Current Composting Research & Practices at Arcosanti


One of the things I do at Arcosanti besides construction right now is the composting of the kitchen scraps from the cafe.

My realization is that any effort to get back to the root should involve farming of some kind and starting with a process to learn how to effective compost materials for building soil quality and mass.

Currently, we are trying to develop a research component at Arcosanti to develop a greater understanding of what appropriate technologies are relevant for consideration in building an Arcology. In particular with regards to our renewed focus on developing the long envisioned Energy Apron Greenhouses.

There are many different kinds of composting methods and a few interest me. These include the three we are experimenting with now:

Heap Composting – Actually we have been doing this for quite some time at Arcosanti. Heap Composting involves a layering process that includes a mix of the two main types of compost: leaves and woody materials that are high in carbon and softer edible items higher in nitrogen. The right balance between the two enables effective and rapid composting of compost into soil or soil amendment. It is good to keep the compost pile wet/moist.

Vermicomposting – Its important to note that Adam Nordfors the Arcosanti Garden manager during the early 200s experimented with vermicomposting. Then in 2010 Bob Ransom got funding from Arcosanti Community council to set up a Worm WigWam using red wiggler worms to break down the compost. More about that here. Similar to regular composting, there needs to be a balance between Nitrogen and Carbon (N/C balance), the compost needs to be aerated with the use of bedding materials. The worms though need to be kept moist but a bit wetter than with regular heap composting systems. The result after a few months is a rich black compost which many believe is a higher level of nutrients and microbes than ordinary heap composting. The worms also have an ability to remove impurities and toxins. For example some research indicates that toxic residues from the addition of petro-based inks on paper can be removed by the digestive systems of the worms. Worms need to be watched to ensure they have enough food and are also well watered so they can move around easily. I have found to the ideal mix to be one that creates a gooey mixture of Nitrogen based composting materials for the worms that are between the layers of Carbon based bedding materials.

Compost Tumbler – This system was designed by Bob Ransom. Some believe that using a mechanical device to turn the compost on a regular basis speeds up (leading to rich compost in as soon as 2 weeks) the biological processes by spreading the microbes and also increase aeration. As with the above systems, this one requires an ideal balance of N/C to start the batch. However it seems to require more consistent daily care in managing water content and ensuring aeration. Several batches have been attempted and its appears to be a learning process.

In addition to what we are doing now, I am considering ways to develop other methods of composting at Arcosanti as part of the theoretical research component of our work to determine better ways to recycle nutrient flows at Arcosanti.

My theoretical research work is focusing on the following areas:

  1. Biogas/Anaerobic Digestor – The idea would be to eventually set up a small test system at Arcosanti from which to develop a mix of manure and meat/dairy scraps. As the system was scaled up we could eventually add testing of human sewage to the mix as part of a long term plan to replace the sewage lagoon at Arcosanti with digesters.
  2. Terraced and Raised Bed Composting – I found a reference to Swiss farmer Sepp Holzer with regards to his efforts to create highly productive and sustainable farming systems. In particular is his use of rotting logs to form a compost bed
  3. Further development of WormComposting System – so here what is being considered is larger applications that might include ditches in the ground or large containers with mechanisms at bottom the to make them into continuous feed system. As we scale out the system it could be designed to handle and process all the compost at Arcosanti.

References:

  1. This is a useful guide for what to compost and what not to: http://www.mastercomposter.com/ref/orgmat4.html
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One thought on “Current Composting Research & Practices at Arcosanti

  1. You may be interested in the wealth of information at the Green Wizards forums and the related blog, The Archdruid Report. More information that you can shake a stick at regarding sustainable gardening and other appropriate tech (mostly resurrected from materials printed in the 1970’s).

    From my composting experience (which is limited), heaps are the most forgiving and least demanding way to compost. Worms like to die and, as you found, tumblers seems to be fussy. Heaps are also the slowest, but may in the long run be the most long-term viable given Arco’s transient population.

    Meat composting: this was considered a complete no-no when we were at Arco because certain vegans objected to eating veggies grown in dead animals, so be aware. Being a meat-eater myself, I would not have ever thought of that, and given the composition of natural soil, I don’t find it terribly logical, but there it is for what it’s worth.

    I would also like to congratulate you on creating a true research project; those are far too thin on the ground at Arco. Good Luck!!

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