Skidmore’s New Big Orange Tractor: Large Scale Composting Update

Just a mile from Skidmore’s campus, on a pad of gravel and asphalt tucked behind a row of trees, lay steamy piles of compost. This is the site of Skidmore’s new larger-scale compost site. Horse manure from the stables, grass clippings and leaves from campus, and coffee grounds from our Dining Hall and cafes are neatly piled in one corner of the lot. This material is used to make long piles of compost, called windrows. Three student compost managers are responsible for maintaining the compost site.

Since 2011, over 45,000 pounds of food waste have been composted from student apartments and coffee from dining services. That food waste was kept out of landfills and also provided nutrient-rich compost to supplement Skidmore’s Community Garden. This new compost site will allow even more of Skidmore’s waste to be diverted, and the final product will be used on landscaped beds across campus.

A larger-scale composting program has been a goal for many students, staff, and faculty for years- and that goal is coming to fruition. Over the years, students researched the chemistry of compost and maintenance practices at comparable composting centers. Their studies were essential to determine the ideal ratio to produce quality compost in a timely manner. The carbon to nitrogen ratio, also referred to as the green to brown ratio, is key to maintain a productive environment for microbes that digest the material. Higher carbon content slows microbial activity, and thus more time is required to finish the piles. These piles will be “active piles”, meaning they will be turned weekly to aerate the microbes and accelerate the composting process.

In September, four student compost managers and the Sustainability Office staff took a weekend-long course with a tractor specialist from the Washington and Saratoga Board of Cooperative Education Services. This training gave tremendously helpful insights to tractor operation and necessary safety measures.

The compost managers have been out turning piles since September. On a weekly basis one of our compost managers will don a helmet and ear plugs to drive the tractor. With a warm pile temperature over 130 degrees Fahrenheit and an outdoor temperature in the upper 20’s, one scoop from the pile will unleash a great cloud of water vapor.

The first semester at the large scale compost site was off to a strong start, and there is a lot more to learn!IMG_7474

Compost Manager Tracey Wingate takes a big scoop of steamy compost. (December 2016)

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