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!!! composting wood chips with chicken litter and fungi  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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Chip pile picture update,

Thanks to some suggestions to make the decomposition quicken/progress over winter, I took my first actions in the chip pile in months.  I decided to use the human-urine-as-compost-accelerator-approach.  My initial plan was to dig a hole near the top and fill with used rabbit and hamster bedding that is piled nearby. I went ahead and peeled off the top foot or so of the wood chips (they were frozen into a solid crust), and below that top portion the chips were cool but not frozen.  Further, these chips were quite dark as you can see from the pictures.  8 months ago these chips were a bright white/blonde so some significant decomposition has already taken place, though the pile has a lot further to go.  I decided to forgo the bedding addition as it looks like there was ample microbial action in the pile already.  

For the last 2 days I had been peeing into a 2 1/2 gallon cat litter jug. I got about a gallon of urine and I added about 1 gallon more of lukewarm water to give it more volume (and a bit of heat to keep it from freezing immediately after pouring in).  Finally I covered up the top of the pile.  I plan to repeat this action several more times.

To be clear, I am not expecting to see any major decomposition any time soon as I know that it is winter and therefore cold.  Rather, I thought I might just boost the microbial action a bit with the added N and when the pile does heat up as the weather turns warmer, I will be one step ahead and not have to be thinking constantly "is it time to worry about decomposing chips yet?"  

As always, feel free to comment.

Eric
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Chip pile with rake for scale
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Dark, crumbly wood chips already breaking down
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Pile-O-Hamster-Bedding
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Pile after N addition
 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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Good news on the chip bed!

Given that I live in Southern Illinois, winter is a hit-or-miss affair, and despite some freezing temperatures and even a little snow in the beginning of December, we have had about 3 weeks of rain and temperatures between about 40 to 60 degrees.  

Though I do not (and would not expect to) see any mushrooms in my chip bed at this time of year, I just checked on it while walking the dog and the bed was moist and sponge-like, almost like the chips are thoroughly rotting after all.  Moreover, as this bed grew tomatoes in fertile holes of manure last summer, I can plainly see that the chip bed has dropped about 1-2 inches.  The old fertile holes are now fertile mounds that protrude up about 2 inches where the old tomatoes were planted.  During summer the bed was perfectly level.  

I think this indicates decay, and judging from the chip-level drop, it seems like it has dropped more that when I last posted about a month ago.  Is it possible that the wine cap mycelia have continued doing their job over these last wet, cool weeks?  Given I had the dog, I could not really dig in to get a better perspective, but I can get out soon, dig in and get some pictures back.

Please let me know your thoughts.  This fungi project has me bursting with anticipation.

Thanks in advance,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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Even better news!

This time I went out with a hand rake and no dog.  I dug into the top few inches of the wood chips and about 1/4 are thoroughly colonized by strands of white mycelia.  All of the chips are dark and crumbly and while wood chips are still present, they are outnumbered by the much smaller crumbly looking material all around each larger chip.  

As of right now, the consistency of the mulch looks perfect for planting and while planting season is still 3-4 months out at the earliest, is this material ready for planting yet?  Certainly it will get better with time, but it feels like a good planting medium, almost like peat moss.

Would the medium need NPK amendments or would the mycelia provide their own nitrogen?  I am giving serious consideration to planting legumes to help with fertility (I really should have done this in fall, but I can do this with my next beds).

Where I grew tomatoes last year I am planning on growing summer squash, probably in the same fertile holes where the tomatoes grew.  I also thought I would grow beans to fix nitrogen.  Redhawk has given me some suggestions about getting bacteria into the mix and I will be doing this shortly.  I have also been advised to add urine for fertility and to feed bacteria.

So my end questions are:

1) would urine harm the mycelia?  I would think that some dilute urine would be fine but I don’t know this for certain.

2) is there anything else I can do in the meantime to speed along the decomposition process or help add general fertility?

Thanks so much in advance.  Prior to 8 months ago I would never have thought about deliberately using mushrooms as a compost agent, nor using mushroom compost as a growing medium.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this pie-in-the-sky idea a reality.

Eric

 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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Hello,

This thread has evolved dramatically since I first started it.  I am now a lot more familiar with fungi than I was just months before and I think I have done my garden a lot of good by adding the wood chip and mushroom compost.  Thanks so very much to all those who helped me, guided me away from using 10-10-10 for composting and for generally encouraged me along the way.

I still have some questions as were stated in the last two posts I have made.  The first question is basically "is this composted enough that I could direct seed into?"  The material is dark, smells earthy and is spongy.  It feels so much better than it did even just a few months ago when I last posted pictures.  The weather has been nearly perfect for fungi--cool but not cold, wet and very, very gray skies.

My second question is about adding anything to increase the bacterial count.  I will take Redhawk's suggestion and add the rice/spoiled milk mixture, but I was wondering about adding my own dilute urine (perhaps with molasses) as well.  I have heard mixed information about nitrogen.  Too much and it seems to hurt the fungi, but some is necessary for the bacteria and even some is needed for fungi?  Do I have this about right?  

I am asking now because I want to take action early in anticipation of spring and not wait for spring to come around when it is too late for the early season.  I apologize for the out of focus picture, the camera just would not focus on the mycelia strands no matter how hard I tried.

I am attaching these pictures because I think they represent the condition of the bed as a whole and show some of my findings.


Picture 1 is simply a picture of the bed for perspective.

Picture 2 is a close up of picture one but dug just under the surface

Picture 3 is sadly out of focus, but does show mycelia

Picture 4 is a picture of the surface that until today has never been disturbed since innoculation

Picture 5 is a close up of picture 4

Picture 6 is a small dug up portion of picture 4 that shows mycelia on my little hand rake

I really look forward to your responses.  Optimistically I hope I can direct seed into this material, meaning if today were April and not January, I could just go out and seed right into the chips.  If this is not the case, please tell me and help me get this bed into plant-worthy condition.


Thanks much in advance,

Eric

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1 mushroom compost chip bed
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2 Chips just under surface of straw
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3 Mycelium out of focus
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4 Undisturbed surface
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5 close up of undisturbed surface
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5 Freshly disturbed surface with mycelia
 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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I should have added this in yesterday but I forgot.

If you look at some of the pictures, there is some grass growing, but I can not tell if this from blown seeds or if it is from seed in the straw on the top.  I did pull out one clump of grass that looked like it had developed a root mass in the chips.  Today we got our first sunlight in about 10 days and I can see from looking and poking at the material that it is plainly spongy, almost like a whole mass responding to the force of my finger or foot pressing into it and not like the chip pile from a month ago that refused to give way easily to my poking and prodding.  Is this indicative that the last 3 weeks of dreary but mild weather have really helped break the material down?

Thanks in advance, any input appreciated.

Eric
 
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I want to apologize for not getting to this post sooner.

The spongy feel of your heap is caused by 1. fungal hyphae becoming well established (step one in mushroom production) and 2. the lignin breakdown by bacteria which are the food for the mycelium.
I would expect the heap to be fairly well moisturized now that the fungi have become well established. (they tend to hold moisture in place very well.
At this time I would try to not disturb the heap so the hyphae can fully inhabit the heap of wood chips which will cause the breakdown to move along quicker than it has previously.
If you were to make additions at this time items like spent coffee grounds and greens would be the best choices as long as you mix them with something like straw bedding or even hamster litter.

I expect you will get a nice flush of winecaps come late spring.
I would try to hold off on using this heap in gardens until you have gotten that first flush of mushrooms, once you do incorporate it in the gardens, the process will continue there.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Redhawk,

Absolutely no worries about response time and thank you very much for your insight as always.

Glad to hear that you think this is headed in the right direction.  I think will mix in some coffee grounds into our growing pile of hamster litter and rabbit bedding (my daughter’s hamster now has a new neighbor --a lion head bunny), maybe even add some of my own urine, mix the whole concoction up and apply it as a layer over the wood chips and cover with straw--once the torrential rains stop.

Thanks again,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Location: Southern Illinois
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Some good signs and some weird good news,

First off, thanks to everyone who has helped me along with this project.  I feel like I have sort of grown up into a Permie by making this mushroom compost.  My thanks go out especially to Redhawk, who as we all know is a sage about all things compost and microbial.  The good news is that the wood chips have further visibly broken down from just a couple of days age.  I really did not think that I would see results in this time span, but the surface of the chips looks more and more like peat moss than a pile of chips.  The weird good news is that the little bits of grass on top are growing quite well, I think indicating a good supply of nitrogen.

I don't know if anyone knows the answer to this, but does the wine cap compost provide any nitrogen?  Adding some certainly will not be an issue, I just like to use this unusually warm spell this time of year to really promote all things rot and decay in the chip bed.


Thanks a bunch,

Eric
 
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