Making compost is probably the single most important thing that we can do for our organic farm. The success of our gardens depends on the soil, and the health of the soil depends on the compost we give it. Here in southeast Alaska, composting is a slower cold approach than how it is traditionally done in other regions. That said, by providing a steady supply finely chopped materials, covering the compost bin to restrict excess water from rainfall and improving air circulation within the compost pile, microorganisms thrive and enable the composting process to work. Here’s how we compost at Sunny Slope Organic Farm:
1. Shred and chop. Chop the materials before mixing them into the pile. For example, we run the lawn mower over the leaves and garden waste materials. The same strategy applies to kitchen scraps – the smaller the better.
2. Mix dry brows and wet greens. In our compost pile we typically layer brewing grains, seaweed, Alder leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, chicken and goat manure, and coffee grounds collected from a local coffee shop.
3. Bin size. Our three stall compost system is built from pallets and chicken wire 4 x 4 x 12. This size of bin system works great for our yearly rotation cycle. The compost bins are covered with a clear corrugated plastic lid. We have found that the cover addresses the excess moisture issue, while at the same time passively heats up the pile which encourages the microorganisms that drive the composting process to work faster.
4. Water, or restrict water as needed. Let’s face it, we live in a temperate rain forest; it rains a lot here. Water is critical for decomposition, but too much water is a bad thing. The compost material should feel like a damp sponge not a wet soggy mess.
5. Keep things moving. Moving the compost adds air into the mix. If you’re like us, you don’t have time to manually turn your compost pile. Instead we use a pitchfork to “fluff” and punch holes in the pile which aides the aerobic bacteria. We also use ventilation pipes – perforated PVC pipes – throughout the pile.