Ocean View Farms turns compost into a science


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Community gardens dispatch No. 9: Ocean View Farms, West L.A.

When Warren Miyashiro started gardening at Ocean View Farms in 1985, he looked around for compost to amend the sandy soil. Finding none, he bought a bag from a garden store -- his first, he says, and his last.


Miyashiro, a master of compost, has spent decades building a system here that is the envy of other community gardens. After years of tweaking it, he’s almost satisfied. It supplies all 500 plots and common areas and still produces leftovers for school gardens.

Miyashiro began by chopping up plant material with flat bottom shovels and searching Hollywood horse stables for manure. Now he has a Toro mini-tractor, three shredders, three teams of gardener-volunteers and tons of fresh bedding from stables in Mandeville and Sycamore canyons, delivered a few times a month by the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation, which benefits because there’s less waste to bring to a landfill.

A decade ago, Ocean View Farms had five green waste bins that filled up fast. They cost the garden $2,000 a year, its biggest expense. Now green waste has been reduced to one bin, mainly nut grass and false garlic that can’t be composted because those plants survive the composting process. Everything else goes through a shredder, even the rotten wood from old plot walls.

The process starts at two giant pits, both lined with recycled telephone poles. Each pit is 8 feet deep, 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, and each is capable of holding 25 tons of stable bedding (50% horse manure and 50% wood chips, straw and hay). As one pit is filled and left to age, the other one gets emptied slowly, mini-tractor loads at a time, for an hour every Tuesday morning, 52 weeks a year.

As a conveyor belt carries the aged bedding into a shredder/chipper, a crew removes paper, plastic, wire and the odd horseshoe. When the material emerges from the shredder, it’s light and fluffy, ideal for layering onto green garden waste that is going through a similar sorting and shredding process down the hill by a dozen smaller compost piles.

This time of year, Ocean View has a lot of green waste -- tomatoes, squash, corn. A crew separates the leafy from the woody, feeding the shredder and watching for glasses or cellphones accidentally mixed in with the detritus. On Saturday, another crew will come in and assemble a final pile. They will layer green garden waste and the brown material from the giant pits, then water, then close off the pile with a tarp.


‘That’s the secret,’ master gardener Ed Mosman says. ‘Keep that heat in.’

On cold mornings, the steam rising from the piles is impressive.

‘It gets up to 160 to 170 degrees,’ he says. ‘You can’t put your hand in there.’

These compost piles are in 15-by-4-by-4-foot fabric-lined bins. The material gets turned from bin to bin regularly, finally ready to use after about nine months. And then it quickly vanishes into the plots.

The volunteers are a dedicated crew. One of Warren’s manure feeders drives all the way from the San Diego community of Ramona, leaving at 4:30 a.m. every Tuesday.

So why isn’t Warren completely satisfied? Sometimes the material supplied by the city and gathered from horse owners includes green garden waste, upsetting the balance of materials and slowing down the process. After all, at Ocean View, compost is a science.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Spurrier’s dispatches from community gardens are posted on Wednesdays.

Top photo: Volunteer Mark Jackson uses a mini-tractor to move compost that will be shredded. Credit: Ann Summa

2nd photo: Warren Miyashiro, the compost master at Ocean View Farms. Credit: Ann Summa


3rd Photo: Golan Fatimi, left, June Tsunemoto, Bob Lloyd and Fritz Pillar shovel compost through the huge shredder. Credit: Ann Summa

4th Photo: Anna Decker, left, Tony Hernandez, Yoichi Yamada, Nick Hooper and Myrna Duran rake through garden clippings and horse-stable bedding, which will be layered with compost to produce even more compost. Credit: Ann Summa

5th photo: After a morning of hard work, June Tsunemoto, left, Myrna Duran and Anna Dekker share breakfast. Credit: Ann Summa