Farm To Fork Wyoming – The Story of Compost, Part 1

(cheerful guitar music) – So I try to look at
everything in a way of if it’s a waste product, let’s
take it, let’s reclaim it, make it something that’s
usable, and reuse it. – What’s not to love about
a rags to riches story? To me, composting is just that. – You know, somebody
asked me the other day what’s the next big thing? I don’t know if they
even wanted the answer. I was like, waste. Waste is the next big thing. – So for everything
bad that we’ve created and we now have to take care
of, we’ve got some really neat tools that help us work
this stuff out (mumbles). Composting is, I think, something everyone
is gonna be doing. – Production of
Farm to Fork Wyoming is made possible with
the generous support of the Wyoming Business Council,
Agribusiness division, Rocky Mountain Gardening
magazine, and viewers like you. Thank you. – From the landfill in
Jackson to Southeast Wyoming croplands, a variety
of composting methods are converting so-called waste from pollutant to
needed nutrient. – Yeah, we’re trying
to make trash sexy, and people are getting it. Especially with organics. People really want to
do the right thing. They want to recycle,
and we’ve had success in getting people
to realize, oh yeah, organics don’t need
to go in the trash. Let’s not send that
100 miles away. Let’s keep that in our community and make a valuable
product of it. – Cause this stuff is
black gold in my opinion. It will help improve pretty
much any kind of soil. I think if you can get compost and that stuff mixed into
any of our clay soils, it would make a clay
soil more porous, and it make a sandy soil
more water holding capacity. – So the idea that we can
capture those nutrients, that we can capture the water,
keep them in the surface and then it’ll start
to develop this system that kind of works on its own. – Creative thinkers like
Jason, Dane, and Erica are carving out a niche for
themselves and improving the health of the
environment at the same time. – All of our inputs are
other people’s waste. – You convert that poop into
soil and all of a sudden you’ve got something that
doesn’t leech materials. It holds materials. It holds water. It holds the mineral nutrients. It holds the nitrogen,
the phosphorus. It’s spectacular. – Since going certified
organic in 2002, compost has been the
fundamental amendment for this family’s 9000
acres of croplands. – You can kind of see
the size of those heads. Nice and plump. The compost
business, BS Compost, was started simply
for the fact we needed fertilizer to meet
our organic needs. Fertilizer that met
the requirements. And now it has grown into
its own beast, if you will, that we deal with 20,000
to 25,000 ton a year. A lot of times we have
trouble getting enough to put on our own fields because the
customer base is so large. – The compost for a week or so. We had probably
an inch and a half of rain there in
less than an hour. – We were looking for a site
to make compost that met organic standards for
our farm, so we ended up, this feed lot, Lloyd
Farms, they actually had abundance of manure that
they were needing to get rid of in other ways than
just spreading on circles. We clean the pins and
they provide us a site right here on location
where we can haul the manure out to
and compost it. And then they actually
buy part of it back. They have first option
at buying it back. – It’s spectacular compared
to a feed lot piled up, piled up, piled up with just
leeching, anaerobic conditions. Terrible. Not to mention the E. Coli. You get rid of it completely
when you make compost. – Now instead of spreading their uncomposted manure on
feed crops, Lloyd Farms has access to a more
manageable amendment. – Composting takes
it through a process where it actually makes it
readily available to plant. We do five ton per
acre of compost where they used to do 20
to 30 ton of raw manure. So now we’re taking a
product that would’ve done 100 acres and we’re covering
400 acres doing fertility for the ground with
the same amount there. Gonna turn it on slowly. – It’s all about
aeration and hydration to get the right
microbial life going. – The new rows we normally turn about every day
for the first week, and then it starts
tapering off from there. The second week, we’re
gonna turn it about three to four times,
and we base that off of temperatures and C02
levels and moisture. It’s gotta get
through a heat cycle. 138.0. It’s gotta be between 131 and
170 degree core temperature for 15 consecutive days with
a minimum five turnings. We actually take ours
close to three months. And the reason we do that,
I feel the first month and a half is break
down, getting it actually to a compost status where
it’s actually decomposed. The next month and a half is
building the organic matter, or the biological life back up. Instead of having just your NPK, we’re looking into
what’s the microorganisms actually doing for the plant. How can those help bring
the life in your soil back. – It’s incredible the life
that goes on in a compost pile. Of course, as you go through
the different heat situations, you know, different
things happen, you lose the bigger
life as you get hotter and then form spores and zygotes
so that they’re protected so that when the temperature
comes back down again, they appear again. It’s a very interesting process. – We’re gonna be watching for in front of it versus behind it. You want to see the row be a
little bit taller and a nice V. If it’s making a
nice pointy top, that’s getting allow your
CO2 out and your oxygen in. It makes a good turn on it. A lot of turners focus
on just pulverizing. This turner’s actually
a lot lower speed drum. It’s actually focusing
on lifting the compost up in the air and letting
that oxygen exchange happen. If our temperature’s
getting too high, we want to turn it
to make sure that we’re not actually
burning it up, getting it so hot
that it turns to ash and does burn off
all the nitrogen. We want it in that sterile zone, but we don’t want it too hot. It’s very important
to get all the way to the ground also
because if you don’t, you end up with a layer on
the bottom that goes anaerobic instead of aerobic and
then it never breaks down. So we want to get
all the way down. And she can probably
go a little bit lower, but for this turning,
she’ll be OK. Let me do my moisture
test on it here. You can smell the
ammonia coming off. Actually, it’s not
too bad for moisture. Yep, that one broke about right. – You can feel the
moisture coming off. – Yep, and you can feel
that heat rolling off. – Everybody made
compost, basically, up until World War
I, World War II. You know, we all
had horses and cows and chickens and it
was the automobile. All of a sudden
nobody had a horse. Nobody had a cow. Supermarkets appeared in
the 1940s after the war. And so people have forgotten
how to make compost. And before this particular
period we’re in now, it was a manure based compost. – This exchange of
microbes passed through the stomachs of animals
back to the soil was an integral part
of the landscape. Industrial farming
and modern development has since displaced
this co-mingling and cycling of nutrients. – A lot of farm
found around here has been farmed for 100 years. Just same crop
rotation we’d follow and has never had
anything put onto it and it’s just wore out. It just doesn’t have
the life it used to. – Situation like right
here, the leaves fall off, the stay here, they
feed the plants. A farmer takes the leaves,
takes the stuff that the plant produces and it
doesn’t go back into the soil. That’s called the law of return. So instead of the law of
return, you gotta return. And putting compost down
is the way to do it, not putting down fertilizers. – Composted organic
material supplies the carbs and nutrients soil
biology needs to thrive. – We’ve seen the soil test
the organic matter starting to come up in soil that we have
done the compost on because it is exactly saying
being the biological life, microbial life up
to where the soil itself is nurturing itself. It’s taking care of the way
mother nature intended it. – The diverse microbe community is pretty important
to understand. Why that works is is that people
would look at that hillside and go, God, that
hillside looks great. Why does my lawn look
brown and struggling and weeds all over it,
and da da da da da. A lot of it’s
because what happens here on the hillside
is nutrient cycling. And if you’re not familiar
with what that is, a plant grows, dies, degragades. That then becomes part
of the humus that feeds into the microbe
community that draws a lot of nutrients
from the atmosphere. The plant will
secrete an enzyme. The microbe goes, oh,
you want some nitrogen? Goes up, grabs nitrogen,
brings it back down, feeds the plant, and it’s
this kind of homogeneous we work together and we live and grow beautifully
on the hillside. – Where the plant
attracts the bacteria and the fungi, they
are in the compost. They in turn attract the
nematodes and the protozoa. That system doesn’t work the
same way when you applied an artificial
source of nitrogen. The plant all of a sudden
says, now wait a second. Someone is giving me free lunch. I don’t need to attract those
bacteria and those fungi. When you put down
the fertilizer, all of a sudden the plant
goes, whoa, free lunch. Don’t need to do that anymore. So you gotta
continually put that fertilizer down
because there are no. The bottom of the soil food
web is not there anymore. And compost is great because
its got all of the bacteria and almost all of the fungus
we would possible want to have in a garden in
a landscape situation. – And it’s astonishing
how little composted material is needed
to see results. – We figure compost is a
three crop season rotation. We only put in on
every third time we raise a crop on that ground. Dry land, we do
three ton an acre, and irrigated, we
do five ton an acre. That is basically, I mean,
it’s not a thickness at all. It’s just a light
coating enough you can kind of tell
something’s there. And by doing the compost,
we are seeing that, yes, you may need some of
these trace minerals, but you’re not
needing as much of it. It is actually freeing
up some of it in the soil and actually making it where the plant can
utilize what’s there. We had some that we
did some test plots on. We farmed for a mile. The first half mile,
we put compost on. The other half mile we did not. The ground has been
farmed together for years and has been basically the same. When we went to plow just
right after we applied it, we could see the
mellowness of the ground where we put compost on, it
actually mellowed the ground. It rolled over so much nicer. It didn’t clump up. It made a nice soil condition. And the end where
we didn’t do it, it was a lot harder to work. – Well, the microbial
community makes soil structure, and soil structure
is what holds water. You’ve got all of these
soil food web organisms. You’ve got the fungi creating a mycelium throughout
the system. You’ve got pore
spaces being created. These little teeny particles
aren’t square bricks. They got little spaces between
them and beautiful stuff. – It speaks for itself. Like dry land wheat,
which around here we get 20 to 25 bushel per acre is our average
yield, I would say, and we’ve been seeing 10 bushel
per acre increase with it. So we are getting some
residual long-term effects. That side over
there is our control that has had virtually
nothing on it. Just same wheat fallow. Nothing added. And we’re seeing the definite
thickening of the crop. Getting a lot better stand. Getting bigger
heads on the wheat to where that’s production. We’re getting higher test
weights, higher protein. Overall the quality of
everything is going up. – It keeps the PH at the
right level for your plants, so it buffers the PH. It holds water so that if
you’ve got a water situation where it’s really,
really dry or really hot, it’ll hold a lot of extra water. You’ve got air that is just
a self regulating system. It’s beautiful. – If rebuilding soil with a
fraction of an inch of compost every three years
seems far-fetched, imagine the idea of
spring compost tea. – Compost tea has been
around for hundreds of years. The compost we are
focused a lot more on nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. Yes, as I’ve said, the
biological life is huge. But we are focused on the
fertilizer value of it still. The compost tea is
actually focused on strictly biological life. – Using that as a foliar spray,
what happens is the microbes stick to what’s known
as the phyllosphere, the area around the leaf. Around the root, it’s
called the rhizosphere. Around the leaf, it’s
called a phyllosphere. It sticks to the leaf and
it takes up space that would normally be used by bad
guys so there’s no space. It takes food the bad guys
would eat and it blocks some of the areas the bad guys
would use as entries, like the stomatas. So it’s not an icide. It’s not a pesticide
or an herbicide. It’s just out-competing. And it you can do it that way,
that’s the best way to go. – But it’s a manureless compost. This is actually some
of the compost that we’re using for
making the tea out of. And see the mixture
we’re getting is actually made out of pine
needles, alfalfa, corn stalks, grass
clippings, and clay. And the reason for that
is they’re trying to get the right carbon and nitrogen
ratio and get a good diversity in it because whatever
products you bring in bring different microbes
and biological life. So trying to get
that good diversity. And then through the
chemistry of everything as it composts and
breaks down properly, if it’s done right, you can
actually form a humus chain. That humus chain is like
the house that holds all the microorganisms
and biological life. – Methods for making
tea range from quite simple to very technical. – Because compost
tea requires a brewer in order to strip out the stuff, people have been
doing something that’s known as making a
compost extract. This is something
everybody can do. You take cheese cloth. Take a couple of
handfuls of compost, wrap it up in cheese cloth,
use the same five gallon bucket but just squeeze the
cheese cloth compost bag, I guess that’s
what they call it. Just squeeze it for
about 15 minutes. After about 15 minutes,
you’ve stripped out quite a few of the microbes,
the nematodes, the protozoa, which
are the spreaders, and the fertilizer bags,
the bacterial and the fungi. As opposed to a compost tea
where you add foods to it and oxygen, you’re actually
increasing the numbers of microbes as well
as stripping them out. This just strips them out. – Operating on an
industrial level, Jason uses the brewing method. – And we’re gonna add
one bucket of compost. And we’ll go in
nice and slow with it instead of just dumping it. It seems to keep it
better suspended. Any big clumps, we try
to break them down. What the extractor does
is it runs water in and then it has a blower
motor that blows air in. Oxygen rips those biological
life microorganisms, polymers, all that,
off the compost particles to where
they’re suspended. And then they reattach to the
oxygen molecules of the water. So we’re trying to pull them
off and make them attach. Another one. We’ll grab just a random
couple heads here. Dry land wheat once again, which is the primary
thing raise down here. We’ve been seeing
five to seven bushel per acre increase
on the dry land. You can tell the difference
in size of the head. So how much more
grain production there will be across those. And that was compost tea
versus no compost tea. And the stand out here is
actually quite a bit less also. That’s a 15 to 20
percent increase. Obviously, not every
test plot has been that, but a lot of them we’ve
seen those kind of results. Alfalfa, we’ve seen
huge increases there. On alfalfa, what they’re
seeing is instead of having a hollow stem, it’s
actually kind of starting to fill in that
stem of the plant. So they’re getting a better
quality feed and more tons. (tranquil music) – Backyard composting
is quite simple and can fit into
almost any setting. – Well, composting is
fortunately a pretty forgiving process, and the way to think
about it is that decomposition is happening around
us all the time. That’s part of Mother
Nature’s recycling system. And so really as composters,
what we’re trying to do is get an ideal
mix of materials and under ideal conditions
to sort of speed up the process and make
a more uniform product. – One of Riverton’s
lifelong gardeners shared his simple approach
to backyard composting. – Wendy and I try to turn
all the organic refuse from our life back
into garden soil. We use our kitchen waste. We use all the leaves that
fall from our trees in the fall and all the plant refuse
that comes off of our garden. But the essence is I have a bin
that stores stuff that is to be composted but is just really
sitting there dry and maybe rotting a little bit, but
not in any thorough manner. And then a middle bin which
is kind of the in between stage where that
product will go to. And then a finished
composting bin. With these inexpensive,
totally flexible or adjustable wire cages,
I slip the cage off of these to be composted
materials, just that simply, and then fork it out
of this pile so that all the things that have
gone in here get mixed. The garden waste, the
overgrown cucumbers, the corn husks, as well as
everything from the kitchen, egg shells, all the banana
peels, all that stuff, and I get that stuff mixed. And then there’s a judgment
call to be made of do I need to add some nitrogen to
this to get it to go. I have a fair amount of
green material in here with the honey dew melon,
these cucumbers and so forth. I would say with
all this grass hay in here that it’s
probably gonna be a little bit short
on the nitrogen side. So what do you add to do that? There’s a multitude of things. One of the easiest ones
is simply to take a cup of non-sulfured molasses,
put it in a bucket of water, and pour that over it. And that sugar is a
great nitrogen source, and instant and easy and
relatively inexpensive. A cup and five gallons
would do about half of one of these bins full
of this type of material. Now if it was all totally
dry leaves from the fall, all brown in other words, then I’d have to
add more nitrogen. And if it had a lot
more green stuff in it, garden waste, kitchen
waste and stuff, I might not have to add
any additional nitrogen. – Pretty good rule of
thumb for most of us in terms of our garden
composting is about one to two parts brown to about
one part green by volume. So maybe you have two
buckets of your browns and one bucket of your
greens and mix them together. That’s a good rule of thumb
for most backyard composters. – The other thing that’s
ultra important to make sure you do is you can see this
material is quite dry. It’s really important to
evenly moisten the material. Just like a thatched
roof will shed water off, I can’t just pour water
on top of the pile and have it wet down in there. It’ll only just wet the
surface and then run off. So continually, as you mix
the compost out and then put it back in the bin,
getting the material wet, not sopping wet, but a
goodly amount of moisture. See, with me spraying
it like that, it’s still dry down in here, so I’ll need to have
all that material just moist is what
I’m shooting for. You need a lot of
air in there, too, for a good aerobic
composting process to happen. So I’m not going to
add anymore green or nitrogen type
materials to this because I think there’s
probably enough of that stuff to make
this pile heat up. – Nitrogen sources include
things like manures, grass clipping, food waste, hay. Various things like that. Typically things that
are higher in proteins are gonna be higher in
nitrogen or considered greens. They may not be green in color. They often are, but
not necessarily. Coffee grounds are an example. They’re actually quite
high in nitrogen, but they’re very brown. Obviously, they
come from a bean. Beans are high in
protein, right? Higher in protein than
some other plant products. So think about it
going back to that. Legumes, alfalfa, and clovers
are higher in protein, therefore, they’re
gonna be higher in nitrogen than
grasses typically. So those’ll be your
greens, your protein, your nitrogen sources, and your browns will
be your carbon sources. So things like wood chips,
straw, sawdust, brown leaves, those will all be
your carbon sources. – See there’s more fruit
waste from doing apricots and apples and
all this and that. I’m just gonna mix
that stuff like that. Make sure you keep after, keeping water going
into the mixture. It’s kind of like cooking. You get comfortable
with what works. After I mix this up and
put it back in the bin and get it started again,
in about 24 to 28 hours, I can see if it’s heating up. My tried and true mixer
is also my thermometer. I just poke it into the bin,
wait for 15 seconds or so, and pull it out. And even right now on
this bin, it’s warm. It’s probably 100
degrees in there or so. A little warmer than my skin. It will get up to
about 150 degrees in just 48 hours with the
correct amount of brown stuff, green stuff, and moisture. – The great thing about
thermophilic composting is if you do it correctly,
you can kill weed seeds and pathogens and parasites that
may be in your raw materials. So that’s why a person
may want to work on getting a hot compost pile. Cold composting is, again,
you’re still getting a decomposition process,
you’re just doing it much more slowly and
you may not be guaranteed that you get a pathogen
or a weed seed kill. The eventual product
could be very similar. It would just take
longer to get there. And so a lot of us who
are gardeners do that cold composting in our garden. Maybe have a pile in the
corner, we add to it every year. Maybe every few years, we
empty it out and start over. – And then we’ll just fork
this stuff back in there. I’m mixing a little bit of
the older stuff with the newer stuff and also getting a
good look at my moisture. Not sopping wet, but nice
and relatively evenly moist. I think that’s a place
where a lot of folks miss the boat on
their composting. It’s surprising how much
water it takes to moisten what amounts to a couple
wheelbarrows full of materials. (tranquil music) If you don’t get it heated up
and you know you’ve got nice, even moisture in there, then
you probably didn’t get enough nitrogen in it and you may
have to go back and add more molasses or green grass
clippings or green alfalfa. Whatever other sources
of high nitrogen material that you
can put in there. And you can use just
nitrogen fertilizer. You can use blood meal
or cotton seed meal. Those relatively high nitrogen
natural fertilizer sources are also good ways to
boost that nitrogen amount. And that’s about all
there is to that. If I’ve got my nitrogen and
moisture correct in here, by this time tomorrow and
certainly the next day, when I probe that
for temperature, the pitchfork will come out
so hot I can’t hold onto it. There’s also one other
stage of this that I like to stay on top of, when
I get to that stage, I watch it carefully
for a couple three days because if that gets too
hot or if I have too high a nitrogen or if I have
too high of moisture, it’ll be anaerobic,
without oxygen. It’ll get stinky. It should just smell like
really earthy, nice smell. If it starts smelling
like fresh manure, then you know that you’re
starting to come too close to replicating the internal
organs of a cow or something. And all I do at that
point is undo my bin, turn the material out, and
chances are it’s a little too wet, and let it dry and
aerate, and turn it back. Usually, that’s all it
takes to cool it down. This is what I end up with. A mulch product
that’s like this, and it happens quickly, too. It’s only a matter of a
few weeks and a couple of turnings and you go from
raw materials to nice dark, loamy looking garden mulch. Compost is spectacular stuff. It grows the best foods. It makes the best
landscape material. It’s the cat’s meow as
far as I’m concerned. It’s really phenomenal,
phenomenal stuff. – To watch and learn
more about this and other episodes of
Farm to Fork Wyoming, go online to – This episode of Farm to Fork
Wyoming is available for $25. Order online at This program was
produced by Wyoming PBS, which is solely responsible
for its content.

4 thoughts on “Farm To Fork Wyoming – The Story of Compost, Part 1

  1. The backyard composting segment makes composting sound so technical, talking about ratios of matter, heat vs cold composting, etc., which I think sounds overwhelming (and scary if your compost doesn't heat up enough) to many and so hence they don't give it try. This is a prime example of overthinking something and making it overly complicated. I have done humanure with garden/household waste composting for many, many years. Other than the info on water (as composts loves to be wet), I don't adhere to anything else the woman backyard composter is talking about. My setup has always been so much more simple, doesn't require so much forethought into ratios, lol, and yet my compost comes out looking and smelling beautiful, black gold, and the plants love it.

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