This is a story about an international couple raising and home educating three young boys on a small island in Japan, half living in buses, engaged in organic, self-sufficient farming in the middle of a mountain forest while dealing with climate, cultural, and personal challenges. These pages are about pretty much anything and everything all guided by our family motto, Taking Chances, Making Changes, Being Happy. Thank you very much for joining us on our ongoing crazy adventure.

Comments or questions about this blog?....message me at Facebook.
Composting pile materials green kitchen close upSubtropical Composting

I decided to put my thoughts about composting on the site without necessarily going into a lot of detail. The truth is there is plenty of information online and everyone has a "recipe" for the best compost pile.

I am experimenting with my own recipe now and will continue to write about which methods work.

Picture - Kitchen scraps used for green materials in the compost pile including fish.

Composting on this small island in Japan is challenging thanks to the subtropical climate, which includes a Summer rainy season that rivals the monsoons of India. The torrential rains and the overall generally wet climate makes drying out the compost problematic. Composting is definitely worth the effort though and there are workarounds.
Common Knowledge

Regardless of the method you choose, there is still a basic set of rules for composting. The consensus is you need the following four ingredients for a successful compost pile. Use proper ratios of these materials.
  • Carbon - For energy. The microbial oxidation of carbon produces heat. High carbon materials are brown and dry.
  • Nitrogen - To grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials are green (or colorful, such as fruits and vegetables) and wet.
  • Oxygen - For oxidizing the carbon, the decomposition process.
  • Water - To maintain activity without causing anaerobic conditions.
Also consider the following:
  • Beneficial bacteria works to heat up the pile. A hotter pile (135°-160° Fahrenheit / 50° - 70° Celsius) needs air and water more often although too much air, water, and carbon, or too little nitrogen slows down the process.
  • A carbon and nitrogen mix of about 30 to 1 is best. Mixing equal amounts of each by volume approximates the ideal C/N range.
  • Nearly all plant and animal materials have both carbon and nitrogen, but amounts vary widely.
  • Human urine can be put onto compost.
  • Vermicompost is the product or process of composting through the utilization of various species of worms.
  • A compost pile needs to be turned or mixed periodically in order to keep the pile aerated.
Composting pile spaceComposting Piles

I am using succession piles which required a fallow strip to accommodate a few adjacent piles. This method makes the turning process much easier since a ready to be turned pile can simply be moved to an adjacent spot.

Each pile is about 3 meters by 3 meters square. I am planning to make a total of four piles.

In addition, I made a pile of brown material in order to keep a ready supply on hand for each time green material is added.

Picture - The first pile which measures approximately 3 meters by 3 meters square.
Bamboo composting pile baseComposting Piles - Step 1

I put a couple of layers of coarse materials, in this case, old and brittle bamboo stalks, which were laid out vertically with a second layer placed horizontally. These layers will improve aeration at the bottom of the compost pile.

Picture - Bamboo stalks used to improve aeration.
Composting pile materials brownComposting Piles - Step 2

Next I put a layer of brown materials which included small pieces of bamboo, dried grass, and dried leaves.

Picture - Layer of brown materials.
Composting pile materials green kitchenComposting Piles - Step 3

Next I put a layer of green materials from the kitchen which included fruit rinds and peels, vegetables, and yes even some fish.

Picture - Layer of green kitchen materials.
Composting pile materials brown againComposting Piles - Step 4

Next I put a another layer of brown materials which again included small pieces of bamboo, dried grass, and dried leaves.

Picture - Another layer of brown materials.
Composting pile materials soilComposting Piles - Step 5

And finally the pile was covered with a thin layer of soil.

All 5 steps were repeated several times on the same compost pile.

Picture - Layer of soil.
Composting Materials

The following items may be added to the compost pile.
  • Add any of the following. Leaves, grass clippings, brush trimmings, manure (preferably organic), any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags (preferably minus the staples), old wine, pet bedding from herbivores ONLY — rabbits, hamsters, etc., dry cat or dog food, dust from sweeping and vacuuming, dryer lint, old herbs and spices.
  • Add any of the following with preparation or use in a slow compost pile. Shredded newspaper, receipts, paper bags, etc (any non-glossy paper), tissues, paper toweling, and cotton balls unless soaked with bacon fat, kerosene, makeup, or other stuff that doesn’t belong in the pile, cardboard, egg cartons, toilet rolls, used clothes, towels, and sheets made from natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, wool, bamboo, old string and twine made of natural fabrics, pine needles, pine cones, saw dust, wood chips, nut shells, twigs, hair, human or otherwise, old, dry pasta, nut shells, corn cobs, pits from mangos, avocados, peaches, plums, etc., toothpicks, wine corks
  • Do not use the following: Raspberry & blackberry brambles, long twigs or big branches, pet droppings, especially dogs and cats, animal products like meat, bones, butter, milk.
Composting pile materials brownComposting Materials - Brown

Brown materials consists of dead leaves, chopped stalks, wood chips, husks, nut shells, hay, and grains from the kitchen including: cereals, breads.

These materials provide essential carbon for energy. The microbial oxidation of carbon produces heat. High carbon materials are brown and dry.

Picture - Brown materials in the compost pile.
Composting pile materials green kitchenComposting Materials - Green

Green materials are grasses, fresh leaves and weeds, and vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps, cooked or raw.

These material provide essential nitrogen needed to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials are green (or colorful, such as fruits and vegetables) and wet.

Picture - Green kitchen materials in the compost pile.
Composting pile materials green kitchen close upComposting Fish

These kitchen scraps are considered to be green material even though there is little which is actually green. I usually put fish pieces in with the kitchen scraps, but watch out. There have been stories of people getting really sick from getting cut by a partially composted piece of fish. Another alternative is to make fish emulsion, which is basically of fishy goo that is composed of only fish parts and not mixed with kitchen scraps.

Picture - Kitchen scraps in the compost pile.

Composting fish can be a little tricky, but with a little practice, can benefit your farm or garden as well, or even better, than even the best organic fertilizers.
  • When composting such waste as fish parts, the fish waste is mixed with plant waste like wood chips, leaves, bark, branches, peat or even sawdust. As microorganisms break the fish down, they generate lots of heat, which serves to pasteurize the resulting fish compost, in turn eliminating any odor and killing disease organisms and weed seeds. After several months, the resultant product is rich humus lauded as a nutrient wealthy fertilizer for soil amendment.
  • Composting fish has long been used by Native Americans when planting fish with corn seeds to encourage maximum yields. As such, composting fish does not need to be a complex operation. The basic requirements for composting fish are a source of carbon (wood chips, bark, sawdust, etc) and nitrogen, which is where the fish scraps come in to play. A simple recipe is 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
  • Other integral factors for composting fish are water and air, about 60% water to 20% oxygen, so aeration is necessary. A pH of 6-8.5 is needed and a temperature of 130-150 degrees F. during the decomposition process (at least 130 degrees F. for 3 successive days to kill any pathogens).
  • The size of your compost pile will vary in accordance to available space; however, a minimum recommendation for productive decomposition is 10 cubic feet, or 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet. A slight odor may accompany the decomposition process, but generally occurs toward the bottom of the pile.
  • For fish composting use a half inch wire mesh.
Farm composting sorting out coarse materials from prepared and finished compostSorting Coarse Materials From Compost

The compost pile now finished and ready for use. The compost was hand sorted to remove any coarse materials which could damage delicate seedlings.

Picture - Coarse compost materials.
Farm composting prepared and finished compostFinished Compost

This is a picture of the finished compost conveniently stored in a home made bin.

Picture - Finished compost.
Composting Maintenance

The following should be considered when maintaining a compost pile.
  • Aeration - Hot piles require aeration which is accomplished by turning the pile. Cool piles also need occasional turning. A pile can be aerated simply with a piece of half-inch bamboo. Make holes three to six inches apart which reach all the way through the pile. Aerate the pile at least every three to seven days until it is no longer heating up. Wait at least two days after making the pile and then pull away some of the surface material to six inches down and see if the pile is warm. Check the pile every day. Be sure to cover the hole after each test.
  • Adding materials - Keep adding material to the center of the pile as it cooks and turn the whole pile whenever it begins to cool. Put in new material when you turn the pile.
  • Finished pile - When the pile is finished let it sit for a couple of weeks before using. Important degradation processes go on only at cooler temperatures. Compost is ready or finished when it is dark brown, crumbly, and smell like soil.
  • Unfinished pile - Immature compost may contain substances damaging to plants and immature compost in soil continues to decay, a process which requires nitrogen and oxygen. When these elements are being used to degrade organic material, they’re unavailable to plants. Be sure the compost is ready.
  • Removing pieces - Remove large pieces with screening and return them to the pile. A screen can be built from a few boards and a square of wire netting and set directly over a wheelbarrow. To avoid screening better to keep out slow-composting items. Keep a separate pile for these slow items. Add nitrogen to this pile to speed the composting process along.
  • Note - For all of the bacterial plant pathogens and nematodes, the majority of fungal plant pathogens, and a number of plant viruses, a compost temperature of 131°F (55°C) for 21 days is sufficient for eradication.