Please note: Images and a briefer description of the Ideal Watering System are here.
When the matter of moistening a compost pile arises, just about every resource out there says the same thing: The pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. Well, if you consider the difference between a sponge and materials to be composted you will realize that the analogy just does not make sense. A sponge absorbs moisture – compostables, in general, do not. (An exception would be aged leaves that have been waterlogged, are partially decomposed, and retain some of the moisture applied to them.) Clearly, it is a practical impossibility to make a pile “moist like a wrung out sponge” with the aid of a garden hose.
So…how can we better address the matter of moistening a compost pile? Now that we’ve parted ways with the wrung out sponge analogy, let’s come up with another concept: Every surface of all of the materials in the compost pile should be moist. Doesn’t this sound a bit more reasonable than the wrung out sponge concept? Now the matter becomes how to achieve such a state of moisture.
The traditional method of “moisten – mix – moisten” with the aid of a hose and garden fork will work pretty well, and given enough time, water, and effort, it should work very well. While we all want to conserve water, I’m not sure the excess water used in the MMM is going to be significant. That said, if you can get by with less, why not? The real problem with MMM are the time and effort. Two people are most efficient, with one manning the hose and the other the fork. When only one person is doing the work, the constant shutting off, putting down, picking up, etc. gets old in a hurry. For us die-hard composters it’s not a problem, but if we’re to turn new people on to composting, the process should be as easy as possible.
Enter the Ideal Watering System!
I cannot say how I conceived the idea, certainly nobody told me about it and I did not read about it. I’m not even sure how I was using buckets, but I was using 5 gallon buckets for something. One day while visiting a neighbor I spied a larger bucket which I purchased from my neighbor for $10. He was in the pool chemical business and the bucket once contained pool chlorine tablets. I cannot recall just why I wanted the larger bucket, but I did. It’s volume was 12 gallons and a five gallon bucket fit right inside.
Then one day the ideal watering system idea popped into my head: Drill holes into the bottom of a five gallon bucket and cram it full of materials. Fill the large bucket with water. Place the small bucket into the large bucket, immersing the contents. Raise the small bucket out of the water and allow it to drain.
OK, so it’s not quite so simple. First, the small bucket and contents will float, so some weight needs to be added to be added. Two bricks work very well; they just need some sort of handle so that one need not immerse one’s hand into the watery mix. (It starts out as water, yes, but quickly becomes…well…let’s just call it raw compost tea. The material traps air which steadily bubbles to the surface. Pushing down on the weight helps eliminate the bubbles, and corresponding air spaces, more quickly. Update: I’ve improved on the brick idea with a 8 lb exercise weight. The weight is suspended from a beam by ball chain so that l no longer need to get my hands close to the compost tea. That said, just a quick dunk, for all intents and purposes, achieves the objective of moistening every square whatever of surface area of all of the material using minimum water and minimum effort. The only piece of the puzzle I’ve omitted is how to support the bucket as it drains. In the beginning I lifted the bucket and let most of the water drain. Then I simply tilted the small bucket and supported it with the large bucket, using a stick to keep it from falling in. I presently suspend the bucket from a hook screwed into a beam that is located at the proper height. I conceived of some kind of handle-rope-pulley mechanism for raising the bucket, but as of now have implemented it.