NORMAL COMPOSTING BIN SEQUENCE (CONTINUED)
A compost pile can accept a huge amount of refuse, and even though the pile may seem to be full, as soon as you turn your back it will shrink down and leave room for more material. So when I say fill the first bin before filling the second, I mean fill it. A year is a good period of time for doing so in any area where there is an annual growing season. In the tropics, a shorter period may be necessary; I don't know. You readers who live in the tropics will have to figure that out. In the cold winters of the north, it is quite likely that the compost will freeze solid. You can, however, keep adding to the pile all winter. In the spring when it thaws out, the compost should work up a head of steam as if nothing happened.
Follow a natural timing cycle when making compost, one that is in tune to your agricultural cycle. A yearly cycle works best for me in Pennsylvania, where we have an annual growing cycle (one growing season per year). By late spring, the compost bin has been completely filled and it's time to let it sit until the next spring, when the finished compost will be ready to be removed and added to the garden.
The system outlined above will not yield any compost until two years after the process has started (one year to build the first pile and an additional year for it to age). However, after the initial two year start-up period, an ample amount of compost will be available on an annual basis.
A few people wrote to me wondering what happens to the leachate from the compost pile. Apparently they imagined that noxious fluids were draining into the soil under the pile, and they were concerned that this would constitute a violation of environmental regulations. Ironically, in most rural and many suburban areas, the alternative would be to use a septic system for waste disposal. Septic systems are designed to leach waste into the soil. That makes me wonder why people are concerned about possible leaching into the soil from compost while they show no concern for the leaching from septic systems. The answer to the leaching question is two-fold. First, compost requires a lot of moisture; evaporated moisture is one of the main reasons why compost shrinks so much. Compost piles are not inclined to drain moisture unless during a very heavy rain. Most rainwater is absorbed by the compost, but in heavy rainfall areas a roof or cover can be placed over the compost pile at appropriate times in order to prevent leaching. Second, a thick biological sponge is layered under the compost before the pile is built. This acts as a leachate barrier. If these two factors aren't effective enough, it is a simple matter to place a layer of plastic underneath the compost pile, under the biological sponge, before the pile is built. Fold the plastic so that it collects any leachate and drains into a sunken five gallon bucket. If leachate collects in the bucket, pour it back over the compost pile. The plastic, however, will act as a biological barrier between the soil and the compost, and its use is therefore not recommended by the author. The interface between the compost pile and the soil acts as a corridor for soil organisms to enter the compost pile, and plastic will prevent that natural migration. However, the plastic can provide simple and effective leachate prevention, if needed.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing,
PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.