Re: Compost and the cohouser
From: Loren Davidson (
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 94 11:53 CST
>I was chatting with one of my neighbours the other day, and we were talking 
>about our community compost boxes, which aren't holding up as well as we 
>had hoped.  They are made from recycled redwood fence boards, but the 
>redwood seems to be rotting out fairly quickly, especially in the first box 
>(where most of the decomposition takes place).  It looks like we'll have to 
>replace them in a year or two.
>I was wondering how you folks compost, what materials you used for the 
>boxes, and how well they have held up?

Depends on the size of your piles.  I've had good luck with some of the 
commercial bins made out of recycled plastic; I've also built "sheet 
compost" beds without enclosures.

Another thought is to build your bins out of concrete blocks.  The layer at 
the bottom should have the holes facing into the pile for aeration.

Finally, consider building bins out of hardware cloth (wire mesh) nailed to 
wood frames.  It solves the aeration problem and minimizes the rotting wood 

>We've also had rather a problem with flies breeding in our bins.  We live 
>in a very hot climate, and all our houses compost food waste religiously.  
>This means that we have rather a high proportion of food in the compost, 
>especially in midsummer.  Most of us just leave grass clippings on the 
>lawn, so we don't have that supply.  The wet high-nitrogen environment 
>seems to lend itself to maggots.
>We have found that flyproofing the compost bins helps somewhat while it 
>stays tight.  We have added grass clippings/leaves from outside which helps 
>- but we can't always get them.  Turning the compost every couple of days 
>helps - but we don't always have the energy.  
>Have other groups had compost fly problems, and what helped?
>Stuart Staniford-Chen          |       Dept of Computer Science
>stanifor [at]           |       UC Davis, Davis, CA 95616
>(916) 752-2149 - work          |               and
>(916) 756-8697  - home         |       N St. Cohousing Community
>Home page is
Here's a thought:  Now that it's late fall, rake up and "stockpile" all the 
fallen leaves you can get.  Compost raw materials can be roughly divided up 
into two categories:  "green" and "brown".  The "green" stuff, like food 
scraps and grass clippings, are high in nitrogen.  "Brown" stuff is high in 
carbon and consists of dried leaves, sawdust, straw hay, rice hulls, etc., etc.

Davis is well located for scavenging this sort of material.  Talk to local 
farmers about getting their spoiled hay on a regular basis.  Gather leaves 
in the fall and store them in *open* bags until you need them for compost 
later.  Build "sheet compost" piles on your garden beds in the fall and 
leave them to decompose until spring planting.

I've found that a well-built pile won't have anywhere near as much of a fly 
problem, and that making sure the carbon:nitrogen mix (30:1 by ingredients; 
the proportions of each substance to the others depends on what you're 
using) is about right, that will help more.  I believe that the excess 
nitrogen-stuff is part of the fly problem.

Turning the compost, as you've observed, not only helps keep the flies down 
but helps the mix to "cook" faster, as it aerates everything.

You can find a table of carbon-to-nitrogen ratios for most commonly used 
substances in (among other places) the book "Designing and Maintaining Your 
Edible Landscape Naturally", by Robert Kourik, Metamorphic Press, 1986.  You 
should be able to find this book locally in Davis; Email me for Bay area 
locations where I've seen it if you can't find it there.  The table in 
question is in Appendix 5, which in the '86 edition was on page 325.

Good luck!

Loren Davidson 
lmd [at]
"I'd love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code!"

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