter of quantities than of outdoor temperature. Nor do we have to worry that in a hot summer the heat would get out of hand because (by grafting) the material contains more moisture than oxygen. Hendrik presses down the hay in the big bag. There is just enough oxygen to start the heating and run up to about 60ºC. The moist in the pile must remain well distributed, for then the digestion takes place evenly. To achieve this, a big bag must be horizontal, we have recently (2018) learned. Because a small slope is enough to bring the moisture in the bag, slowly but surely, to the lowest point... time enough in the months of composting.

More time needed

However, we start to question the 'magical' 3 months, within which the hay should have been digested into compost. Hendrik: "Not earlier than four months it is time to take my compost out of the bag. Only then you can convert it and let it ripen for a few months. Or I would have to shred it in a manure spreader, so that this ripening process goes faster, because of the need for more oxygen to do so. But that is not necessary for us. Happily we have more time. We just adjust our garden cultivation program to the circumstances. In the Netherlands it was a different thing, there the composting was done in 3 months. It was shredded and stored in a dry place. Then sifted (when sales were on the way) and, if necessary, put into bags. But the quantities were many times larger, which is why the whole process may have gone faster also... But you cannot actually compare both things with each other."

Tellus Natuurkompost - 1992:


Right in the beginning, Hendrik got big problems with removing the wet hay from the immersion barrel. It is a complete caraway to take out the entangled hay (made heavy by the water in which it is located) from the barrel with a simple fork. In desperation, he sometimes felt like simply turn the barrel up side down... too bad for all the well-made leachate and the manure water. Fortunately it did not happen. "There must be a simple solution to get it out of the barrel," he said. And he found this 'simple solution' in making hay packets before they where put in the barrel... after grafting, they just as easily can be taken out again.

Summer 2013:

Final for now :)

Now that Hendrik has moved to the land near the river with his complete composting (extraction and processing), he has made a very new setup, based on the experiences gained here in Portugal. See the post 'Oh oh, everything has to be different'.

He made a removable box on wheels, which serves to hang and fill the big bag. Hendrik prefers to do that filling in one go. To this end, he collects the hay in separate barrels (an average of 108 packs) after it has been grafted and drained.
This box can hold about 78 packages. The others wait for an extra box on top:

The 'storage bunker': Half-box, without partition in the middle.
The 'storage bunker' ready to fill the first big bag.
On top of that comes a box, which makes it possible to stack another 30 packs on the big bag:

Left, a big bag filled and packed. Next to it, the storage bunker with the box on top of it, ready to fill the second big bag. Hendrik waits until the hay has sunk into the box before he roles away the storage bunker to wrap up the big bag with plastic.
The heating has already started when (in the first 8 days) the hay has dropped to such an extent that the big bag can be packed. These 8 days Hendrik exactly needs to mow, tramp, graft and store a new quantity of an average of 108 packages. So a complete production cycle lasts 8 days. After this there is a packed big bag to scald and compost for about 4 months.

This work at a glance:

- Mowing you do in the evening, when it is not so hot anymore and when the hay is dry and 'crunchy'. It then basically snaps effortlessly from the trunk.
- Trapping packets you do in the morning, when the mown hay is damp from the dew and is gentle, so you can make compact packages. Later in the day the packages shrink and remain so until the last moment of the entire process.

With a production cycle of 8 days:
- Immersing is done in 24 hours (one day).
- the immersion barrel (300 liters) can contain 13 to 14 packages at a time (per day - per 24 hours).
8days x 13packs = 104
(4 days x 13packs = 52) + (4 days x 14packs = 56) = 108
8days x 14packs = 112
- The upward pressure of the hay requires approx. 60 kg of counterpressure in a 300-liter barrel containing approximately 200 liters of grafting fluid (manure water and percolate).

- Hendrik has 2 dripping barrels with 200 liters each, in which each 13 to 14 packages can drip.
- Dripping is done in 48 hours (two days).
So the filling and emptying takes place every day, but only with one barrel, and of course in turn.

- You store in any well-closed barrel at random; in barrels in which you can collect an average of 108 packages.
- This storing takes 8 days. Then the packages go into the big bag.

- Hendrik uses plastic on the inside and outside of the bag to pack the big bag.
- When filling the bag, the hay is gradually divided and tamped several times in order to fill up the bag to a maximum.
- Hendrik does not stamp the hay in the upper box. He does not dare to do so and with more oxygen the hay will start to heat more easy, causing it to sink earlier. (duration 8 days)

- The time it takes to prepare (graft, drip, store) an average of 108 packages for heating is 8 days.
- The time it takes to let shrunk an average of 30 extra packages on top of the big bag is 8 days. Within this time a new cycle of preparing can be started and completed, with allows a tight follow up of all cycles.

- In order to keep the bacterial life in the immersion tank up to standard, Hendrik did not use more than just 3 liters (manure dissolved in water) this year! With this he has processed over 8000 liters of compost material (hay).

If you want to use a bigger immersion barrel, because you want to immerse more packages at the same time, then of course you are free to do so. But it does mean that the weight you need to provide a proper counterpressure, to the upward pressure of the hay, also increases. Nice if you weigh 80 kilos. And also if you can make a very heavy stone, or two heavy stones. Try it!
But then?
Many more packages can not be packed in a big bag. Unless you have found another form of storage for heating. Try it! Who will tell?
Or... in addition, you can double up this whole circus of immersing, dripping and storing. You then have double work and gain time. Why such a hurry...?

Hendrik: "Now that I have experimented with the quantities of packages in the big bag ... 104, or 108, or 112... I have experienced that, with 108 packs, the hay has dropped sufficiently within 8 days. With 112 packs I would need to wait an extra 9th day until the hay has dropped sufficiently. But by now I have found a trick on it, by picking up the top packs, stepping on the rest and then putting the last packets in every hole I can find, so that the big bag is filled to the maximum and can still be closed properly. Once the job is done, the hay shrinks very quickly. I want to get the most out of my work and load the bag as full as possible. And one thing is for sure... Next year I will be composting again in the summer, on my beautiful shady spot near the river, in life and well-being :)"

Pack and put ready

The storage bunker with 108 packages is ready to be packed.
Sufficiently dropped

Look, the hay has shrunk in its entirety and is completely separate from the walls of the bag.
Right. The hay seems to want to detach itself completely from the walls.

Two steel wire rods are mounted inside the box to keep the walls together.

A jerk on the sidewall and it is loose.
Another pull on the other side wall and the partition wall is released.

The first 'three Daltons' seem to have fallen a bit.
But on closer inspection their jacket appears to be too spacious.

Fasten loops. Hendrik loves neat and safe. A clamp sometimes wants to let go.

Ready to reload.

Kashi fills up her big bag gradually. After immersing and dripping, she stacks the hay directly into the big bag, which she then closes every time against environmental influences. She finds the extra action, to store the immersed compost before stacking, unnecessary. But Hendrik wants to stick to his system with the 8 days cycle: "It has grown into this as it did. I know why I like to store it before stacking. If I would gradually stack (with the extra box on top of the big bag, as I do now), I should be forced to wait another 8?-maybe 6?- maybe 4? days before all the immersed hay has dropped to the right level, before I can pack the bag and begin a new preparing cycle. This work will then stand still for 8 (?) days. Now I have a continuous process, that I can control and measure. It is another case if you want to make 1 or 2 bags at intervals, but I want to make at least 8 bags this year. And than preferably everything in a row. In previous years I also made 8 bags. They were probably a bit smaller, now they are bigger because I put that extra box on it. If I make 8 bags this year, I have a continuous cycle of 64 days and then everything is ready. Really ready in about 2 months. And after 4 months with maybe a nice surprise... beautiful selfmade grass compost. It is good to rest, when work is done. And imagine... I only do this once a year."

Kashi just has to do it the way it suits her best. New wisdom usually comes from different thinking and methods. In addition, you can not oblige her to purchase extra storage barrels. 
"If I had to wait for 8 days to start a new cycle, I would just make a new crate, where my second big bag should hang. Hendrik built a complete storage bunker, but I do not want to." Kashi told Hendrik. 
"My thermometer was at 70ºC in my first big bag the day before yesterday! I have now closed it and started the second one. I am now also counting the packets that I'm putting in there. I am wondering if I would be able to reach the same number as you; these 108 packets. Without that 8-days shrinking time in the big bag and without storing it in barrels, but putting it directly into the big bag. If I can get 108 packages into the big bag at all. Which is exciting. and saves extra effort!"

Kashi does her composting on her own, in addition to her daily work, without further help. Usually she just uses a rake to harvest her hay, just like Hendrik did in the first year, when he started and was looking for composting material. Kashi: "Just raking the hay on the field, goes fine. Making the hay a little wet and then trample packages, put them in 6 bags, enough for about 2 days."

Kashi's composting plot:

Left, the packed big bag. Middle, the bag under construction.
Then, the submersion and the drip tray.
Kashi's hay packs in bags.
Kashi hangs her big bag in a 'crate' that she has made for filling it up.
After this she covers the bag again.
Here on the right we see her submersion barrel (200 liters)
Kashi lives in a 'cork country': Cork keeps the lid on the barrel.
This branch has the same curvature as the ton :) Nice detail :)

Hendrik has sharpened Kashi's Portuguese scythe so she can use it for mowing. In the Netherlands we were used to a long scythe, with which fresh grass was easy to mow, which you did not have to sharpen but 'hair' with a hammer on a special small anvil. Here one uses a short scythe, with which you can hardly mow fresh grass. The mowing of the hay is going well but seems more like chopping, because you (in a very sharp turn) pull more with the scythe than cut. Hendrik: "The scythe works like an enlarged sickle."

So far our 'learning moment'.

And finally here some nice bacteria moments. This is how submersible water behaves when the hay is submerged in it. After a day we see this result of nature in action.

Hendrik: "Probiotic design :)"



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