Woody compost?

Discussion in 'Soils, Fertilizers and Composting' started by fern2, Apr 15, 2007.

  1. fern2

    fern2 Active Member

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    I'm looking to compost a ton of mulched cedar & douglas fir in a new woody compost pile but I need a little help. I'll be adding a bit of the mulch into my regular compost but don't want to overwhelm it with carbon or hard to breakdown wood chips, hence the 2nd pile. My other reason for making 2 piles is to end up with one of them having a higher carbon content (=woodier) than your average garden compost so that I can use it for the 'shady forest' section of my PNW native garden, where most of the plants prefer poorer woodier soil.

    Anyway, I was wondering what I should use in the woody compost to (a) balance out the high carbon load enough to facilitate detritivores & generate heat while still keeping the resulting compost more 'carbon-y' than usual, and (b) help speed things up so the larger chips & bark strips don't take decades to break down while the grass clippings, leaves & manure turn over in a flash.

    There's already going to be some leaves and soil/manure in the mix (it's unavoidable), so what else I should I add to best approximate forest fines?

    Thx!
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    I'd spread the fresh material where wanted, as mulch. Follow the natural model, where plant debris falls to the ground and is processed by the soil community where it lands.
     
  3. growest

    growest Active Member 10 Years

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    Fern--if you want to "compost" the stuff a bit, probably for esthetic reasons or to reduce it's volume somewhat, you can certainly do that too. As Ron says, it works fine to spread the fresh stuff, but I know it sometimes looks a bit utility-ish or whatever with the stuff spread around.

    Either way, the breakdown will happen at nature's pace as in the nearby forests. Big difference is the high C:N ratio will discourage much bacteria...therefore little heating which ends quite quickly, and a resulting composted material that is decayed by various fungi rather than bacteria. This will give you the "poor" nutrient value you've mentoned...fungi do the lion's share of the breakdown in the forest, leading to the woodland type soils that these plants are adapted to. Low N content all round, since the fungi in the compost has a low C:N ratio (low protein content compared to bacteria in a richer compost like composted manure).

    You could try to enhance the "poor" compost by adding some fungi friendly amendments to the mulched material before composting...like kelp meal, rock dust or even fish hydrolysate(not emulsion which is very bacteria-enhancing). Or just let it come out naturally with the low maintenance, no input approach.
     
  4. fern2

    fern2 Active Member

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    Thanks guys.

    There were 3 reasons why I wanted to compost the stuff: (1) to reduce the volume (there's TONS of it! & I've only got 1 compost bin...), (2) to hopefully produce some more forest-like, woody, mildly-acidic humus to put on the "shady forest floor" side of my PNW native garden, and (3) to avoid the nitrogen-sucking behaviour that my now defunct (heavy on the bark mulch) lasagna garden had that didn't seem to make many of my plants happy.

    So it sounds like I should probably throw some of the softer mulch on top of the "forest" side (looks don't matter) and then compost the rest with lots of greens (esp lawn clippings & coffee grounds - for quick decomp) in my regular compost bin. Ok. I guess I can do that. It'll just take forever to get through my 5-6 garbage bins of mulch... ;)

    Thanks for the help!
     

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