In the begining there was…

Critter resistant Hot Damn Composter built by B & L Homecomposting, Powell River BC

This is my first attempt at setting up a blog, so I ask for your patience, understanding, and any constructive hints that you can give me, both on blogging as well as on composting.

B and L Home Composting is converting old freezers into in-vessel composters.  We use the free Hot Damn Composter plans that were designed by Robert Baillie.  His construction instructions can be seen at hotdamncomposter.wordpress.com.

Our intent, through this blog is document our successes and failures in using freezer/composters both in a household setting as well as in a more demanding small restaurant setting. We have been using both freezer/composter as well as a static bin type pile for about 2 years.  Plus we have had over three years experience working in Powell River’s Demonstration garden where there is a compost demonstration area that now has/had worm bins, stone-bear resistant composter, freezer/composter, three bin systems, speedy bins, cones, wire cages and plastic composters.

We will provide a running commentary on the activity of our composting as we attempt to learn how to compost effectively and efficiently.  Overtime, as we learn how to use wordpress, we intend to structure this blog spot in a more user friendly way.

Brian

Restaurant site – first two weeks

The compostable material includes cooked and uncooked meat (ground beef, chicken), fish (shrimp, salmon), rice, noodles, tacos, vegetables, avocados, limes, lemons, and the like.  In addition, all paper napkins, hand towels, paper plates, and other paper products generated in the restaurant.  Cardboard, though compostable, is recycled.  A rough estimate of the composted material is 20% fruit, 20 % vegetable, 20% paper material and the remaining 40% food waste.  Because of the high nutrient value of the food waste, and the relatively low carbon ratio of the napkins, I have added sawdust and shredded leaves to try to achieve a better carbon nitrogen ratio for hot composting.

Two questions that I had for this site were: 1) how big of a system does the restaurant need, and 2) how fast can the freezer/composter get the compost to a curing point.  The second question is hard to answer when using a “bild a pile as you go method” of composting as we are.  Given that my patience level is slightly less than that of a gnat, I separated the compost into two groups at the end of week two.

Question 1, how big should the system be?

On November 5, 2012, we installed a medium size (15 cu. ft.) chest freezer/composter.  A layer of course material (woody debris and ripped cardboard) filled the bottom 2 inches, then  we layered in 2-3 weeks’ worth of collected compostable waste material (about 60kg).  Over the next two weeks, restaurant staff added food waste daily and I layered the material with shredded leaves or wood shavings every second or third day for odour and fly control.  I completely turned the compost about once every four days and measured the temperature of the compost whenever I was there.  After the two-week period, the composter was about 70% full and we had two weeks of temperature records.
As shown in the chart at below, temperatures ranged from 80oF to 140oF (26 to 60 C) during the 14 day period.  For a consecutive 10 day period, temperatures exceeded 104oF (40C) and on two of those days the temperature reached 40oF (60C), hot enough to kill some pathogens.
However, as the following picture shows, the “build a pile as you go” method does not produce compost within a 14 day period.  Yes, some of the material has decomposed over the two week period, but other material has only just been added to the pile.

At the end of this two-week period, the freezer/composter was about 2/3 full.  Given that the material shrinks during the composting process it is estimated that the 15 c.f. composter would be full within a 6-8 weeks.  At this point, we removed about 90% of the material and began again to monitor how quickly the freezer/composter would fill up.

Temperature chart first 2 weeks

pile as you go

pile as you go

Freezer/Composter

We (B&L Home Composting) convert old freezers into composters.  If you have time, skills and tools you can build your own Hot Damn Composter.  Bert Baillie’s plans are freely available at hotdamncomposter.wordpress.com.  Once the Freon is professionally removed, depending on the freezer, it takes somewhere between 6 – 10 hrs of work over a few days.  Decking, metal paint, screws, piping will cost about $40-$45 and then you will need a few household tools such as, a saw, metal hole cutter, a good drill, screwdrivers and wrenches.  If you like the idea but know your time is more useful elsewhere, then we can build one for you.  Depending on the size and any special requirements, freezer/composters range from $100 to $160.

There are several reasons why a freezer/composter is a good choice for your compost needs.  The first six off the top of my head, are:

  1. A freezer is reused instead of going into the landfill.
  2. A freezer is repurposed and nothing new has to be manufactured to make a composter.
  3. An insulated freezer eliminates climate conditions normally affecting composters (i.e. wind, rain, temperature).
  4. It is critter resistant which allows composting of more foodstuffs.
  5. The airflow mechanism assists in maintaining aerobic composting thus reducing the odours normally associated with anaerobic systems.
  6. An in-vessel composter works faster and more effectively than most other common composters do.

Over the next few weeks, I will document our experiences with two different composting sites.  The first is our own composter on a small city lot.  The second is at a local restaurant in the heart of downtown.

Small city lot

This compost site has three main objectives: i) make compost to build up of vegetable and flowerbeds ii) deal with our yard waste and iii) reduce our household waste.  These objectives coupled with our lifestyles shapes the way we use the composter.  With just two of us in the house, our food wastes are small.  To be able to make a reasonable amount of humus (composted mater) for our gardens we have to supplement our food waste with other material.  We add seaweed, coffee grounds, grass clippings, garden waste, and animal manures when we can get them.  If we are diligent, we expect to make 30 to 60 cubic feet of good rich humus to put in our gardens each year.

Local restaurant

This compost site has two main objectives: i) to find an effective way to rapidly compost food waste and ii) help the restaurant move towards its “zero waste” goal.  Restaurants generate large quantities of food waste and other compostable materials, such as napkins, paper towels, coffee filters, and paper.  The focus at this site is the speed of properly diverting food without increasing cost.

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