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Compost redo

 
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This spring I started a compost pile.  I put it next to the barn with a tin sheet, the back is a hog fence, and the third side is an old pallet.  In the beginning I had tons of weeds, and not much else.  I watered,  made sure to add wood chips once I got them, and soil each time I added more weeds.  Through spring, and summer  the pile did break down, but never heated up, not even a little.  I could not keep it wet enough, so I didn't worry about it, I thought once it cools down I can water, and the pile will heat up.  Nope, nothing!   Yesterday I pulled the whole thing apart.  It was quite a chore.  The weeds had made a mat at the bottom, it was hard to even get my garden fork through.   It was strange, there weren't even any bug, or any worms, no life.  I loosened the dirt at the bottom.  Layered weeds, wood chips, and dirt.  The wood chips sat in bins of water. I watered every layer.  I used 4 kinds of wood chips including one year old chips,. It is now as tall as the pallet.  I put cardboard on the hog panel,  and covered the pile because we are having a very bad wind storm right now.  I will remove the tarp when the wind dies down.  I may put a board or something in the front to help keep the moisture in.  This is it.  If this doesn't do the trick I'm done.   I actually thought composting was easy. Last year I put all my garden waste in a black bin with holes in the bottom, a few months later I had beautiful black compost.  Never watered, turned, nothing.  I didn't worry if it got hot because there wasn't any weed I needed to kill.  This is so much harder than I thought it would be.   I hope it works because I would love to have a high quality compost I don't have to buy for my garden.  I have been so picky about not putting microplastic, not much cardboard because of the glue, doing my best to get a super mostly organic compost, and I can't get it to work, it's frustrating.  It doesn't seem like it should be this hard.  Wish me luck.
 
master pollinator
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I've never had much luck with compost heaps.  They tend to dry out for me and then just sit there, mummified.  I do better with sheet mulching or burying organic material directly in the garden.

 
pioneer
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:This spring I started a compost pile.  I put it next to the barn with a tin sheet, the back is a hog fence, and the third side is an old pallet.  In the beginning I had tons of weeds, and not much else.  I watered,  made sure to add wood chips once I got them, and soil each time I added more weeds.  Through spring, and summer  the pile did break down, but never heated up, not even a little.  I could not keep it wet enough, so I didn't worry about it, I thought once it cools down I can water, and the pile will heat up.  Nope, nothing!   Yesterday I pulled the whole thing apart.  It was quite a chore.  The weeds had made a mat at the bottom, it was hard to even get my garden fork through.   It was strange, there weren't even any bug, or any worms, no life.  I loosened the dirt at the bottom.  Layered weeds, wood chips, and dirt.  The wood chips sat in bins of water. I watered every layer.  I used 4 kinds of wood chips including one year old chips,. It is now as tall as the pallet.  I put cardboard on the hog panel,  and covered the pile because we are having a very bad wind storm right now.  I will remove the tarp when the wind dies down.  I may put a board or something in the front to help keep the moisture in.  This is it.  If this doesn't do the trick I'm done.   I actually thought composting was easy. Last year I put all my garden waste in a black bin with holes in the bottom, a few months later I had beautiful black compost.  Never watered, turned, nothing.  I didn't worry if it got hot because there wasn't any weed I needed to kill.  This is so much harder than I thought it would be.   I hope it works because I would love to have a high quality compost I don't have to buy for my garden.  I have been so picky about not putting microplastic, not much cardboard because of the glue, doing my best to get a super mostly organic compost, and I can't get it to work, it's frustrating.  It doesn't seem like it should be this hard.  Wish me luck.



Compost just needs the right mix of greens and browns, enough water, and air, to heat up.  My guess is it needed air.  Now that you tore it apart, as long as the water part is good, it should heat up.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I checked my pile, and it is hot to the touch.  I don't have a thermometer, but it is on the way, thank goodness.  I have a tarp on it because it was so windy.  The wind has died down now, but I don't know if I should leave it since it seems to be working, or should I remove it?
 
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I use a tarp pretty regularly in both the summer and winter on my compost piles, to good effect.  In the summer, the tarp keeps in moisture.  As the pile heats up steam will travel upward, and if a tarp is on it the moisture condenses under the tarp and goes back into the pile.  Otherwise I'd have to water it constantly to keep it wet enough to stay hot.  I don't cover the whole thing, just the top so that air can still get in.

In the winter it's for the opposite reason, to keep the feet of rain that comes down from oversaturating the pile and turning it anaerobic.  If I am starting a new pile in winter or spring I'll leave it untarped for a storm or two, then tarp it up.
 
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woody stuff and greens, cardboard, paper , kitchen waste, ya no cellulose stuff are great for composting but if you want to get the process going faster than geologic time add something "hot" like chicken droppings are great, manure in general is good, crushed oily seeds, be careful with something like this can catch pile on fire if too much is used, but great source could be something like a cotton seed mill, ect. you need a combination of different stuff to get pile to heat up and turn into proper compost.
I am by no means an expert but i'm sure there are some people here that understand chemistry and biology that could explain it better
 
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I have used 4 X 4 pallets to make a compost bin for years here in Idaho. Very dry, hot in summer. I do water the stuff at times, but not often. All garden and kitchen scraps, lots of grass clippings, many pounds of fruit and veggies, I work at a large food bank weekly and usually bring home 30 to 50 pounds a week. Lots of bug, worm and insect action in the bin in the top. In Fall I add as many bags of leaves as I can get. Right now I have about 3 feet deep of rich black compost that I am moving to a raised bed and the rest will go around the yard to flowers and plants. When I was younger I turned it, now I am too old for that hard work, I just let nature do the job. Do not give up, keep adding green and brown stuff. The end result is worth it.
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My compost pile, you can see layers, I had not used it in over a year
IMG_6149.JPG
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Jen Fulkerson
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Wow Ron that is totally amazing thanks for sharing.  It's so cool to see the layers and amazing soil. Thanks
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I have read and seen lots about chickens in the compost, but my chickens got into mine, and now it's cold again.  What should I do?  Before it was dry and not doing anything. Then I did my redo, and it heated up and I thought, yeah finally.  Today I check it out, the tarp is off and the ­čÉöchickens have been scratching at the front, but not that much damage,  so I'm not sure why it has stopped working. It's still damp,  now there are things growing in it, and maybe some kind of pretty little mushroom thing, I see bug in it, there wasn't any before, so lots of things are different.  Tarp, no tarp,  turn it leave it.  I have been wondering if I should turn the pile.  There is so much conflicting information.  Turn it once a week, once every two weeks, don't mess with it at all.  The pile is about 4x4 about 4feet high, many layers of weeds/food scraps, wood chips, and soil, there is also some chicken poop, and alfalfa meal in there.  I don't know what the problem is now.  Is it better to have everything mixed up, or in layers?  I remember when I was kid in western Washington a friend of ours had a compost pile, she just tossed everything in there, and it worked, no thought about too much of this, or not enough of that,  I don't mean to be a complainer, it just amazes  me it's so darn hard.  I would be grateful for any suggestions you may have, I will be darned if this freaking pile is going to beat me.
 
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