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compost not heating

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Re: compost not heating

Post  1airdoc on Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:49 am

Compost update - day 25. I turned my compost pile again yesterday and was surprised to find it still steaming on a day when it was 80 degrees outside. Out of curiosity, I measured the temperature, and it was still 130 degrees. It has been at least that hot for 10 consecutive days now, so hopefully all the pathogens and seeds are dying out. I noticed that the silvery-white bacterial appearance had vanished from the middle of the pile where it was previously prominent, but was now evident on material near the edges of the pile. I assume that means the heat has killed off many of the bugs near the middle, and now they have moved to the cooler edges where they are doing their thing.

I also noticed that the top half of the pile smelled rich and earthy, whereas the deeper bottom of the pile was beginning to smell more like the manure. Hopefully, by continuing to turn the pile, moving the outside material to the middle, the middle to the outside, and top to bottom, that will aerate the whole pile well enough to fully compost everything.

I'm hoping to have the pile complete and ready to use in the MM for my new beds no later than early April. We'll see!
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Re: compost not heating

Post  Too Tall Tomatoes on Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:17 am

The more the pile cooks, the less you'll have that manure smell. Mine's happily cooking along and it doesn't smell as bad as it did a week and a half ago.
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Re: compost not heating

Post  1airdoc on Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:12 pm

Last compost update. I turned my compost 2 days ago and found it was finally cooling down a bit: still warm, but no longer steaming and definitely cooler than before. The white, ashey look is now gone, and the whole pile smells rich and earthy. I'll let it sit a bit longer to cool and cure, but I think it will be ready to use in a couple of weeks in my new boxes - hopefully just in time!

Here are the things I have learned from everybody that have helped me get my compost cookin':

1. There needs to be plenty of nitrogen in the pile. I didn't realize that my pile had way too much carbon. The key for my pile was using chicken manure, but I know others have had success with alfalfa pellets and blood meal. Until I had enough nitrogen, my pile was "warm" at best. Horse manure doesn't have a high enough N:C ratio if it contains sawdust and bedding (I read in one source that the N:C ratio in that case is only 1:60).

2. There needs to be enough oxygen. Regular turning and creating air shafts in the pile helped the composting organisms breathe, and turning also distributed the effects throughout the whole pile more quickly.

3. Hot composting doesn't "just happen." Although my cold compost did OK with a laissez faire approach, it was really slow and stuff on the top of the pile wasn't ready to use. That approach doesn't cut it if you want to heat things up. Hot composting requires collecting the right materials, building the pile correctly, making sure there's enough moisture, and regular turning (frequent if you want the process to go quickly).

Hopefully the product will be well worth it and better than my homegrown compost from last year. If I remember, I'll post later in the season with an update on the relative productivities of the new beds that use the new compost.
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Re: compost not heating

Post  Too Tall Tomatoes on Tue Mar 20, 2012 11:22 pm

@1airdoc wrote:Last compost update. I turned my compost 2 days ago and found it was finally cooling down a bit: still warm, but no longer steaming and definitely cooler than before. The white, ashey look is now gone, and the whole pile smells rich and earthy. I'll let it sit a bit longer to cool and cure, but I think it will be ready to use in a couple of weeks in my new boxes - hopefully just in time!

Here are the things I have learned from everybody that have helped me get my compost cookin':

1. There needs to be plenty of nitrogen in the pile. I didn't realize that my pile had way too much carbon. The key for my pile was using chicken manure, but I know others have had success with alfalfa pellets and blood meal. Until I had enough nitrogen, my pile was "warm" at best. Horse manure doesn't have a high enough N:C ratio if it contains sawdust and bedding (I read in one source that the N:C ratio in that case is only 1:60).

2. There needs to be enough oxygen. Regular turning and creating air shafts in the pile helped the composting organisms breathe, and turning also distributed the effects throughout the whole pile more quickly.

3. Hot composting doesn't "just happen." Although my cold compost did OK with a laissez faire approach, it was really slow and stuff on the top of the pile wasn't ready to use. That approach doesn't cut it if you want to heat things up. Hot composting requires collecting the right materials, building the pile correctly, making sure there's enough moisture, and regular turning (frequent if you want the process to go quickly).

Hopefully the product will be well worth it and better than my homegrown compost from last year. If I remember, I'll post later in the season with an update on the relative productivities of the new beds that use the new compost.

Congratulations on your success. It's rewarding when something you work on actually turns out the way you hope.


This Sunday it will be 3 weeks since I redid my compost and two weeks since it really got hot. Now it's at 120F. I hope to be able to turn it again this week, although camprn told me not to touch it till it drops to 100F
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