Adventures in Composting

Not even going to talk about my lack of blogging. šŸ˜‰

This past January I spent 3 weeks doing a farmstay at a permaculture farm in Thailand called the Panya Project. I had a great time there and recommend it to anyone looking for a place to learn a bit about permaculture and visit Thailand at the same time. One of the cool things that I learned there and am trying toĀ implementĀ here in Japan is the 18-Day Compost.

Basically the 18-Day Compost does exactly what it says on the tin. Rather than having a slow compost like most folks have, which takes months to finish, an 18 day compost takes…you guessed it!…18 days. The keys of this kind of compost are keeping a 3 to 1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen ingredients–carbon being sawdust, autumn leaves, straw, etc. and nitrogen food scraps, manure, greens (like fresh cut grass)–and keeping it the right temperature–between 55 and 65 degreesĀ Celsius. This kind of composting is supposed to work anytime of year and anywhere around the world. The guy at Panya said you could do this inĀ AntarcticaĀ if you had the right materials. It was the middle of Sado winter when I got back from Thailand. While not Antarctica, I was going to put that assertion to the test. šŸ™‚

Since it was the middle of the winter here on Sado, it was hard to come by a lot of greens for the carbon. There were some food scraps in a composting bin at my bosses naya, and we have a friend that has horses so we could use the manure. But looking at it it seemed like the scraps in the bin had mostly rotted and the manure had been in its own composting pile. I felt we needed something fresh. Nabe suggested komenuka which are rice shavings (after you de-husk rice, it comes out brown, so you have to run that brown rice through a machine to shave off a bit of the outside and turn the brown rice to white). Komenuka is a fine powdery substance a lot like flour. For the browns we ended up using only rice straw, which we had plenty of from last year’s harvest.

This was our pile. We first laid down a layer of dry rice straw. On top of that we put a layer of wet rice straw. Your compost pile needs to be saturated to get going, and we had a lot of rice straw on the ground under the Sado snow. Then we put another layer of dry straw. On top of that we’d sprinkle a bunch of komenuka and then shake the pile so the stuff would spread throughout the layers.

The final product looked like this:

We ended up building a about 8 piles, but only 3 or so of them were the komenuka only experimental piles. The others were a mixture of the rotting food scraps and manure and rice straw.

You’re supposed to let the piles sit for 4 days and then turn them from inside to outside and bottom to top. But after the 4 days it seemed like a few of the manure/food scrap piles weren’t hot at all, so we ended up combining them with a couple of the komenuka-only piles. After another 4 days the temperature was nice and hot–just under 60 degreesĀ Celsius. When we went to turn it over, you could see the steam rising from the pile.

After turning the pile on the 4th day, you’re supposed to turn the pile every 2 days from then on. I just turned the pile today, so we’re at 6 days so far. There was some whitish stuff on the inside of the pile, which might be a sign that it’s not “fluffed” enough. The temperature was a decent 60ish degreesĀ Celsius, though. I’ll try airing it out a bit tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing how this works out!