Research & Education

We believe research in composting systems and products will help reduce the use of toxins, fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers in farming systems.

Teaching students about the qualities of compost

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 COMPOSTING

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

Red wrigglers 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.

TURNED WINDROW COMPOSTING

Turned windrow composting 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.