What Goes into a Compost Pile in Southcentral Alaska? – In the Alaska Garden with Heidi Rader

Hi, I’m Heidi Rader here in the Alaska Garden. I’m with UAF Cooperative Extension Service and Tanana Chiefs Conference. I’m here in Homer, Alaska checking out all the cool things farmers are doing here to extend the season like high tunnels, hoop houses, low tunnels and also the other cool tools they’re using as small-scale farmers. I’m here at Oceanside Farms in Homer, Alaska with Don McNamara and here at Oceanside they use organic methods for growing vegetables, so we’re going to learn all about the compost piles you see here and Don’s gonna tell us what he – what goes into these compost piles. Okay, the first thing you have to do is keep your eyes open. So, an old homesteader up the road wanted to get rid of a mountain hay last year, so we went and picked it up and the sawmill down the street always needing their saw shop cleaned out, so we go sweep up the sawdust and the local fish company needs their fish waste hauled away so we take care of that for them and the food bank needs their waste hauled away so, it’s just a big waste stream. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find enough stuff to compost. And actually you want to layer it as you put it together and that helps build up the heat and it’ll get cooking in no time flat. So the hardest part is turning it over. So you really need a piece of machinery unless you’re young and strong. And how do you know how much of each – what each item to add to your compost pile? Do you guys calculate that at all? Yeah, so thirty to one is a pretty good recipe. One nitrogen and thirty carbon. So I’d say if you just kind of add some dry stuff every once in a while it’ll get cooking. Okay, so you add some sawdust and then and fish waste and some green plants and and whatnot so… Yeah, it works out pretty darn good. Nice. So how long does it take for these piles to break down? So, we built this one last summer and we built this one four months ago and we built this one about a week ago and you can see the temperature there’s getting up to almost 150. That’s right. Getting pretty warm. And why do you want it to warm up? It kills the weed seeds. And some other pests? Yeah. So, we don’t worry too much about the weeds and all the plant material going in there So what’s the ideal temperature for it to heat up to? I would say under a hundred and sixty. One thirty-five will kill the weed seeds. And how often did you say you turned the piles? I try and turn it every day or two. Okay. It’s quite a job in the winter time when it starts getting slippery out here. So it’s not a perfect world. Just do the best you can. Yeah and fish might get a little stinky too, huh? The fish usually goes away in just about three or four days – the fish smell. So, yeah. The air when you turn it, the air really helps keep the smell down. So if it starts getting smelly you need to turn it. So then when it’s done, what is this for here? So this is a bread tray that they have at the supermarket and once you’re done you can just throw it on the bread tray. It has three quarter-inch holes. Load it up a little bit and give it a quick shake Nice. Into your bucket and squish everything you can. What doesn’t go through, put it back in the system. All right. And you’re ready to go. We do add some biochar, also. You can see over here Terra preta. In the Amazon the Indians made their soil with charcoal. The soil is still fertile today. Great. So you’ve got – you’re using a lot of waste from town – from the fish, the sawmill and biochar. So it sounds like a really excellent mixture. And do you have to add anything else in addition to your compost ? A little water. Water always helps. You want it to be wet enough that you can squeeze it and get a couple drops out. Okay. Great. Well, it sounds like an excellent mixture here for your vegetables. Thanks, teacher. Thanks.

1 thought on “What Goes into a Compost Pile in Southcentral Alaska? – In the Alaska Garden with Heidi Rader

  1. Like so many things it is much easier to do large scale composting. Larger piles heat up better. I have found that it is hard for home composting to heat up enough to kill most of weed seeds. Love his low tech sifting of the finished product.

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