Why are my compost beds not breaking down?

My compost beds are not composting. Why is that?
Here’s what we found & what we did to solve the problem

In the summer we made 3 new garden beds for growing vegetables to increase our self sufficiency. Since we mainly have rubble and concrete the beds need to be made out of enough material for the plant roots to grow in. The compost beds are make out of straw, hay and some sawdust. If you would like to read more about how we made these beds you can find the link here. The idea was that these compost beds would compost over winter and we would be able to plant in them in the spring. At least so we thought….

Checking up on the progress of the compost beds

In February we went to check upon our composting beds and found that they are not composting. As you can see on the pictures the top layer functions as a roof and prevented the rainwater from soaking in the composting bed. (We had more than enough rain in the fall & trough out the winter) The straw and sawdust underneath is completely dry and at the bottom there are some fungi. Only in this bottom layer we found some earthworms, but not many, and in the rest of the composting bed there where no earthworms at all.

What is the problem?

So first things first. We need to do something about this, since we need these beds in spring to grow more vegetables to get closer to our goal of self sufficient living.

The compost beds are made out of long material and the material is to compact. So that is what needs to be changed in order for the rainwater to soak the compost material. Ideal would be to use a rotary tiller to work trough the compost beds, but since we do not have one we decided to flail mow over one bed to see what that brings.

Flail mowing one compost bed

We mowed a few times over the composting bed in garden 3 (this was middle of Feb.). This needed to be done at a very slow pace, since the flail mower got jammed other wise.

At first site we where satisfied with the result. Nice short and dark material where the rainwater would be able to soak trough.

Compost bed after its been mowed with a flail mower with short dark material and a white dog on top

After doing some digging we found that underneath this, very promising looking thick layer, the straw was still untouched. Obviously a flail mower isn’t a rotary tiller and works only on the surface. So we decided to wait and see what this does the coming weeks and treat the other beds differently.

Air raiding the other 2 compost beds

We only loosened and air raided the other 2 compost beds in garden 4. This way at least the rainwater can soak into the material and it is accessible for earthworms and other creatures helping with the decomposing process. We did this with the tractor and grabble.

Watch these actions on video here (second half)

By the time we finished air raiding these compost beds, we found a manure spreader within our budget and plan to send the material from these 2 compost beds trough the manure spreader as soon as we have it on our property. So stay tuned for that.

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