The following is a blog written by one of our students, Eric, about our composting process:


3/18 - We picked up our first load of compost which totaled approximately one and one fourth full barrels. The kitchen staff had thrown into one of the barrels some post-consumer scraps consisting of bread, potatoes, eggs, and some meat (probably turkey). These scraps had to be removed from the barrel they were in and thrown out. This left us with a total amount of useable scraps for composting of one full barrel. In order to prepare the compost pile, we had raked up a section of the property and moved all of the brown carbon material to one large pile in the yard. Sticks and material form the brown carbon pile were spread out on the ground in an area of three feet squared and about ten shovels full of soil was added on top of that (for future reference ten shovels full of soil is too much, three or four for the initial base should be enough). After we had prepared the base with brown carbon material and soil we added some water. Once the base for our pile was made with the brown carbon material and soil, we added the first barrel of compost. The first barrel of scraps from the kitchen was added to the base of carbon material and another layer of carbon material was added to the top and the sides of the scraps. About one shovel full of soil was sprinkled across the top of the pile and then we proceeded to add a generous amount of water to the pile. This was the beginning of our newly installed composting operation.

3/20 - We picked up our second load of pre-consumer kitchen scraps to add to our compost pile. For this trip, we picked up a total of one half of a barrel. This load was emptied onto the top of the pile and another layer of carbon material was added to the top and sides of that. Another shovel full of soil was sprinkled across the top and then the pile was watered again. No temperature reading was taken up to this point.

3/25 - So begins the second week of our composting operation. We brought back one full barrel of compost scraps from the kitchen this time and added it to the top of our pile. At this point the pile was beginning to become taller than it was wide and some of the scraps were falling off of the sides. We gathered what we could on top of the pile and added another layer of brown carbon material added. After the addition of one more shovel full of soil to the top of the pile, we again watered the pile.

3/27 - Another full barrel of pre-consumer scraps was retrieved from the kitchen. This barrel was poured out on top of the pile and most of it had fallen off the sides. Most of the scraps were gathered to the top of the pile and the pile was once again covered with a thick layer of brown carbon material, sprinkled with a shovel full of soil, and then watered.  

4/2 - For our fifth journey to the kitchen for scraps we came back with another full barrel to add to our pile. The pile was now considerably tall-three and a half to four feet tall-so we spread a little bit of the top portion of the pile around the sides to widen the base and decrease the overall height. Once this had been done, the barrel was emptied onto the top of the pile generously spread out. The pile was now wider than it was tall. Another layer of carbon material was added along with a shovel full of full of soil spread out over the entire pile. To finish the composting tasks for the day, the pile was watered.

4/11 - The pile was again spread out a little more and was now about four and a half to five feet squared wide and two and a half feet tall. One full barrel was picked up from the kitchen and was emptied onto the top of the pile. A layer of carbon material was added to the top of the pile as well as another shovel full of soil. The pile was watered and was about five to six feet wide in some areas and three feet tall.

4/19 - On the previous day (4/18) we picked up one more barrel of kitchen scraps to add to the compost and waited until today to add it to our pile. Before we added the scraps we spread the pile out, turned it over, and mixed it up really good. By this time, we needed to add a back wall so more scraps could be added and maintain an actual pile. In order to construct the back wall we gathered three wood pallets, ten pieces of four foot long rebar, and some wire. We built the back wall in the shape of a half hexagon and reinforced the ends of each pallet with two rebar on each end of the pallet (one on each side). The rebar and pallets were also tied together with some spare wire to provide some extra stability. The compost was then re-piled against the back wall and half of the new barrel of scraps was added to the top. This was followed by another layer of brown carbon material and then the remaining scraps were poured out on top followed by another brown carbon layer. We have stopped adding soil to the pile at this point. The pile was watered to finish the composting tasks for the day.

4/25 - We started another compost pile and we are calling it the greenhouse pile. The first pile we started will be referred to as the garden pile. For the greenhouse pile, we gathered up sticks and laid them on the ground in a crisscross pattern to allow for adequate air flow. The first layer of sticks was made to be about nine feet in diameter and about one foot high off the ground. An initial layer of leaves was placed in a small area in the middle of the sticks and two shovels of soil were sprinkled on the leaves. The first barrel was added on top of the leaves followed by another layer of leaves and a shovel full of soil. The second barrel of scraps was then added on top of the second layer of leaves and this one was followed by another layer of leaves and one more shovel full of soil was sprinkled on top of the pile. We then watered the pile with a generous amount of water.

5/2 - We picked up one full barrel and another fourth of a barrel of scraps from the kitchen. Both of these were added to the greenhouse pile in three layers. One layer of the fourth barrel and two layers for the full barrel (the barrel was split into halves). No water was added because we had received a good amount of snow the day before which provided us with plenty of moisture for the pile. Some water was added to the garden pile that was used to rinse out the barrels. The temperature for the greenhouse pile was 36 degrees Fahrenheit (a considerable amount lower from 75 degrees two days earlier). The garden pile temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit which was also lower than 100 degrees five days earlier.

5/6 - We picked up about one and one third barrels of scraps from the kitchen and added it all to the greenhouse pile.  We gathered up old dry sticks and dead weeds for carbon material to add with the new load of scraps. The barrels were added to the pile in four separate layers with carbon material added after each one. We used a hose to rinse out the two barrels and used that water to pour out onto the pile. The temperature of the garden pile dropped significantly over the weekend from 82 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The greenhouse pile rose substantially from 36 degrees Fahrenheit to 68 degrees. 

5/13 - We did not pick up any barrels of scraps from the kitchen this week. The temperature of the garden pile raised a small amount from 65 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the pile was still pretty low in temperature for a compost pile, we decided it was time to turn it and mix it up really good. To turn the pile, we used a pitchfork and moved layers from the top aside and stacked each successive fork full on top of the original, now on the ground, top layer. Each fork full was broken apart once on the new pile in order to increase contact between the organic and carbon material. There were some spots in the pile that smelled foul, which may have been due to adding too much water at one point or a lack of good air flow. The greenhouse pile was continuing to rise in temperature and is now sitting at 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

5/24 - There was one full barrel of pre-consumer kitchen scraps that was available for us from the kitchen. Because there were some foul spots that were found when previously turning the pile, we made the decision to alter our method of adding the scraps to the pile. Instead of adding a layer of only food scraps followed by a layer of only carbon material, the two portions were mixed thoroughly on the ground in front of the pile and then scooped up and added to the top. This new method increases contact between the two materials and helps to initiate a faster and healthier composting pile of organic materials.

6/6 - After a full week of not picking up any scraps from the kitchen, we ended up with three barrels of new scraps to add to our pile. We continued to use the method of thoroughly mixing the kitchen scraps with the carbon material on the ground and then adding that mixture to the top. The three barrels of kitchen scraps were matched with approximately three barrels of carbon material. The temperature had been remaining stagnant at 85 degrees Fahrenheit and thus we decided to turn half of the pile. The new additions were mixed in with layers from about half way down into the pile. There were noticeably less foul spots in the pile which was a sign of success in altering both the orientation of the pile (turning it over on itself) and the new method of adding scraps. We also added a small amount of water once this process had been finished. The greenhouse pile at this point was beginning to drop in temperature and was now at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

6/11 - Turning only half a compost pile in on itself is not sufficient for long term goals of the pile finishing its composting. In order to finish properly, the entire pile must turned over. We decided it was again time for this to happen because of the stagnant temperature. The top portion of the pile was removed and placed on the ground directly in front of the pile. This process was repeated until the bottom layers of the pile were placed on the top of this new pile. Each time a layer was removed and placed on the new pile, an effort was made to break apart the layer and mix it in with the top portion of the new developing pile. It was at this point, that we had noticed the pile was just about to finish. The material inside of the pile was black and rich with humus which is a sign of success and that you are near completion and the pile is almost ready to add to the garden soil.

6/19 - A new load of kitchen scraps was ready for us to pick up and add to our pile. For this trip, we picked up one barrel of scraps. However, because the garden pile was near completion we decided to start a new pile with this load of scraps. We had also acquired a few garbage bags filled with dead leaves for our carbon material. The leaves work much better for retaining moisture and composting quicker than small sticks and twigs. The barrel of scraps was dumped onto a layer a leaves and the two materials were mixed together thoroughly to create a consistent mixture of kitchen scraps and leaves. The older pile that was near completion was turned one last time and was moved to a nearby location underneath a tree that supplied good shade for the pile. In this final turning, there were no foul spots, which was a further sign of success for our newly applied methods of adding scraps. Also, for the new pile being started, instead of using a small amount of soil as an inoculant to help get the pile started, we used about one fork full of material from the old compost pile.