We believe research in composting systems and products will help reduce the use of toxins, fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers in farming systems.
Highfields’ Research and Education Facility is home to three distinct composting techniques each of which is uniquely suited to specific applications and end uses.
Aerated Static Pile (ASP) composting systems help composters increase a site’s capacity, without increasing it’s overall footprint. ASP systems push or pull air through the compost pile using fans connected to aeration channels beneath the compost pile, delivering oxygen to composting organisms.
Because the pile stands static during much of it’s life cycle, aerated static systems cut down on tractor use and operator labor.
They also allow the composter to play with the rate and temperature of the composting process and will potentially allow us to retain more Carbon and Nitrogen in the finished product, and manipulate biological communities to our benefit.
We designed and built two styles of ASP systems to experiment with. The first style has a floor and air channels formed with concrete, with 1 inch Radiant Heat Pipe embedded in it to collect energy. The radiant pipe in the composting slab will be connected to the in-floor heating in the worm parlor to warm the space with recovered compost heat.
The second system was designed with low cost and local materials in mind. The floor is a bed of wood chips, similar to a bedded pack barn, and the air channels are a sewer pipe surrounded by a rough cut Hemlock box. We will compare the performance of these systems over time.
These systems will allow us to not only compost more material in a confined space and research the best practices for doing this, but will also allow us to capture heat from the compost and improve the efficiency of these systems.
Vermicomposting is the process of utilizing worms to make high grade compost. Thanks to the generous support of our incredible partners at Vermivision, we have constructed a super insulated ‘worm parlor’ and installed a 40 ft x 5 ft x 2 ft ‘continuous flow worm bed’ from Sonoma Valley Worm Farm. Continuous Flow Design uses worm ecology to the producers benefit, feeding the worms at the surface, which is their natural habitat, and harvesting finished vermicompost mechanically through the grated bottom of the bin.
Our research will look at the critical elements of vermicompost production in Vermont, recovering heat from “hot” composting processes to keep the worms comfortable and worm casting utilization by farmers for crop production and disease suppression.
At Highfields, we have been using the Turned Windrow composting method for a long time and will continue to teach and research this widely relevant method at our new facility. We will eventually have two acres of compost pads for windrow composting. In many cases windrow composting will be integrated with aerated static pile composting for efficiency, however these systems can be decoupled in order to compare the performance of each system discreetly.
Our compost also undergoes a signifiant curing period in windrows once it has cooled off.
Like many other biologically active products such as wine or cheese, we can achieve a finer quality compost by letting it mature to the perfect age, where a high diversity of beneficial soil organisms are present.