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Composting disaster- HELP  RSS feed

 
Jessica Stokes
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My Ranchmate put lots of paper from an office she works at in one of our (2010's) compost piles. It broke down fine and I added lots of horse and goat poo, lots of my usual garden and yard cuttings... The end result was the wierdest-fluffy sawduts consistancy but coffee ground color stuff I had ever seen! And it smells like burnt hair! It had no worms or bugs of any kind, it did mold and stink and steam. I turned it, and watered it, covered it... Im scared of this stuff,
( Oh yeh, the wild turkeys always dig and scratch in our compost piles, as do our chickens... Well Not this one, the would not go near it!
Any ideas what could have gone wrong and how do I get rid of it?
Jessie
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Sounds like there was too much of it. Paper is carbon.
If your C:N ratio is too far off (either way), you will not get a premium compost.

Was the paper shredded? Shredded paper breaks down quicker/better.

Since you already have it, I would just mix it with other compost. Or add it (proportionally) to your next batches of compost materials.

Some critters digest carbon, and others digest nitrogen...and they each feed each other. If your C:N ratio is too far off, you have an imbalance in your pile, and the process does not do a complete job of breaking everything down. If you add this to your soil, the critters there should finish the process for you...if it is still edible, they will eat it.

I firmly believe in adding unfinished compost to your soil in autumn (plus mulch on top). This provides food for your soil critters throughout the winter. Besides helping to keep the soil a few degrees warmer, it provides them nutrients. Their 'dormant' season becomes much shorter, and when spring thaw comes, their population is much larger...ready to work for you.
 
Jessica Stokes
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Oh clever You, thanks for the info and advice! Im sorely lacking in the science dept!
Im still not convinced it's o.k. to add to the "food" garden. It has the strangest smell- like the yellow water in a pit mine!

It is a pile the size of a minivan, I will re- compost it starting with fresh goat poo and apple squeezings from a cider press! That should get it going... and after asking again about what the paper was, I'm told it was "glossy add copy?" which Im guessing is like magazine cover paper- it was just torn up by hand- not shredded or soaked. ICK!!!
Jessie
 
Ashe Higgs
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Location: Phoenix, Az
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you might try putting the shredded paper into a bokashi bucket...
 
Jessica Stokes
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Thanks for your info too- I will avoid most paper if I can- ...I have a great deal of organic matter- wood chips, pond weeds, animal poo and yard and garden cuttings and leavings. I don't mind cardboard and paper bags... but 200 lbs of glossy paper?? it's not what I usually put into my piles!
Jessie
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5725
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I would follow your instincts here and not use this compost except maybe on non edible landscaping. Colored paper (especially glossy) shouldn't be used in compost. There are possible toxic pigments, heavy metals, fillers...do some research on line for the type of paper your friend used and I think it will show you why your compost is lifeless. Check out Organic growing guidelines...they give a maximum amount and types of paper acceptable (no colored paper or card stock/board, glossy or not, last I checked) as compost feedstock.
 
Matt Cotton
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The issues you're having with the addition of 200 pounds of (I'm guessing) "sheets" of paper to "a minivan size" compost pile might have more to do with the porosity of the pile then with C:N ratio per se. Yes, paper has a lot of carbon, but it doesn't provide a lot of structure. Try this - get a 5-gallon bucket, weigh it (most 5 gallon buckets I've weighed are 1.8 - 2 pounds) fill it with the compost, tap it a few times on the ground from about 4 - 6 inches and top it off and weigh it again (a bathroom scale should work, a fishing scale or a luggage scale work well and allow you to hoist the bucket with the scale). Take the resulting weight, subtract the initial (tare) weight (the 1.8 - 2 pounds) and then multiply by 40. For example, if the filled bucket weighs 27 pounds, subtract 2 pounds for the bucket weight and you get 25. 25 pounds x 40 = 1,000 pounds per cubic yard. This works because there are almost exactly 40, 5-gallon buckets in a cubic yard. Technically most 5-gallon buckets are slightly more than 5-gallons, so if you want to be more precise, figure out exactly where the 5-gallon mark is, but its probably not that important for your pile.

For a passively aerated pile, 800 - to 1,000 pounds would be a good target weight (lighter is probably better - to a point). If your pile is much denser then that (1,000 pounds per cubic yard) you may want to add some high structure wood ships (not sawdust), maybe straw, something to lighten up the mix. Add the chips, recombine the pile and see if that doesn't solve the problem. The structure of the pile is what allows oxygen into the pile. To little and your pile might not have been getting enough oxygen, which might account for the unusual structure and odor.

Hope this is useful.
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Adding a different perspective: paper printed in NZ uses soy-based inks (that's another story...) unless it's a flouro or metallic colour and gloss is from kaolin (clay).
Of course that's not saying there's no dodgy stuff in paper products, but my worm's favourite food and hangout appears to be glossy paper
As for the compost smelling odd, I'd be thinking about what else might have gone in, as I can't imagine any amount of paper of any sort doing that.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5725
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
323
bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
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Yes, fillers for glossy are Kaolin clay or calcium carbonate I think.
But, INKS for glossies are either soy or petroleum based and both use PIGMENTS for the color that can have heavy metals and other toxins. It's not something you can know for sure by looking at the paper. Brighter glossies are more likely to be petroleum based.
I really have a narrow view on this...why be careful and mindfull of every other compost ingredient and then trust a manufacturing process that is so far removed from original sources?
We are fortunate here to have an excellent recycling center that takes all paper (and I know recycling processes open up another can of worms).
 
Josef Theisen
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Location: SE Wisconsin, USA zone 5b
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I agree with Judith. Everything I have read says to avoid glossy colored print in compost. I have read that most black ink is soy base and relatively harmless. However, when I was talking to my brother in law, who was working in a factory that made base components for ink, he told me that he wouldn't assume black ink was safe either. My solution is to use non-glossy newsprint as kill mulch, but avoid any ink in the compost pile.

I know this is not what you want to hear having such a large pile, but why go through all the trouble of growing your own food and then contaminate it? My reccomendation at this point is either send it to a landfill or spread it thinly on the surface somewhere away from your food production and water systems. Toxic heavy metals tend not to break down, and can accumulate in plants.

 
Jessica Stokes
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Thanks all of you, I actually went to the county with this question... Talked with a "soils" expert... And with a gal at the forest servive who runs the tree farm ( just by a chance meeting at the feed store) Lots of info.. but the bottomline is don't do it again dummy! and stick with what you know. My gigantic compost piles have always been glorious- I turn them with a tractor... I have decided to really educate myself further on composting- Jessie
 
David Hartley
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Jessica; if you have never read Humanure, it is a must read for any avid or aspiring composter Yes; it talks about "human manure"; but more importantly, it talks a LOT about composting!
 
Jessica Stokes
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Thanks Dave! I'll read it! We will be having a guest speaker at out Grange who will be speaking on this very subject! interesting- Very interesting!! Jessie
 
Matt Cotton
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Jessica -

Not sure where you are located, but there are dozens of good training classes in larger-scale composting available. The US Composting Council is a good place to start; look here for a list of upcoming training courses: http://compostingcouncil.org/other-training-courses/, but there are others that may not be listed here. Google "compost training" in your area. In my experience - helping large scale composters for over 25 years - many (though not all) of the problems I encounter deal with the fundamentals of pile construction, porosity/material balance, moisture, aeration, turning frequency, temperature, etc. Understanding the fundamentals is key to achieving consistent results, whether at backyard, farm, or commercial scale.
 
Jessica Stokes
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Matt,
Thanks for the information. Im up in the Sierra Nevada Foothills- Below Tahoe- above Sacramento CA.
 
William Toles
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Location: Skowhegan, Maine
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I'm thinking that fungi/mushrooms could possibly break the paper down into a usable material; then again, the issue of "what is in it" says ornamentals only, like was previously posted.
 
Jessica Stokes
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Hery Will,
Yeh- Im not up for even trying to mess with it! It just feels icky! Im taking the entire mess to the dump! It's just one of the many piles on the property, Ive got pleanty of good stuff!
Live and learn-
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I'd be inclined to not touch it too. It a bit like adding stuff to gross tasting soup in the hope that you'll correct the taste.
Often you just end up with twice as much soup that tastes a different type of gross.
 
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