Field Guide to On-Farm Composting

Publication Number: NRAES-114
Cost: $22.00
Length: 118 pages
ISBN: 0-935817-39-5

This book was developed to assist in day-to-day compost system management. It is spiral bound, is printed on heavy paper, and has a laminated cover for durability. Chapter tabs make finding information a snap. Topics discussed in the book include: operations and equipment; raw materials and recipe making; process control and evaluation; site considerations, environmental management, and safety; composting livestock and poultry mortalities; and compost utilization on the farm. Highlights of the guide include an equipment identification table, diagrams showing windrow formation and shapes, examples and equations for recipe making and compost use estimation, a troubleshooting guide, and 24 full-color photos. This book is intended as a companion to the highly successful On-Farm Composting Handbook, NRAES-54. (1999)

Composting continues to gain momentum as an environmentally sound way to stabilize and reduce the volume of agricultural and municipal wastes. The publication is designed to help agricultural producers in the day-to-day management of an on-farm composting operation.

The Field Guide to On-Farm Composting ($20.00 plus S&H/sales tax, 128 pages, April 1999) is a handy reference guide that helps on-farm composters find practical information about composting quickly and easily. It answers common questions such as: What is the optimum moisture content and bulk density of a compost mix? Why is my compost operation odorous and how can I control the odor? How long does it take to compost poultry mortality? How much compost can I land apply? The field guide was developed as a companion to the best-selling PALS publication On-Farm Composting Handbook (NRAES-54) and is available from PALS Publishing. It will be a valuable educational tool for cooperative extension educators and agricultural advisors.

The Field Guide to On-Farm Composting is intended to be used in the field. It is compact, spiral-bound, and printed on durable glossy paper with a laminated cover. Colored chapter tabs make finding a specific chapter a snap. The text is supplemented with 17 tables, 24 illustrations, commonly used equations, bulleted lists, and many sample calculations for at-a-glance referencing. Other highlights include 24 color photos and a case study written by technical staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS); the study discusses results of agricultural field trials using compost on highly erodible soils in the state of Texas.

The field guide contains six chapters. Chapter 1, "Operations and Equipment," reviews composting operations, from raw material preparation to compost storage, and discusses equipment needed for on-farm composting. Chapter 2, "Raw Materials and Recipe Making," presents descriptions and characteristics of the most common raw materials used for on-farm composting and includes easy-to-read tables and standard formulas for developing a successful recipe. Examples of recipe formulation are included. A special section reviews the basics of recipe making for first-time composters. Chapter 3, "Process Control and Evaluation," discusses steps for maintaining the necessary biological conditions in a compost pile and reviews sampling, testing, and troubleshooting procedures. A lengthy troubleshooting guide is included at the end of the chapter. Chapter 4, "Site Considerations, Environmental Management, and Safety," presents basic requirements for siting a farm composting operation, including area and buffer zone requirements; reviews common nuisances such as odors, pests, runoff, and leachate and outlines procedures for controlling them; and discusses important safety issues, including worker health. Chapter 5, "Composting Livestock and Poultry Mortalities," explains procedures for planning, constructing, and managing an animal-mortality composting operation. A discussion of pertinent environmental and regulatory issues is included. Chapter 6, "Compost Utilization on the Farm," examines important characteristics and benefits of farm compost and presents a brief overview of the most common uses of compost on the farm. Equations and tables for determining appropriate application rates are included as well.

The Field Guide to On-Farm Composting was edited by Mark Dougherty, former NRAES staff engineer. The project was made possible through a cooperative agreement between NRAES and the USDA-NRCS.

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Photographs



What Happens during Composting?
Advantages of On-Farm Composting
About This Guide
Overview of Composting Methods
Passive or Open-Pile Composting
Turned Windrows and Piles
Aerated Static Piles
In-Vessel Systems

Chapter 1: Operations and Equipment

Feedstock Preparation
Grinding and Shredding
Mixing and Pile Formation
Active Composting
Compost Curing
Storing and Packaging
Blending Amendments

Chapter 2: Raw Materials and Recipe Making

Raw Materials
Manure as a Composting Material
Advice for First-Time Composters
Balancing Moisture Content and C:N Ratio
The Importance of Porosity
Bulking Materials
The Significance of Pile Heating
pH Adjustment
Working with Laboratory Reports
Recipe Making
Balancing Moisture
Balancing Nutrients
Converting Weight Ratios to Volume Ratios

Chapter 3: Process Control and Evaluation

Process Control
Managing Biological Activity
Managing Pathogens
Process Evaluation
Sampling and Laboratory Testing
Monitoring and Recordkeeping

Chapter 4: Site Considerations, Environmental Management, and Safety

Site Considerations
Buffer Zones
Area Requirements
Nuisance Control
Odor Control
Runoff and Leachate Control
Vector Control
Dust Control
Noise Control
Safety and Accident Prevention
Operator Health
Spills and Standing Water

Chapter 5: Composting Livestock and Poultry Mortalities

Compost Process for Animal Mortalities
Mortality Composting Systems
Two-Bin System
Composting Catastrophic Mortalities
Environmental and Regulatory Issues
Groundwater and Surface Water Protection
Odor, Insects, and Scavengers
Utilizing Mortality Compost

Chapter 6: Compost Utilization on the Farm

Compost Characteristics
Organic Matter Content
Nutrient Content
Pathogens and Weed Seeds
Particle Size and Texture
Water-Holding Capacity
Moisture Content
Bulk Density
Seed Germination and Plant Growth Response
Soluble Salt Content
Trace Elements
Farm Use of Compost
As a Source of Nutrients and Soil Amendment for Field Crops
For Disease Suppression in Horticultural Production
For Increased Pasture Quality
As a Mulch in Fruit Production
Application Rates

Appendix A: Case Study -- Land Applying Composted Materials and Uncomposted Yard Trimmings on Highly Erodible Land

Appendix B: Metric Conversions



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