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Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

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Hopefully putting into words what we already know but don't realise.

Post  plantoid on 10/26/2014, 12:28 am

Don't be confused or bothered by the temperatures , they are just an indication that you're doing it right .
 The bacteria & mould that decay the materials produce heat when given enough food, water & oxygen ( air)
 In the best conditions about 24 hrs after making  or turning the heap the temperatures start heading to above 120 oF .. if there is a lot of nitrogen in the heap maybe even getting to 160 oF .

After the initial flush of high temp when the nitrogen available is consumed the temps drop steadily till day three .

Reactivating the heap by turning it over etc.without adding anything but air & water will see the cycle start again sometimes this is the greatest heat producer as the materials are well into the decay mode and the heap is evenly infected with good bacteria & fungi spores .
 
As the days pass and you have turned and watered the bacteria and fungi , they eventually consume all the readily available nitrogen and their density declines  the heap is now saturated with a macic residue on nearly all fibres with a microscopic glutinous gloop called humus ( I think of it as the gravy from the cooking of the heap Laughing )

The humus  carries / holds the nutrients & trace elements.
 


You could keep on turning the pile every third day for months and months , all that  would happen is that the pile would over time slow /stop making the higher temperatures & be eaten away by the bacteria and moulds as the decay continued.
Most of the  nutrients and trace elements  released by the action of the bacteria and mould would either break down into something else , be eaten by worms & insects  or be released into the ground .

So, we cease any more work on the pile at day 18 as it's now at the optimum state we need it to feed our beds/ plants .

 ie  Plenty of unlocked essential nutrients & trace elements now available for use by the crops

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/26/2014, 6:32 am

Thanks for the reply Plantoid!  So if my temps after day 9 have been in the range of 100 to 115 (instead of the 130 to 160 that I was getting) don't worry about it and just keep turning it every other day?  I have horse manure in there and I just want to be sure I'm killing all the weed seeds.  Thanks again!

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  sanderson on 10/26/2014, 12:41 pm

Hi April, Each pile is unique and will have it's own temperature range, depending on what was put in it. Each time I turn, the temps go up after a few hours, but not quite as high as just before I turned it. A slow decline in temp is normal as the process moves along. One of my piles did not get very hot in the first few days and I got literally hundreds of tomato volunteers in all the boxes! Compost and learn! Very Happy

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  plantoid on 10/26/2014, 3:37 pm

@April wrote:Thanks for the reply Plantoid!  So if my temps after day 9 have been in the range of 100 to 115 (instead of the 130 to 160 that I was getting) don't worry about it and just keep turning it every other day?  I have horse manure in there and I just want to be sure I'm killing all the weed seeds.  Thanks again!


That's astute of you and correct April.


April ,
You might not kill 100 % of the pernicious weeds & seed but you'll be very close to it doing the Berkley method as outlined in their scheme .
 
What I have noticed its that adding the compost sometimes actually brings air borne seeds that have landed on the beds to life which can be very irritating  if is dandelion seeds or spores from horse tail / mares tail ferns etc.

To me the fern is the worst for it grows out of sight for a long while before emerging over night and growing like bamboo does  , then you have to be meticulous in finding and removing all the plant & hair roots as these also re - grow on their own if the  tiniest of bits are left in the highly fertile beds.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/26/2014, 8:51 pm

Plantoid;
Thank you for that information on why we cut a Berkeley pile short - in all my reading I had not seen that information anywhere else. Very helpful!
Audrey

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/27/2014, 5:42 am

Thanks again Plantoid & Sanderson!  Can't wait to have some finished compost of my very own!  Very Happy

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  grownsunshine on 10/27/2014, 11:59 am

Plantoind: what a fantastic explanation of the process. Some of it was over my head, but I'm going to copy and paste into a word doc so I can refer to it again in the future. Thanks! This means my compost should be done in a couple of more days. Wahoo!! I'm going to sift it, top my beds and fruit trees with some and save some for making more MM for the other half of my newest box.

April: Thanks for sharing your experience with us! keep us posted on how your compost pile is coming along.

Audrey: Thanks for the tip on soaking the manure. My horse manure was pretty wet/fresh, but my cow manure was sun dried too. I'll try soaking it all next time before making a new compost pile.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/27/2014, 1:51 pm

I am directly in the middle of the process. Started on October 14th, but the pile wasn't rising enough in temps so I turned it and added a little more manure on the 17th.  It took off and I've turned it the 21st, 23rd, 25th and will turn it again today.  It should be finished turning on the 2nd, possibly the 4th.  

For those that haven't done a Berkeley style pile, by this point virtually all of the green plant matter has broken down.  I had trimmed up my flower beds, cut up tiny tree branches with leaves on them and gathered garden waste that wasn't diseased.  There were four, 6 inch layers between the layers of mostly horse and some cow manure.  Perhaps only 5% of that material or less is recognizable.  

The first half of my turning, the top half of every pile was fresh and earthy smelling, but the lowest layer was to put it mildly "pungent" with the manure's ammonia smell.  Last turned on Saturday it was down to the bottom 1/4th of the pile smelling.  I attribute this to the texture of the manure I'm using in this batch.  The field was dragged with a box scraper and the manure piled up.  It is literally completely broken down into an almost sand/soil consistency so there isn't a lot of room for air to remain.  It is possible I may need to run this pile a little longer to make up for that.  (Remember:  No.  Pile.  Is.  Ever.  The.  Same!)

My pile was at 160 degrees yesterday so I was watching it closely to make sure it wasn't going to rise above that.  By the end of the day it was dropping and this morning it's 150.  My guess is that after turning it again today it will be starting on the downward temp slide toward the finish line.  If not see paragraph above!  I'll let you know Very Happy

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  plantoid on 10/27/2014, 7:22 pm

Just realised in the explanation post I've used the worm , " macic " Laughing 

  The WORD should be " MAGIC 

 Being dyslexic can be rather amusing Smile ........ thinking if you choose to view it that way. rofl

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/27/2014, 7:53 pm

@plantoid wrote:Just realised in the explanation post I've used the worm , " macic " Laughing 

  The WORD should be " MAGIC 

 Being dyslexic can be rather amusing Smile ........ thinking if you choose to view it that way. rofl

Hubby's somewhat dyslexic (though undiagnosed) and a horrific speller to boot, so I just looked right past it Wink

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/28/2014, 12:54 pm

To turn or not to turn?  Well my pile is cooling down.  Audrey, I'm curious to know what your temps are doing as we started our piles at the same time.  I'm on day 15 (if you don't count the date that you built it) and here are my temps for each day:

day 1    Warm
day 2    130
day 3    151
day 4    158  after turn 100  p.m.  122
day 5    154
day 6    152  after turn 80
day 7    130
day 8    143  after turn 85
day 9    105 
day 10  115  added rabbit pellets, after turn 64
day 11   ?
day 12   110
day 13   100 to 120 (in spots)  after turn 65  80 by p.m.
day 14   92
day 15   98

Around day 9 the temp really seemed to drop off quite a bit.  I can't get it out of my head that the directions seemed to indicate that the pile is hot the whole 18 days.  As long as my temps look ok to those of you that have done this before I'm just going to have to trust your experience.  Everything is pretty much broken down and it smells good but there are still some big horse turds in there Wink .  I like the idea of soaking them first too. 

So my question is do I turn it today? 

Thanks again for all the advice.  This is such a great place to be!

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/28/2014, 1:14 pm

Mine started the day yesterday at 150, climbed a little and then dropped again to 150 by the time I turned it.  It needed to be watered so my base temp was 120 after turning.  (watering always cools the pile down for a day or so)  I just checked it now and it's around 126 or so.

My ratio was likely too much toward nitrogen in this pile.  Hence the smell, which was almost totally gone yesterday.  I hit one or two pockets that still smelled bad, but the rest is the wonderful fresh compost smell so my guess is most of my nitrogen has been or is being used up and I'm headed down.  

I haven't been good about keeping temp logs, if Sanderson were able to chime in she could tell you exactly as she has kept precise logs on all of her piles.  

However, the pile will heat up to its highest temps before the half way point and drop from then on.  I would just keep turning on schedule.  You can screen out any of the big stuff and use it to start your next pile with.  That helps inoculate the pile with the bacteria and fungi necessary.  

I've added a couple of my favorite resource pages:

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/hot-compost-composting-in-18-days/

http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/compost_rapidcompost.pdf

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  grownsunshine on 10/28/2014, 1:34 pm

April, how is the moisture content of your compost? I didn't see any days of water/sprinkling in your log. The instructions say the compost should be about as wet as a wrung out towel and if you were to squeeze it, you might get a drop of liquid.

Your pile is awesome. It really heated up! Mine only got to 140 max, but has been very consistent. Maybe the moistening your pile will bring the temp back up, if that's the issue.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/28/2014, 1:40 pm

@grownsunshine wrote:April, how is the moisture content of your compost? I didn't see any days of water/sprinkling in your log. The instructions say the compost should be about as wet as a wrung out towel and if you were to squeeze it, you might get a drop of liquid.

Your pile is awesome. It really heated up! Mine only got to 140 max, but has been very consistent. Maybe the moistening your pile will bring the temp back up, if that's the issue.
Good catch!  I water my pile about ever 3rd turning and start it very much on the moist side.  We're in a very dry climate so that was one of the things I had to learn from experience.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  grownsunshine on 10/28/2014, 1:57 pm

I kinda like what Plantoid said, that by day 18 the process is pretty much at it's optimal state and you can to start using it. My guess is after day 18, even if the temp may be slightly high, if you used it it will turn cold, but continue to cold compost, release nutrients and thus last longer.....this method ends up to be sort of something of a cross between BTE (cold composting on top of the soil) and Berkeley methods. I like this idea. So far my experience is my plants do great in the beginning of the season and after while they struggle. Not sure if it's due to the compost pooping out and losing it's potency, improper watering or what. Either way, it's exciting to use my own homemade compost for the first time.

*Disclaimer - I know pretty much nothing about BTE, except it's natural cold composting.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  sanderson on 10/28/2014, 2:01 pm

Hi, folks,  I need to get over to the rental now but will revisit this evening.  I can say that soaking as I built the last 2 piles produced many days of hot temps.  I included horse pucks and straw so the watering really helped get these 2 items wet.  I also covered loosely with plastic or double tulle which helped. Later

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/28/2014, 4:18 pm

Whoops, I forgot to mention I watered the pile every turn.  Only because I felt like I didn't give it a really good soaking when I built it.  It just seemed like it could use more water.

Thanks for posting the links!  Can anyone explain the purpose of letting the pile "rest" for a week after it's done?

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  plantoid on 10/28/2014, 5:53 pm

April ,
I think of it like this .....

Letting it rest for a week lets the aerobic pile slow down without forcing more quick active composting .  Most of  the nutrients and trace elements that were initially available in the first 18 days of composting have been released and absorbed by the partly rotted /dehydrated plant/material fibres ( they act a bit like sponges ). Some of these released chemicals reabsorbed by the dried plant fibres also carry on breaking down further and forming new compounds that your plants need , like & love.

18 day's  plus one week & one day
The pile has now moved on in the decay cycle at the much slower anaerobic form of composting , where air plays a much less role. This latter cycle produces more nutrients and some trace elements but at a slower & declining rate over something like seven years ...

This anaerobic compost is what builds your beds over the years , a bit like a seven step stair way .  As each year passes , the older compost moves up one of the steps and produces less.  So in effect , by the end of seven years period you will have a fantastic build up of decaying materials decaying at different rates  in seven different stages .   Plants like that sort of stuff around their roots.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/28/2014, 9:38 pm

Cool, thanks Plantoid.  There's always so much to learn!

I went ahead and turned my pile today.  Every so often I would find a sprout in there.  Shocked  Does this happen to anyone else?  I know Plantoid said I probably wouldn't get rid of all the weed seeds but I was really hoping that I cooked most of them out of there.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/29/2014, 2:06 am

I had a lot of sprouts from the horse manure and now most all of them are gone. I saw one or two when turning it yesterday.

No matter how well I do my compost I always end up with volunteer tomatoes, squash and melons. They're easy enough to pull up or let grow depending on where they happen to be volunteering :-)

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  grownsunshine on 10/29/2014, 12:01 pm

I don't remember if you're using horse manure in your compost. I heard that horse manure may have a lot of seeds and you can pour boiling water on it to kill the seeds before adding to compost. Haven't tried it yet. I'll find out if I need to fairly soon.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  sanderson on 10/29/2014, 12:24 pm

I haven't had any sprouts (except mushrooms!) in my composts since I got serious about Berkeley this year.  Had DH build a 3' x 3' x 3' cage (minimum size), added horse manure, a cup of blood meal at the beginning, soaked as I built, got the temps up to 160*, and turned the piles inside out-outside in.  Also, and this may be why I don't find volunteers anymore, is that the compost only touches the cage and a dedicated blue tarp.  No introduction of new seeds during the turning process.  The blue tarp is always folded with the contact side protected inside.  I did this because the back yard's once beautiful fescue lawn now has other grasses with seeds. Sad

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 10/29/2014, 5:04 pm

@grownsunshine wrote:I don't remember if you're using horse manure in your compost. I heard that horse manure may have a lot of seeds and you can pour boiling water on it to kill the seeds before adding to compost. Haven't tried it yet. I'll find out if I need to fairly soon.
My pile size and manure loads are so large as to make that not practical. This will be the second load with the horse manure so we'll see how effective the 140-160 temps have been but I'm pretty certain it will be fine. If not, a little raking will take care of it as I generally only add my compost on top of my beds.

Day 13 temps are 130+ It was watered thoroughly on day 11 temps went from 150 down to 120. They've climbed 10 degrees. I will turn the pile this afternoon.

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  plantoid on 10/29/2014, 7:09 pm

A constant 90 oF will pasteurize milk if kept at that temp for a while.  That temperature will not kill weed seeds  , in fact some seeds positively thrive & germinate at it .

 Going over 120 oF knocks most seeds and pernicious weed root on the head but some still survive.  The magic 135 oF seems to be the line to cross or hold for several sessions of several hours.
 

When you turn the pile it's so important that what was on the outsides gets put back into the middle and the middle stuff is used to make the outsides. That way everything gets three hits at the higher temperatures .


Sanderson makes a good point with the use of a tarp ( it's why I use  heavy black plastic   Dalek composting bins with close fitting lids ), keeping the now composting material free of new seeds and airborne seeds is the only way to go if you want too really reduce the weed problem.

 As a by-note for those who don't know :-

Horse muck is full of seeds because the horse's digestion system does not kill them ..in lots of cases it actually primes the seed ready for sprouting once deposited in the quality manured environment the horse leaves behind . ( Cor ! That took some thinking as to how to put it politely Laughing )

 Cow muck & straw is good for the compost heap (initially it stinks a bit ) as cows have multiple stomachs,  enabling them to kill off almost all seeds in their diets. .

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

Post  April on 10/29/2014, 9:14 pm

Thanks for all the replies.  I have a feeling I didn't do a good enough job getting the outside in and inside out.  I have 2 bins that we put together out of pallets and it's a little awkward to get the sides & back out with out them spilling into each other.  I wonder if I should still use it or try to cook it again.  Live & learn.  Rolling Eyes

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Re: Compost: Berkeley 18 day [hot] method

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