Dealing with Waste and Starting the Composting Pile

One of the issues I am dealing with is waste. There is no trash pickup at my place, and I want to keep the amount of material being hauled to the landfill at a minimum. Ideally, I would like to get to the point where there is only plastic being brought back from the property (for disposal or recycling). Obviously, this isn’t doable all the time, but having a strategy in place can really help.

The current waste strategy involves a few different parts:

  1. Composting – Nearly anything that is food or biomass related, I want to have composted out there. There is plenty of land, and doing as much composting as possible will be best for the soil.
  2. On-site recycling – As much as I would like to avoid soda/beer cans, it is inevitable. Right now all aluminum is being compacted and stored onsite where it will later smelted down into a few bars. I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, but they will be smelted into ingots. These things might be repurposed onsite into something new. If not, the ingots make it easier to transport back to town.
  3. Incineration – This isn’t about just throwing random crap into the fire pit (looking at you Kennedy), this is about a purpose built device designed to force mass into a clean burning state using increased airflow to create high temps. This hasn’t been built yet, but maybe it can somehow get hot enough to smelt the aluminum at the same time.
  4. Off-site recycling and waste – This is waste hauled back home for things that shouldn’t be dealt with in any of the other options above. These include plastics and toxins.

The first thing I wanted to get started on is composting. Basically, I want nearly anything and everything being composted, but at high temps.  High temps can be created by ensuring that your blend of composting materials are balanced, and that its getting enough moisture. Additionally, hot composting also will make the material break down much faster. However, you need to ensure you have a good mix of carbon and nitrogen. This mixture is about 25-30 parts carbon, to one part nitrogen.

  • Carbon – These are generally called your browns. These are going to be things like shredded paper, twigs, dried fall leaves, corn stalks, straw, hay, nut shells, peat moss.
  • Nitrogen – These are generally called your greens. These include coffee grounds, fresh grass clippings, fresh weeds, fruit, manure, garden waste, food scraps, veggie scraps.

Wait, wait, wait, what about:

  • Grass vs hay, isn’t that the same? Yes, however, grass that has dried out significantly transitions from a nitrogen to a carbon (green to a brown).
  • Weeds? Won’t this grow more weeds? No, once the compost pile comes up to temp for a few days the seeds are killed off. Thats why proper mixture is important.
  • Size of the pile? Good point, if the pile is too small the temp will never get high enough to do all the important things. A minimum size (once its composting), is around 4′ by 4′.

After all these months, I still consider myself just getting started out there, and I wanted to start my compost pile, but keep it low cost. For this project, it cost me $26 for the earth/bulb auger (that was also used to mix mortar in the fire pit project), and $5 for 400′ of hemp. The rest of the materials will be from the forest.

First thing I did was hook up the earth auger to the drill and drilled out some holes. I bought a larger auger so that I could use larger posts. The second thing I needed was some posts, and I used the chainsaw to cut some downed branches to size and used these for posts.

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So the first thing is, drill a hole. I was surprised at how well the earth auger went through the dirt. Key here was to drill a hole, but keep bringing up the bit so the earth would fly off the bit and get out of the hole.

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Next, make sure the hole is deep enough. You don’t this compost bin collapsing.

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Next, drill three more holes just like it, and put some branches into it. This doesn’t have to be fancy, just whatever you got on hand. The critical thing is, after the branches are in the soil be sure to add soil back into the hole tamp down the soil. This will provide the required strength when you start running the string.

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Tie some string around a branch. I chose hemp so it decomposes with the pile.

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Go around all the branches repeatedly. This will help make a holding pen for the material.

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Gather a bunch of base material. The farmer working the pasture recently cut and dried the pasture, and baled it into hay. However, if you have ever walked behind an  harvester / baler / etc, you will know that the mechanization misses some of the material. For this project, I grabbed the land rake and snagged a bunch of the leftover hay.

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Put the hay into the bottom of the compost pile. Just my opinion but I think its important to have a good base for composting. When I am putting other compost materials here, I would like to have it sitting on a bed of hay so it prevents stuff from exiting the compost pile and this also helps retain moisture.

One other note: The string and the hay are working against each other and creating tension.  This is a good thing. The string is wanting to bring the posts together and force it to collapse. Having an extra amount of hay and mass in the bottom is pushing against the string outwards. This helps give the compost bin extra strength.

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Now you can compost the wooden utensils.

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RIP: Gloves. These finally gave out on me during this project. I have a few more pair out there, but these guys died while raking the hay into the wheelbarrow. These had to be taken back to town for disposal.

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