Our compost area by the side of the garden consists of the following components, left to right as you stand in the path leading to the garden:

  • A triple bin covered with lattice
  • A black plastic Biostack composter
  • A wooden Biostack-type composter
  • Stacks of compost of various types — the right-most stack contains a mix of the various types.  This is the compost we use in the garden.

The components are arranged in this order because they represent a “cycle of life” for our compost, left to right. Here is how to use them:

The Triple Bin – Passive Composting

  • The left-hand section is a holding area for green cuttings from the garden. These cuttings should be cut down to 6-8″ sections before being moved to the two passive composting bins. Weeds and diseased plant cuttings should be placed in the green waste can, not in any of the compost bins.
  • The second and third bins are “passive” composting bins. The cut-up 6-8″ sections of green plant material from the first bin are layered with brown material (brown leaves, shredded paper, straw) to begin the decomposition process.

……………The Saturday team keeps this side moist, but won’t turn or give it the full composting treatment. They will add greens from the other section of the bin in layers and sometimes coffee grounds and manure. The resulting mixture will begin to compost in preparation for being added to the Biostacks.

Biostack Composters – Active Composting
Next – in line are the Biostack composters, which are our “Active” compost heap. The Sunday team is in charge of maintaining the Biostacks.
When a batch of compost is “finished” in the Biostacks, the Sunday team will dump on the ground next to the Biostacks to age.
Then the Sunday team will refill the Biostack from the contents of the “passive” compost bin.  Since that material should be partially composted, it should finished faster in the Biostack.

The Aging Pile
The Aging Pile is on the ground next to the Biostacks. It consists of a recently created batch of compost that still needs to age for a while.
When it has aged sufficiently, it will be sifted into the final “ready-to-use” pile. Big pieces can go back into the passive bin.

The Ready-to-Use Compost Bin
Last on the right is the “Ready to Use” compost bin. This is where to get compost to put on the garden.

– We apply compost when we refurbish our beds prior to planting, and later to re-energize the plants
– Sifting: Compost that gets works into the soil shouldn’t have any material larger than 1/4″ in size. If it needs to be sifted before use, use one of the big screens that are beside the compost bin. Lay the screen over a wheelbarrow or other container, shovel the unsifted compost onto the screen. Stir it around. Use what falls through. Put the rest in Bin 2 (the Passive Compost bin) to go through the composting process again.

How the Sunday Team Uses the Biostack

Posted by Lori Shein

The Biostack is really pretty easy to work with. One or two people, each using a small pitchfork, is we all we need. It’s not terribly hard work. Anyone who has the stamina to pull weeds and plant seeds and doesn’t have back problems could do it. And you just need enough arm strength to lift a little compost at a time with a pitchfork–which doesn’t require all that much strength.

Here’s what we do step-by-step: Lift off lid; check thermometer (we’re looking for a consistent 120-130 degrees but not expecting that for a couple more months); pull out thermometer and set aside; take top section off and set it in the space beside the Biostack. All of the compost contents will now be moved to this spot, one section at a time. Using pitchfork, pick up a little at a time, and shake into the empty top section. This helps air it out. When that section is filled, take off next section and place on top of first one. Continue to transfer contents a little at a time. Check for dryness. We usually give it a good watering at about this stage. It should be damp but not soaking. We also continually check for any big sticks that will take too long to decompose. Can either chop them up smaller or toss them out. Repeat with final section until all contents have been transferred. If there’s room at the top, this is where we usually add new green and brown waste and water if needed. Put the thermometer back into the center, cover, and it’s done.

Note on Use of Coffee Grounds

Posted by Janice Schock

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coffee grounds can be an excellent addition to a compost pile. The grounds are relatively rich in nitrogen, providing bacteria the energy they need to turn organic matter into compost.
About 2 percent nitrogen by volume, used coffee grounds can be a safe substitute for nitrogen-rich manure in the compost pile, explained Cindy Wise, coordinator of the compost specialist program at the Lane County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service. Contrary to popular belief, coffee grounds are not acidic. After brewing, the grounds are close to pH neutral, between 6.5 and 6.8. The acid in the beans is mostly water-soluble, so it leaches into the coffee we drink.

Here are some suggestions for using composted grounds in the yard and garden from the OSU Extension compost specialists:

  • Mix grounds into soil as an amendment. Make sure to keep them damp. Add some nitrogen fertilizer if you do this, as coffee grounds encourage the growth of microbes in the soil, which use up nitrogen. While microbes are breaking down the grounds, the added nitrogen will provide a source of nutrients for your plants.
  • Spread grounds on the soil surface, then cover them with leaves or bark mulch.
  • Add grounds to your compost pile, layering one part leaves to one part fresh grass clippings to one part coffee grounds, by volume. Turn once a week. This will be ready in three to six months.
  • Or, put them in an existing unturned pile. Just make sure to add a high carbon source, such as leaves to balance it.
  • Grounds may be stored for future use. They may develop molds but these appear to be consumed during the composting process. Or a large plastic bag works for storage as well.

Keep in mind that uncomposted coffee grounds are NOT a nitrogen fertilizer. Coffee grounds have a carbon-to-nitrogen ration of about 20 to 1, in the same range as animal manure. Germination tests in Eugene showed that uncomposted coffee grounds, added to soil as about one-fourth the volume, showed poor germination and stunted growth in lettuce seed. Therefore, they need to be composted before using near plants.