Introduction: Urban Master Composter Certificate
I had the privilege of taking the Urban Master Composter course in Washington DC this past fall. I highly recommend this course to anybody interested in urban agriculture or composting. The class provides a great overview of many techniques to make compost and covers the science underlying these processes. It also provides hands on experience at some of the best urban farms and compost systems in the DC area and access to the innovative leaders and teachers that run these projects. You can learn more about attending this course and other workshops through DC Parks and Recreation by clicking here.
As part of the Urban Master Composter certification, you are are required to complete volunteer hours at community compost sites. Below is a report to the other members and teachers of the DC Urban Master Composter Class about a compost project I worked on in Israel. I wrote it for an advanced audience, so I do apologize if the references are obscure or the language is too technical. I am currently editing a video about this project that will be more accessible to everybody.
Chicken Habitat Compost System Report
Dear Master Composters,
I had great experience last month getting a Permaculture Design Certificate at Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology in the south of Israel. I want to share with all of you about a compost project I helped design and implement.
I was recruited by a staff member, Merav, to help with their combined chicken habitat and eight bin compost system. The system was inspired by the chicken tractor of Geoff Lawton that we saw in a video during Christian’s class. The first part of the process is to first give vegetarian food scraps, garden waste, straw, and nitrogen fixing plants to the chickens, who eat it and shred it and add manure. All of these actions occur in an area connected to the chicken coop.
Then the combined materials go into open compost bins in the system along with other added materials. During the entire process the chickens are nourished by eating the insects that are part of composting.
When Merav came to me, she was wondering why the piles were not heating up and why it was taking so long to make compost. Fortunately for her, she had a DC urban master composter available to help her. The first issue I identified was that the pile was much too dry. Based on the piles’ appearance, smell, and cool temperature, I also guessed that they were too high in carbon, and would benefit from added nitrogen.
After I wrote down my initial evaluations and ideas, we tested a pile with much more nitrogen than they had been including. We used sources such as goat manure and food scraps. Carbon came from the ground of the coop and buckets of straw. We used about a two to one ratio. We also thoroughly watered every layer as we built the pile. The next day, this pile gave us a 67 degrees celsius (153 F) reading, so we knew we were on the right track. The dryness of the desert air there made watering an essential task.
Remaining issues included that the compost system was hard to turn. Unlike the removable walls of the compost knox system from Urban Farm Plans, the walls of this system were fixed in place. This meant turning the pile was much harder and less efficient than the piles we turned during class at Wangari Gardens for instance. The lack of insulation from the floor and other piles also caused frequent mixing with materials from the ground, from the trees above. and with other piles. Another issue was that the current system was not so convenient for the farm manager to take compost from, so we sought to better align the curing pile with the door to the coop.
Merav and I developed and constructed a new system that addressed these issues. We reused the pallets as a base of the pile and found wood boards from a constructions site to be the floor and walls.
With a wide drill bit, we added holes to the floor of the bottom of the system to help with drainage and aeration. By creating slats in the back walls with a jig saw and fixing blocks of woods to the floor, we produced removable doors between the piles.
The space for the final pile has a removable back wall so the farm manager can remove cured compost easily without having to enter into the main area of the system that is fenced off and locked. There is space designated to add a compost sifter into the system before the last pile, and the staff at the kibbutz will construct it once pile is cooked enough to require sifting.
My last day on the kibbutz, Merav and I filmed a video about how to use the system. Once I edit the clips we filmed together, I will be sure to share it with all of you.
I am happy to answer any questions and receive any feedback about this project. I look forward to seeing all of you this spring in DC.