So my attempts at composting in the past were less than successful. I tried making piles but they never broke down into the crumbly material I hoped for. To boot, I have a certain urgency for composting in the near future. My daughter has a pet hamster and its bedding (thin wood chips and shredded paper) needs changing every couple of weeks. When it gets changed, it is clearly ammonia smelly with obvious visible droppings. This seems like ideal composting material to me but I don't want a pile that will take years to break down. I thought about digging a pit into the ground, filling with the bedding and then covering with wood chips. My plan is that the nitrogen from the ammonia balances the carbon in the bedding, the droppings provide micro organisms and nearby worms will hopefully make their way into the pit. I also have some comfrey I planted last year I may add for worm food or maybe even add some kitchen scraps. So far this is just in my imagination and I have plenty of time to get it set up. Has anyone ever tried something like this? Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.
Not a bad plan. Even in a temperate climate, it should take weeks, not years, to compost, though.
If it is routinely too dry, that's probably killing off the microorganisms doing the job. If it's smelly, that probably means that you're getting anaerobic decomposition by either not having enough browns for your greens, or by not turning often enough, or some combination of the two.
Dropping your compost into a pit will shelter it some from dessicating winds, but it will still be necessary to pay attention to the greens/browns ratio and moisture levels, and it will need to be turned regularly. How often depends on a variety of factors, but if you're not turning it, it will take much longer.
Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
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What the hamster is giving you is "green material", since the bedding is wood shavings, the use of more wood chips will create a not great compost heap unless you want fungi heavy compost.
The "droppings" act like rabbit manure, so the ideal would be to get some dead leaves, straw, old hay or some other easy to decompose materials to go with those wonderful items you have now.
You are mostly correct about the "balance" but it won't be totally balanced because if it were, the wood shavings would start decomposing in the cage, usually those shavings are of a non resinous wood like bass, or aspen, pine shavings are not the best to use for hamsters I'm told.
The longest I would expect those cage cleanings to take to decompose in a heap (above or below ground level) would be a year.
Comfrey is a super additive to any compost heap.
Hi Eric! That's great compostable material you have there. It shouldn't take much to get that started composting. My thoughts on the procedure you want to do, don't dig a pit, and don't cover it. Composting requires oxygen, and all the microbes that do the composting and break down all the materials need it. I don't want to imply that digging a pit and covering the material means it won't break down. It will, but at a much slower rate, and it may be considered more of a rotting than composting, even though technically composting is a kind of rotting.
For compost piles to work, they need to be of a large size. A 5 gallon bucket worth of carbon and nitrogen containing materials dump in a pile isn't going to develop a nice hot compost pile. It will break down, eventually. Compost piles really work well when they're a cubic yard in size or larger. I believe if you take this used hamster bedding, along with other yard "waste" materials like dead leaves and grass clippings put into a large pile, along with sufficient water, will spontaneously start to compost and really generate some heat. Toss some kitchen vegetable scraps in there too. When I add my used bedding from my chicken coop containing wood shavings and chickenpoop, my compost pile readily zooms to 150+(f), indicating rapid decomposition.
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James--I do hear you about needing cubic yard sized piles as opposed to 5 gallon sized piles. Unfortunately, the hamster only soils bedding in 5 gallon or so sized amounts in any reasonable time frame. Right now I have a couple of small bags sitting outside waiting for me to do something with it. Redhawk, you are dead on about the wood in the shavings. My daughter (10) has given me quite an education regarding hamster needs. Part of my thoughts for burying was that I might be able to get some small amount of decomposition done prior to spring. Right now we are very cold, but I bet that the ground down two feet is still somewhat warm (50-60 degrees). I was thinking about covering with woodchips mostly to have something other than bedding exposed to the surface--I don't think my wife would like a pile of bedding just sitting out in the open. Also, I thought the woodchip layer would help moderate temperature and allow air to pass through--as opposed to covering with dirt.
Also you might try mixing in the materials from your vacuum, especially if you have any natural fiber rugs in your home. But I am sure there is tons of microbial action from the stuff you collect when you vacuum the room. This might intensify the breakdown process of your compost.
The short answer is no Eric,
vermiculture is growing worms in a bin, or open compost space where you can make additions of food, bedding, moisture as you need to, worms in the ground are not vermiculture but rather eco-nurturing.
Bury the compost and it is not composting, it is decomposing.
Composting involves being able to add air or moisture as needed, plus once covered with soil, you can not monitor the heat, speed of decomposition, add moisture, turn the heap if needed to get complete breakdown, etc.
Untill this year I've had no luck with getting a compost heap to heat, but I finaly managed it! I had a couple of problems
1 Not enough materials at once
2 RAIN and a waterlogged heap. (two years and straw was still perfectly recognisable)
So I simply filled my heap up which gives just over a meter cubed, then turned it all over, mixed it around (mine is kitchen scraps, chicken bedding with straw and garden waste) and then put a lid on it. Bang two days later and I had it cooking. Right now I am filling up the next heap, I do not have anywhere near enough waste to get it going yet, but once I get that meter I'll flip it all over mix it up and put the lid on it and then it will (I hope) cook like the last one did. What I used to do when I didn't have the chickens was to dig a shallow trench in my veg garden and as I made kitchen scraps drop them in it over winter covering them up as I went, by spring they were mainly rotted and ready to be planted on.
If you can get your hands on some Biochar you'll find that it causes your compost pile to heat up more and to finish faster. The final compost will also retain more of the initial nutrients. Best wishes.
Biochar maker/enthusiast whose mind wants to dance, but whose body is a really awkward white guy.
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So the good news is I found a source of chicken droppings. My neighbors keep 8 laying hens and offered me about a scoop full of droppings from their deep bedding layer. Just so you know, in this case, 1 scoop is a bucket full from my subcompact tractor that has a 4' bucket. I would think this would be enough nitrogen for many, many compost batches to come. So now I am thinking that I am actually short on the browns to which I may add woodchips from my annual wood chipping exercise I do in the fall. I presently have a 4x8 foot trailer overflowing with woodchips. So I think I can do a regular compost heap anywhere I want.
That is awesome Eric, in answer to your questions, Yes and Yes. I think you have it figured out for best methods to use what you have.
If you are going to do a worm trench style, some paper products (worm bedding) or leaves will be super for worms to live in, you can even add some wood chips and chicken manure or if you have or can find them spent coffee grounds, all are good worm materials.
Is vermiculture a viable way to dispose of this bedding?
Yes. Not in a pit, but using worms to dispose of your pet's used bedding is a good idea. We raised pet rats for years, and routinely dumped the used bedding. The worms like regular inputs, and it's easy to start with a small system using what you have.
You can enclose it all in a small bin, but I prefer keeping it outside in a shaded corner. Once the worms multiply to how much you put in, it will be like a never filling pile. You'll add something, and after a while, the pile won't grow any more, or just barely.