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Need everyones imput on "pretty" compost pile

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Post  milaneyjane on 10/7/2011, 1:56 am

We are making a new compost system at the Montessori school and it has become an all school project. Starting next month each classroom will be recording the amount of compostable waste that is collected from each class (you wouldn't believe how much food is thrown away!!!)

Our current compost system earns an "F". I believe it was supposed to be 3 chicken wire bins, but it is hard to tell. It never got turned due to the design. It is maintained by the older children and is added to everyday from lunch left overs. The compost pile was up against a fence directly near the playground. Needless to say the kids found it took less effort to just dump it over the fence instead of walking around. That meant food was spilling over onto the rubber playground, it was near impossible to turn it, had issues with bees etc...

Our requirements for our new compost system are: can handle a large amount of kitchen scraps, is pleasing to the eye (very important as we are in the middle of town), easy for the children to maintain on a daily basis both in adding scaps as well as turning, low in odor and bees since it is literally feet from the playground and conducive to cold MN winters when the pile will still be added to each day. Most importantly we want great compost!!!!!

A compost barrel is just too small and we are also working with a very small budget. I suggested doing a good old pile with a tarp over it like my neighbor does. The tarp would help with smells and bees. The committee I am on want to find a way to contain it (lets face it, they are preschool-6th graders and they can be messy.)

We thought about actually containing the compost pile in SFG beds to match the gardens and then put a tarp on top. :idea: What do you think? That way we could put them alongside the gardens for easy access as well. If that is feasable, how high can/should we go? The beds are recycled plastic from Sams's club and are about 3.5 x7 feet and 8 inches tall and stackable.

The 4, 5, 6th graders are studying the current system as part of their biology curriculum and will be researching ways to compost, but will be "indirectly directed" towards the decision that my committee suggests. Whatever we come up with, they will be maintaining. We have already decided a path will be kept shoveled to the pile in the winter so we don't have anymore over the fence dumping.

We added new SFG this last spring and the area is relatively narrow that we have to work with to keep it on school property

Here is the post that I put here with pictures of the gardens. https://squarefoot.forumotion.com/t8839-come-look-at-our-new-school-sfg-gardens I should add that we are working with a small space--the school property only goes out to the small trees about 6 feet from the fence or so.

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Post  Kelejan on 10/7/2011, 9:24 am

If you have enough empty spare beds at 8 inches high then four-high will give you a total of nearly three feet which is a good enough size to heat up.

Then when turning from one to another, you can take off each layer for easy working.

I do that with my own surplus squares I made, as I cannot afford to fill them with MM at this time.

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Post  Cincinnati on 10/9/2011, 9:12 am

I understand from your post that you have 5 concerns in making your new compost area:

1. Aesthetics
2. Odor Free
3. Insect Free
4. Easy to use
5. Containment of your Compost pile

1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yet I would not want my pile to look like the city dump. The way I get around this is to have a pile of leaves or other dried brown organics next to my compost area. Every time I bring raw vegetable scraps out, I immediately cover them with a layer of browns. I actually use this as a pre compost pile. I don't turn it very often, because every four weeks I chop it into smaller pieces and put it into a barrel composter. However, I have never noticed foul smells or the smell of rotting food. It looks like a pile of leaves.

I locate my compost in our back yard behind a storage building. I don't find it looks unsightly, but I didn't want people to see it from the street. (I live in a subdivision.) The most inconvenient part is having to walk 25 yards from the back door to dispose of kitchen scraps. We took several months to get used to not taking the easy way out — throwing it in the trash can.

2. You don't want your pile smelling like No. 2. Smells generally come from two factors: (A.) anerobic decomposition — lack of oxygen getting into the pile; and (B) Putting the wrong food scraps into the pile. If the kids are dumping their lunch leftovers into the pile, you may be getting fats into the pile, along with other processed foods. Even cooked vegetables generally have salt and fats added. I only put raw vegetables into my pile.

Your pile should smell "earthy", even while it is decomposing. I suspect from your comment that the current pile is not turned very often is the heart of your problem. Insects tend to leave areas where they are frequently disturbed. The smells should disappear as well. In my area, a smelly pile would attract insects plus raccoons or possums.

3. I find I have no insects in a properly cooking compost pile. No. 2 may be contributing to No 3. Which leads to your last two concerns.

4. Location, Location, Location! Making it a class project and putting it in a more convenient location should make it more easily to properly operate the compost pile. It needs turned frequently. The smaller the pieces are chopped and the more frequently it is stirred, the faster the decomposition occurs. I turn my compost barrel daily almost without exception while it is cooking.

5. Higher and deeper creates a larger cooking core. The size is dependent the ability to aerate the pile. I have seen photos of operations where a pile is turned with a tractor and front end loader. A pile that size cannot be aerated with a pitchfork. Turning by hand, I suggest 3 ft diameter by 3 ft high. An SQFT bed is too wide and too shallow. It will work, but will take much longer than is practical. If you plan on using the compost in your SQFT garden, I'd think you want to produce as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Maybe you can have the kids go into a wild forrest area and dig down 6 or 8 inches and Compare God's composting process with yours.

Best regards

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Post  RoOsTeR on 10/9/2011, 11:06 am

I agree about beauty and eye of the beholder. Same with smell. My wife see's and know's its a compost pile. She thinks it smells just by looking at it. Me, I think it smells fresh like the earth, or walking thru a wooded area and kicking up leaves.
At the same time, I did have some compost that just didn't get enough stirring, and it stank! For real stank. Like a septic tank stank. Its gotta be stirred and aerated and the right materials have to be put in.
Couple of suggestions that work in our schools here that do compost piles.
Pick up 5 gallon buckets. Line them up on an old table or something at a comfortable height. You can leave the tops loose and kids can lift and put stuff in or, cut holes in the top lids. At this point you can seperate things out however you wish. Just remember, if most of your materials are "green" or "hot", you aren't going to have the correct balance.
Pick leaders from each grade weekly, monthly, or whatever, but have students who are versed and know what to look for, and can remind others what goes where. Also, they can be the designated ones to take out and stir. You could even pick out a compost/recycle team. Make it important and cool like yearbook club or something so the members can display and create and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Make a designated area for the actual pile or piles. Surround with snow fence, chain link, or even some large timbers, or cinder blocks. At this point you can cover it with a tarp or plastic. Make stir time after school, or after lunch. Being a leader and the opportunity to miss a couple minutes of class after lunch is lots of incentive for kids lol.
To me, it just sounds like there needs to be some leaders and organization. Kids love stuff like that. The one thing you have going for you is that its "school". If it stinks, its a learning experience right? Most areas these days have lots of materials and free resources on recycling and composting. I am guessing your local library has some books for ideas as well.


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Post  milaneyjane on 10/9/2011, 4:30 pm

Thanks for all the input!Very Happy

The upper grades (4th, 5th 6th) are researching the composting and then going down and instructing the lower grades. Each classroom has lidded ice cream pails in their classrooms that will be collected daily. Each class is going to graph how much compostable food waste they have each day. The buckets will be collected by the upper classes and taken out and dumped. The children know they are not supposed to dump over the fence, but when no one is watching, some have been taking the easy way out. We only have about 6 foot width of space available at the school so hopefully moving it out three feet away from the fence will help prevent the over the fence dumping. You can literally reach out and touch the compost from the playground. Unfortunately, with the area we are located, snow fencing etc... would not be allowed (we are in a business/residential area). The thought is to purchase a few more of the SFG beds and stack them and use them to contain the compost as well as cover them. The beds can be broken down into 3.5x3.5 foot beds and stacked 24 inches tall. This is an all school project this year and there will be a lot of guidance so we just want to make sure our design idea will work. We do have a very small portable storage shed so I am hoping to get bagged browns (leaves) this fall and keep them in there to mix with the compost as needed.

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Post  walshevak on 10/11/2011, 7:51 pm

When I was in the Philippines in Sep. I visited an organic farm that is just a year old. Not very big and on the deadest, rockyest local dirt you ever saw topped with 1/2 compost and 1/2 charcoalized rice hulls. The day I was there they were building their compost pile. They dug down into the ground and layed concrete blocks 2 high in a big square. This was lined with some burlap bags and a layer of grass, leaves stripped from pruned branches, and chopped up banana stalk hearts was added. (the rest of the stalk was fed to the pig). All this was up to the top of the first layer of block. Then they added bags of pig poop, chicken poop. Another layer of greenery was added along with what I think was a compost starter mixed with water. Then the whole thing was covered with a tarp. After 2 weeks they planned to open the pile, stir it up and add red wigglers. Compost expected in 45 days in the PI heat.

Looked good and was covered from flys and critters. Poops were bought from a local pig farmer and a chicken farmer.
Didn't get a pic. darn it


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