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Stalled Compost Bin! Help!  RSS feed

 
Brian Hamalainen
Posts: 100
Location: Chimacum, WA Sunset Zone 5, USDA Zone 8B
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Late this fall, I raked up a lot of our fallen leaves, shredded them, added some as winter cover mulch for our garden beds, and dumped the rest into the compost box (3'Wx6'Lx2'D)with lots of water. 2 days of turning later, it was quite hot in the box and steaming 24 hours a day in our cold weather.

Less than a week after that, the pile stalled and went dead. It's a cold brown mush throughout and not a worm in sight. I obviously waited too long to mulch the leaves and ruined the carbon-nitrogen balance.

Now, and for the last 2 months, nothing happens in there. I found a 2-week-old banana peel that still didn't even have any brown spots! A few areas are starting to ferment and smell but for the most part it is just brown leaf mush, and "fresh" kitchen waste bits that smells like I just chopped them up.

I've tried adding what green leafy stuff I could (slug attacked brussels sprout leaves etc.) and have been peeing in the box every chance I get but still nothing. Our box is nearly overflowing when it used to keep up just fine.

How can I get this box restarted safely and cheaply? I don't feel comfortable using humanure on our primary food pile, especially since we might be leaving it for someone unsuspecting. Should I get a box of "Organic Compost Maker"?
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
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EM, spoiled milk, raw milk, yogurt, kefir, compost tea from good compost are things I've used to 'jumpstart' things, microbial-wise.

If you think more N is needed you can try alfalfa hay, meal, and/or pellets. Alfalfa hay and leaves make good compost, IMO. I've used dehydrated poultry waste. Manure from craigslist, perhaps.
 
Keith Odell
Posts: 68
Location: Indiana
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Sounds to me that it is too green and too wet. Hard to tell without seeing it. I would add shredded cardboard, newspaper, napkins, sawdust. coffee filters, etc. What ever browns that you have that you don't have to buy.
Everything rots, it's just a matter of timing. Get the size and ratio right - you're cooking. If the ratio is wrong or if it is too small then it stalls. Do you want a hot compost pile in December? Or great compost in May?

Good luck.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Fungi to the rescue.

You probably killed all the fungal spores with the initial hot composting. Now that it has cooled off, it's going to be hard for bacteria to find something to eat. You need to get some end stage fungal species in there to finish it off. Here's my advice:

- Dump it out of the box and spread it out on the ground so that it is no more than than a foot high.
- If it has stuck together stinky leaves, fluff them up and throw some fresh wood chips on them.
- Add some active fungi. Branches that drop from trees in the fall are a good source. Any mushrooms that you can find. This includes the produce section at the grocery store, if need be.
- Go find a well rotted log in the woods, lift it up and scrape anything white that is underneath it. Mix that with some water and sprinkle it on your pile.
- Make sure it stays moist.

If you leave it like this for 6-8 weeks, you should have a rip-roaring fungal culture going. And it will be ready to use as mulch.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 406
Location: Georgia
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Free grounds from Starbucks will heat it back up but it would be good to add
some dry material. Buy a bale of wheat straw and add a few handfuls as needed.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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Fallen leaves contain some cellulose, but also have a high percentage of lignin. Bacteria can consume the cellulose quickly, which is why your pile heated up at the beginning. Bacteria cannot produce the lignase enzyme to break down the lignin, so the heap cooled down. Fungi are able to break down the lignin, but the heat of the composting process may have reduced the fungi population. The fungi will return to finish off the heap, but it is a slower process that will take months.

Read about Leaf Mold.

 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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As I understand it, you want to return the pile to "hot" status, right? I think I'd get some sort of heavy-duty N source, such as blood meal, although I confess I've never used it..... Horse manure being plentiful hereabouts... So horse poo if available.

Correct moisture content and a big dose of N ought to do the trick, IMO. I too prefer the hot method.
 
Brian Hamalainen
Posts: 100
Location: Chimacum, WA Sunset Zone 5, USDA Zone 8B
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Update on this: I have pretty much ignored the pile for about 2 weeks (since my last post) due to a spell of winter depression/relationship issues. I checked on it today since our kitchen bucket was getting pretty full and a bit "rank" when the lid was openned. I had 1 patch of fuzzy mold, about 1 foot squared, and just underneith it was a small area of warmth with a few worms. The rest was still cold, slimy, and dead.

I spread out the moldy part as best as I could and turned everything in well.

We have a horse farm near by that gives out free manuer but they do show horses and I doubt they are "Organic". I'd think that fresh manuer would be the stuff with nitrogen still in it but the fresh stuff would also have residual medicines/anti-biotics...
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