I just built the biggest pile I have ever made.4x4x8'. I had an abundance of weeds. It was weeds of a sand filter bed for our waste water treatment plant. very lush quickweed, nettles, puslane and some other weeds I don't want to spread to the tree nursery I plan to use this on. I check it today and there is some heat.there but not enough moisture I think. Will probably water it again when I turn it on day 4. So just used the lush green weeds as the nitrogen source. the brown was last falls oak leaves and wood chips from tree trimming late winter. I did not have manure to spark the heat. will it have the power to kill the weed seeds? planning to use the tractor to turn it and watering more.
I've always had good luck getting compost hot without ever using manure. As long as there is a good carbon/nitrogen ratio as well as some water it should work.
As a point of interest, when i was younger I worked for a couple of years at a plant that manufactured medium density fiberboard wood products. They went through a lot of wood and even used wood waste from sawmills. The wood waste would come in by tractor trailer and got piled into monstrous piles. These piles were so large that they would start to compost even without any significant nitrogen source. The piles had to be kept in rotation otherwise the center of the pile would turn black within a week or so.
This happened even in the dead of winter. So the takeaway from that is the bigger the pile the more forgiving it becomes.
Sugar is a great activator in compost. Diluted molasses would be worth trying. Referring to Bud's experience with large piles of sawdust turning black in the centre, this is most likely charring and the consequence of an exothermic chemical reaction between water and cellulose. Spontaneous combustion in stacks of partly-dried hay is a well known example of the phenomenon.
The key to killing all weed seeds is to get the WHOLE pile up to temperature. No cool spots at all... That takes percent turning or serious insulation.
After the first or second turning I pile straw or sawdust over them for extra insulation. I pull as much of it off before turning, but a little works in as I go and I am ok with that.
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I find that if you have enough green material in a heap you get good heating.
You can also use spent coffee grounds which give lots of Nitrogen and they add good heating too.
I tend to compost manures with straw or old hay instead of putting it into "regular" heaps. I like to blend after the composting is finished.
I consider a compost finished when; The worms have moved on, the material is dry and crumbly, it smells like sweet dirt.
for some heaps this happens in 3 months most take 6 months and some (mostly woody material) take a full year.
I do put covers on my heaps to help get them started. Old carpet is great for this (I usually find it at the side of the road, in front of houses).
If you decide to use old carpet, take it to the carwash and give it a good power washing just to be sure you aren't bringing anything unwanted to the heap.
Don't leave the carpet in place all the time, while water will go through it, as the heap gets hot you need to be sure enough air gets in there too.
I remove the carpet covers to punch air holes into the heaps, usually 10 or more as I walk around a heap (five foot piece of 1/2" black pipe is what I scrounged to use for this)
As I punch the air holes I check for moisture content, then use the compost thermometer to check the heating. Once I am through with the "maintenance" I put the cover back on till next time.
I tend to be negligent of heaps, I remember to check them maybe three times a month. If the heap is part of a new growing mound, it is lucky to see something other than simple additions to the heap.
I leave the growing mounds mostly alone so they do their own thing. I've found that by the time I think a mound is ready for planting, it has mostly become compost over wood.
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