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MAYTime Composting News

November, 2013

Composting and Odor Problems

If composting is done well, it produces almost no unpleasant odors. A good operation will check temperature and oxygen levels regularly, and maintain prodedures that minimize any potential for odors.
Yesterday, I prepared one of my bins to build a new pile. This morning, while I was checking temperatures on the adjacent pile, I noticed that the empty bin had developed a potential odor problem. Here’s a picture. How would YOU handle this?

Apparently they got in last night, looking for food scraps, but couldn’t get out. I set up ramps for them to climb out, but they continued sleeping.

I decided to work on the newsletter today instead.

Community Composting - Part II
The Economics of Composting

“Small scale composting isn’t economically viable”. So says one national authority on composting.  Here’s why this HAS BEEN – mostly – true.
Bulk Compost is available at several large facilities in North Carolina, at prices ranging from $10 to $25 per yard (about ½ ton).  Why not here?
For an operation to produce enough cheap compost to be viable, it takes millions of dollars of capital investment, huge sources of raw material, and enormous markets.  Most of these large operations are near Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill.
A good example is Brooks Contractor, of Goldston, NC. Situated on a 375 acre family farm, this operation has its own fleet of semis, and a fleet of waste hauling and handling equipment. They collect over 12,000 TONS of food waste per year (and charge a $24 per ton “tipping fee” for taking it – a remarkably low price in the industry). They also collect many other compostables, reaping both hauling charges and tipping fees. Note this: They get paid to compost the waste others generate.
Brooks produces and sells about 400,000 TONS of compost per year. That would be about twelve pickup-loads for every man, woman, and child in Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery Counties combined. Again, large markets - large farms and large population areas - make this viable.
An  operation of this scale would be almost impossible to set up in Yancey County. The cost of collecting and shipping raw materials alone would be enormous.  Compare this with  “Nature’s GREEN RELEAF”, another large compost facility near Raleigh.  It has most of its compostable raw material delivered from one industrial fermentation facility about two miles away. The rest (yard waste) is delivered to them by municipal haulers – and small cities in that region are glad to have a place to dump it.  Again, the capital investment is in the $millions.
You might wonder, since MAYTime can purchase compost for $10 a yard,  why does MAYTime charge $65 per yard?
Shipping Costs.
That $10 / yard compost costs more than $25 per yard in trucking to get it to Yancey County.
Next month, I will explore the economics of composting with worms, and why “vermicomposting” can make composting economically viable on a much smaller scale.


Vermiculture Conference Highlights

At the end of October, I attended the 14th annual Vermiculture conference held in Raleigh. This conference explores both worm composting and worm production (for bait or for home composting), and is always a great source of networking and the latest research. Attendees and speakers came from all around the world – Norway, Africa, India, Hawaii, Canada, and the US.

Some  key items from the conference:
1) Scientists have now identified THREE plant growth hormone in worm castings.

2) The experts agree that “pure worm castings” are impossible to produce – you will always have some percentage of other materials, and it is very difficult to determine percentages. Correspondingly, there is no real consensus on the meaning of the terms “Worm Castings” and “Vermicompost”. In fact, everyone in the industry dislikes the term “Vermicompost”, but no one knows what else to call it – and again, there are no standards for production, content, etc. Know your composter!
3) Compost Teas, Worm Compost Teas, and liquid Compost Extracts are VERY controversial, for several reasons. First, there is no consensus on the meaning and use of these terms, and no standardization of methods; Second, there is the *possibility* that production of teas and extracts from compost could also produce significant numbers of pathogens.
4) Most exciting for me,  MAYTime is becoming known as something of a model for small-scale composting. I was kept quite busy talking with others who are looking at building operations much like MAYTime – and had been inspired by MAYTime’s website. One participant even made a special trip to visit MAYTime before returning to Massachusetts.  

Native and Invasive Worm Species

Sadly, (or not?)  most of the worms you find in your garden and yard are not native to this continent. In fact, many environmentalists consider them “invasive species”. The most common garden worms – nightcrawlers and redworms – were brought here from Europe with plants brought by European settlers.
These European worms took hold largely because the last Ice Age scraped away all the topsoil, forests, and earthworms from the northern regions of the continent – leaving an open environment for new species to take over.
There are still native earthworms here in WNC. A friend just sent me a picture of a rare native worm he has found a few times. Probably, it was once common in the Northern forests. It is still found in a few remote places in the Appalachians, in old-growth forest where there has been little disturbance.  It belongs to the genus “Diplocardia” (Two Hearts). I hope to meet one in person some day.


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