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Soil and Composting: How hot for how long?

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Forum: Soil and CompostingReplies: 12, Views: 94
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sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 18, 2010
3:59 PM

Post #8162903

I've got my pile up to 150 degree F, it's got an ammonia odor, so my question is how long should I let it go for? I don't want to lose nitrogen, but my carbon source is straw and the ambient temps are dropping below freezing at night.
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 19, 2010
10:35 AM

Post #8164360

What are you aiming to kill?
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 19, 2010
5:03 PM

Post #8164994

My goal is to transform my former strawbale veggy garden into compost for my non-food shrub and perennial areas. I've read cooler composting keeps more nitrogen and hotter kills off more weed seeds, bad bacteria, etc. The pile does not have any weeds or infectious material. So I'm going for nitrogen retention, and yet I'm hoping to be able to use it next fall. The pile has dropped to 140 degrees today. Any ideas?
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 20, 2010
2:16 AM

Post #8165617

To cool a hot pile, add carbon (browns). Got any cardboard boxes lying around? Shredded non-glossy paper? Or maybe sawdust?

citybusgardener

citybusgardener
( Pam ) Portland, OR

October 20, 2010
6:43 AM

Post #8165813

A ten degree drop in 24 hours... so I wouldn't worry about cooling it off.

But does it still smell? Too much green and not enough brown ? Hows the texture?

Since your not planning on use for a full year, I would put a tarp or such over it. A years rain would wash so much of what you want to keep, out into the surrounding area.
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 20, 2010
6:23 PM

Post #8166907

Thanks puddlepirate I do have extra brown cardboard, straw, sawdust, and lots of fallen maple leaves. I have options! Thanks, citybusgardener the smell is half ammonia and half "garbage-y", damp, not wet, but we have had about an inch and a quarter of rain since I built it last week, and it has decreased in height since building. Too wet? I've got it covered with weedblock for breatheable protection, will that be enough to protect from excess water? Also I built it on top of large pieces of tree bark with a little exposure to the ground to invite earthworms. Can I lose a lot of nitrogen and nutrients that way?
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 21, 2010
2:16 PM

Post #8168273

I have a 4x4x15 foot high pile beside my house. I created the pile in April then just left it to compost slowly (in other words, it's not a hot pile). To keep the nutrients from leaching away too much, I scattered cover crop seeds on top to turn the compost into topsoil. I'll turn the greenery under in the spring about two weeks before I need to spread the black gold. That way, the clover & vetch & buckwheat will begin to decompose and that soil will be bursting with microbes.
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 21, 2010
4:20 PM

Post #8168468

Thanks puddlepirate. Cover crop sounds like a good idea but I was wondering how deep do their roots grow? My plans this weekend are to turn it and add more carbon, "brown", and go from there.
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 21, 2010
7:33 PM

Post #8168755

The clovers can send roots down around 36" in a year, under ideal conditions. The thick criss-crossing mat of lateral roots pretty much stops about 12" down. I'm not sure about the buckwheat & vetch; I use them to give the clover something to lean on, and to add biomass for when I turn everything under.

This message was edited Oct 21, 2010 9:34 PM
kmom246
Murfreesboro, TN
(Zone 7a)

October 22, 2010
10:27 AM

Post #8169501

If you have that much green in it, it may still heat for a bit when you turn in your browns. Stirring things up adds oxygen which will encourage the little buggers to work more, producing more heat. At 150*F it might smell more "garbage-y" because the anaerobic (non oxygen breathing) bacteria/etc. are doing more work. Turning, adding browns and "fluffing" the pile up should help with the smell.
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 22, 2010
5:09 PM

Post #8170134

Thanks puddlepirate, that's helpful info. When should one seed the pile, fall? Spring? We're alrady hitting low temps in the 20's.
sarahn
Milton, NH
(Zone 5a)

October 22, 2010
5:11 PM

Post #8170136

Thanks kmom246. I am a little concerned about the odor because of neighbors, so I turned the pile this evening adding in another quarter bale of timothy hay. The pile was damp, no slimyness detected, and all the alfalfa pellets had broken down,but boy did it give off a strong blast of ammonia when I stirred it up. I covered with another quarter bale and secured under weedblock. The hay has seed heads in it, but its all I have at the moment.
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 22, 2010
7:48 PM

Post #8170409

sarahn wrote:Thanks puddlepirate, that's helpful info. When should one seed the pile, fall? Spring? We're alrady hitting low temps in the 20's.


Sounds like it's way too late for anything to grow this year. You can still scatter & lightly tamp down the seeds now, and come springtime they'll sprout.

I try to put the seeds down about a month before soil temps drop into the 30s, so they get established before winter hits. They get a head start on root development that way.

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