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Hot Composting - another way

Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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I should preface this by indicating that I don't have livestock and although I could obtain manures, I don't because I can't be sure how the animals may be fed (GMO grains) and/or medicated. I have also read of particular herbicides on grass/hay that pass through animals and do not break down in compost. This can then contaminate a garden soil!

I collect all of the kitchen scraps and used bedding from my daughters rabbit in an EarthMachine composter, but it rarely breaks down much in there. I also stockpile leaves in the fall for spring compost and garden mulching. I also sometimes have some wood chips I generate when doing fallen limb pick up, brush management, etc on the property. When the grass needs mowing is when the composting starts. I layer the grass clippings with the kitchen waste, leaves and some wood chips. Taking a lesson from AACT (activated aerated vermi-compost tea) I put some molasses in my hose end sprayer and moisten each layer as the pile is built. When the pile is a couple of feet tall, I drive a heavy metal bar down through the center (more on this later). I continue building the pile until it's between 3 and 4 feet high (again, watering each layer as I go) with a 4 to 6 foot base.
When finished stacking, I move the metal bar around and around to open up a hole and then remove the bar. This acts like a chimney up through the center of the heap and as hot air rises, it creates a draft that draws air into the pile. I put a compost thermometer in the heap and step away. I watch the temperature (it gets hot) and when the temp begins to fall off it's time to turn. Since I have a Mantis tiller, I use the straight tines and use the tiller to chop, mix and breakdown the pile. When I'm satisfied that the pile has been mixed enough, I re-stack, again with the metal bar. I will add water as before as/if necessary, but usually the pile does not require more moisture. Again I monitor the temperature and turn as required.
This yields compost pretty quickly and has been working well for me for about 30 years!

Now that I'm 60 years young, turning/stacking compost is WORK and I've been learning about no-till and such, it seems to me that hot compost may not be as good as we thought. We might be better off with a heavy mulch both during the growing season and in the fall. That is to say collect all of the waste materials and spread out in the fall where it can insulate the soil and slowly break down over winter. Otherwise, it may be better to just slow compost....after all, nature doesn't build hot compost piles.
Some will say what about weed seeds and pathogens. Well, don't put those in the heap!!!
Now I live on a hill and it can get windy in the fall - I'll need heavy leaves to stick where I put them! LOL
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