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unsure if my compost is ready  RSS feed

 
mike graz
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Hello on 6/30/13 I attempted my first hot compost pile. I made my pile by mowing grass and random weed the mowed dried leaves and straw then piling in layers approximately 3-4 inches until the pile was 3x3ft then wet it let it sit for 4 days until I flipped and mix the pile. The pile cooled down to virtually not heat as of 7/27/13 .the pics below are of the the pile after the first flip the one when it cooled and a close up of the pile .my question is it done ? Or should I do something to kick start it back up
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Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Shooting from the hip, I would say not ready.

Why? There is still a lot of undecomposed carbon. Sticks and bark and such. You would ideally like that to all break down into crumbly dark goodness.

How to get the pile to finish? Add nitrogen. Pee would be great. Or mix in some poultry manure. That should create the proper Carbon-to-Nitrogen balance for the compost to finish.

Minor note, but the pile looks a bit wet, which can cause the pile to cool off prematurely. Hard to tell from the pics, but the material should be damp, not wet. If you squeeze a handful and any water drips out, it is too wet. Based on the moisture levels, in an ideal world, I would prefer poultry manure over pee, but you may need to use what you have.

Adding a good compost starter, such as a bit of quality finished compost, or good garden soil, or best of all some Biodynamic preps, is always a good addition. It is not too late to add an innoculant at this point, though in the future, if added at the beginning, it will help the pile to finish more quickly and more thoroughly.

good luck!
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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How many times did you turn the pile? I usually turn mine 6 or 7 times total, at an interval of mebbe every 2-3 days....

I agree with the peeing part too, as written above. Really gets it off to a brisk start. A healthy person has sterile urine, if my understanding is correct.

Best, TM
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Location: FL
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Yes and No

The thermophilic heap has processed what it can with what it had to work with, so it's done being a hot heap. The mesophiles will take over from here, slowly continuing the decomposition process until they run out of resources, at which point the fungi will take over to break down what is left into stable humus. Whatever conditions are present will determine what decomposing lifeforms will be dominant. Right now, I'd estimate the heap will support a strong earthworm population.

Adding more green material and checking the moisture will get it heating up in a couple of days. What you would be doing is offering materials which will support the thermophilic bacteria. Giving it a toss can mix the material, add oxygen and redistribute the stuff already in the heap which can also cause the pile to resume heating.

Compost can be used at any stage. You can add this to your garden beds and it will offer plenty of nutrients, but if there is an abundance of nitrogen in the soil, heat can be generated which can kill off tender seedlings. You may want to wait until the material is no longer identifiable before adding it to growing areas. As a covering mulch, this stuff will probably do well. The fact that the heap got good and hot then cooled is sometimes offered as a novel composting method or 'trick' to make compost fast. In reality it is just the end of the first stage of the process. It takes several months to produce finished compost which has gone through all decomposition stages. The end product will be dark brown to black, have a crumbly texture, and earthy smell, and you won't be able to find anything like the material you put in at the start.

It sounds to me like this is your first attempt at composting. You got it good and hot for a month, so you are surely on the right track. Keep the heap going to see the entire process. In the meantime, start another heap. You can add a sprinkle of this heap to help get your next heap going-this is called inoculation. Plenty of folks use a bin system with multiple heaps in different stages so there is a continuous supply of compost.

Keep up the good work. You are doing fine.
 
mike graz
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Thanks for the response I have some blood meal how much should I add. And yes it got to wet at a point I had ot covered with a tarp but a massive thunderstorm hit and still managed to hit.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Location: FL
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I'm not one to add pricey blood meal to a compost heap, but adding a handful or a couple pounds will give this heap a boost. The green material in a new compost heap is the first to break down. The browns take longer because they are usually thicker and drier. The heap is already biologically active and looks well mixed. If you want to give it a boost, go with grass clippings and food scraps. Mix em in, they will probably be gone in a week and the heap will heat up. You can keep adding greens for a couple of months or more. After that, you can let the pile go and get going on another pile.

The biological activity in the pile is key. This pile will digest green material as fast as you can gather it. Now is the time to keep on feeding it. You can gather brown material, but rather than using it to feed the heap, it's best use may be to help keep the moisture balanced. If an odor develops, that's also a good time to add some browns. Pile up your surplus browns in a separate heap. When you are done adding to this heap, you've got them at the ready to start the next.

Urine
In a healthy human, urine is sterile. Added directly to a compost heap, it will add N and moisture. I caution against using urine if you are growing crops for market.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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Was there a spot you wanted to use it now? If it's soil prep for a later garden, I'd sometimes add compost at that stage because the earthworms will have a field day with the un-decomposed bits and you'll wind up with worm casings galore, plus tunnels and the mycorrhizae spawn they carry in their guts to start the soil biological processes going full on.

If you were going to use it as a top dressing under mulch but on top of the soil, all you need, IMHO is to wait until it's done being "hot" and you can use it. The un-decomposed bits will act more like mulch than compost but it all decomposes in the end.
 
Philip Durso
Posts: 142
Location: Missoula, Montana (zone 4)
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Just a few tips. Make it taller, approx up to your shoulder. Or use compost fencing. Control the moisture. Keep it wet enough for one or two drips to fall when a handful is squeezed. Cover it with a tarp before a heavy rain using tree branches to allow for a bit of air flow between the tarp and the compost. Control the temp. Check out this website that talks about the using the Berkley Method. The method of composting taught by the great geoff lawton in his online PDC.
deepgreenpermaculture.com/
 
mike graz
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Ill let the pile go until its crumbly. I started with limited brown materials and looking back probably should of mulched the browns better and added a bit more . there were times where the pile would give off an ammonia smell so I know it was too high in greens and prob could of added non treated saw dust. Ill start some much nicer piles in fall. I plan on using it for both out door veggie garden,aact and part of an organic homemade potting soil
 
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