Compost SystemsThere are a number of ways one can start composting on their property. Imagination and budget are the only limits! We often tell people they can be as creative as they need to be to suit their budgets.
Composting does not require a complex or expensive system. Though a sealed site with concrete is strongly recommended to ensure compliance with waste management regulations, there are many other ways to turn out a quality compost product while doing your best not to harm the environment.
As long as you follow the basic management principles described in our compost management guide (see resources page) you should be able to make compost on your farm. The only difference between systems is the efficiency of your composting. It is best to have at least three sides to your compost system so that you are better able to pile the raw material up in order to generate sufficient heat. Walls also help heat to be retained which will cause the material to degrade more quickly and evenly throughout the system. Though you can compost in large piles, there is a greater surface area exposed to the elements and so heat retention will be reserved only for the middle of the pile and the outer "shell" will not compost very well, if at all.
Walls to your compost system can be built out of just about anything. Farms with bigger budgets have done poured concrete forms or cinder blocks, whereas farms with more limited budgets have used what they could around the property. We have seen systems built out of plywood, 2 x 6, tin, other metals, chicken wire and wood pallets. While each of these have their own pluses and minuses, each of these systems have managed to turn out excellent quality compost.
While your walls can be built out of just about anything, we do recommend that the base is a poured concrete slab. This way you will ensure that leachate is not escaping from your system. It also makes it easier to load and unload your system without damaging the ground. With a sealed site, your base should be sloped 2-4% toward the back of the system with a small lip at the front to contain leachate.
Choosing the size of your compost system is probably the most difficult and important decision you will make when building a system. We have many farmers ask us, "How big should I build this thing?" and unfortunately there isn't really a clear answer. System size is really dependent on the following:
Number of animals on property
Length of storage time needed
Type of paddock footing used
Type of bedding used in stalls
Ability to increase the number of animals on the property
Average seasonal temperature
Amount of waste generated each day
Number of people cleaning your stalls (week day versus week end staff)
Whether you own machinery for spreading
As you can see, there are a number of considerations you will need to take into account. The first step I recommend is to measure the amount of waste generated each day on your farm. Measure the volume of your wheel barrow and post a chart on the wall of your barn and mark off each time a wheel barrow load goes out of the barn. Be sure to do this for a week and there can be differences, especially if there are different people cleaning stalls on different days.
The second step I recommend is to find potential locations for your composting system (refer to our resource page for tips on siting a compost system) and measure how much room you have to build a system.
The third step is to consider how many times a year you would like to be spreading compost on your property. While in the province of BC composted manure can be spread at any time of year (not recommended), are you able to get out onto your fields to spread during the wettest/snowiest times of year? How many months of storage do you therefore require?
The final step is to calculate your storage needs and build the appropriate volume. If you are building a multiple bay system (strongly recommended), you will need to decide the appropriate size for each bin. There are helpful calculations available in the Environmental Farm Plan Reference Guide available for free download.
*Most important is to remember it is better to overestimate the amount of volume needed than to underestimate it. You may also consider building your system in a location on your property where you can expand the system if needed.
Land Management Guide
Land Management Guide for Horse Owners and Small-Lot Farmers