Should compost be warm in winter?

Burleson, TX(Zone 8a)

OK, I turned my compost today and was sad to see it had no heat in it at all. I think I had let it dry out too much, as it was just damp, so I watered it pretty good. It's in an 8 ft across stock watering trough in which I put drainage holes, and it's two feet high. It's made up of mainly horse manure and old hay that I clean up from around their round bales after they finish one and before I put the next one out. The compost also contains kitchen plant waste, flower bed trimmings/weedings and a few layers of coffee grounds. It smells nice, but it's just not "cookin."

Any advice?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Hot compost works more quickly but is not an absolute necessity to having decay.
Being dry will affect it. Go today and see if it heated up After being turned (gets air in it) and watered.

How is your air temperature? Two feet deep can lose heat more quickly. Maybe you can push it together in the middle and get a more rounded pile.

Were there worms in it? If so I wonder if it is actually more finished than you think.

How old is the manure? Or when did you start the whole thing?

Congrats on a huge bin! I tried once and found it was too hard for me to turn the mixture.

Burleson, TX(Zone 8a)

A lot of this matter was a big pile of hay and manure behind my roundpen started in maybe July. I don't have water down there, but I thought I would haul water to it from time to time. Well, that got old quick! It just sat there, and only got an occasional half inch of rain (this is Tx, you know) after my initial two or three waterings. I had no idea it was cooking at all until I put it in the truck and added to my pile closer to the house (I didn't have the containers then).

Yes, there were tons of grub worms in it when I turned it yesterday. Is that what you mean, or earthworms? None of those.

I forgot to check for temp.

The space between the two containers is where I will turn them into when they are ready. I'm trying to turn the one on the left every 3-4 weeks. Just started the one on the right, and it will need a long time to break down. I don't have a shredder (my dream), so all my elephant ears, cannas, etc. went in there whole. As I say--long time. I'll keep adding to it until it's full, which will probably be spring or summer. That will be good, because the trimmings in there now will take much longer to decompose than the hay and poop I'll start putting in there soon.

The last pic is of some little raised beds I made last summer. I put tomatoes in the first one this summer, added lots of my compost, and had the biggest, bestest tomatoes we've ever had. Made a believer out of me. That compost is good stuff. I planted garlic (first time) a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it wouldn't sprout until spring. I guess it sprouted because it's been so unusually warm here. It's been in the 70s all week except low 80s once. Way warm for this time of year, even here. It's suppose to get down to 29 here Sunday night, so will they get bitten back, killed, or what. Do I replant?

Thumbnail by sybram Thumbnail by sybram Thumbnail by sybram
Beverly Pflugerville, TX(Zone 8b)

Sybram---I am in Texas too and today the temp was 83*. I turned my pile this morning and it too is cool, but the kitchen waste that I add almost daily continues to disappear. Think that we just have to wait for more intense sunshine shining for more hours per day. I love watching garbage rot!! It's a miracle.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Garlic- will be just fine. Up here we plant in November and I did, and mine has sprouted, and will live thru winter (zone 7) and be harvested in May I guess. Yours looks great.

Your bin started in July, sounds fine to me. Earthworns like it pretty moist so I will guess that's why you didn't see them. White grubs might be some kind of dung beetle? I'd guess that because of the manure used having been in the field (right?). I don't think they will hurt plants later . Do you get beetles eating plant leaves, like (we call) June beetles,or Asiatic garden beetles?

Any chickens to eat the grubs? THey'd love them.

Burleson, TX(Zone 8a)

I'm with you bezziec. I love making something out of nothing.

sallyg: I picked out the grubs that I saw, and that was aplenty. I thought they might be good fish bait for my sons and grandkids to use at the tank. I froze them. Ugh. They sure were big juicy ones. Yuk, stop it Syb! And yes, the manure was from the pasture and round pen. I didn't notice beetles on the plants, but I had to pick off those green horned tomato worms. I'm sure that's not the real name, but just what I call them. They get on my datura also, but that's about all.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

bezzie, I love watching stuff rot too.

sybram- I checked my latest new pile. I have a 12" layer of leaves, then I laid on couple 5 gal buckets of freshly shoveled stable cleanings. Then I dumped two five gal buckets of slimy kitchen waste collected from a couple weeks. I theorized that I should keep the kitchen waste away from my many voles, instead of giving them scraps on a platter. Anyway, then I topped with more stable stuff. Today I dug in and it is warm and steamy! It is much wetter than I would think is good, but it is happy. Outside temps in 30s to fifties (night/ day)

I know the green horned worms- we get a few here too. I had one on a Brug and forgot to pick it- the next day it started showing cocoons, and within a week was covered with cocoons, shriveled up and died. (More yuk stuff !)

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

grubs are, I think, always beetle larvae. We have them wherever I dig. Some are Japanese beetles and others (larger ones) are other, bigger beetles of other kinds.

I do try to kill Japanese beetles, by spraying with Sevin, on any plants of trees that aren't flowering. Because it would kill the honeybees as well as other friends of the garden, I do not spray where there are flowers.

Burleson, TX(Zone 8a)

We have June Bugs here. I think that's where the grubs come from. I have no idea what their real name is.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

All Scarab beetles of some kind. I've never seen a lot of them in my compost, but the extension agent when I asked, said to pick them out as they could be a kind that will cause plant damage. Japanese beetle grubs, as we know, prefer to eat grass roots.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Two feet deep can lose heat more quickly. Maybe you can push it together in the middle and get a more rounded pile.

I agree. To hold heat well, I think that 3-4 feet deep and wide are better than 2 feet. Even a 3-4 foot pile will cook best near the center, not so much in the outer 12-18 inches. To me, that is the main reason to turn a pile: to move the old outer layers into the heart of the pile.

I also agree that it will still break down eventually, even if it never gets hot. It just breaks down more slowly.

It takes a lot of heat to kill weed seeds, I guess. But I also believe that SOME weed seeds sprout and die, or are eaten by worms, if you age compost long enough.

It sounded like mostly high-nitrogen stuff, but you say it smells OK. I guess there is plenty of straw. If you have shredded paper, you could add that to see if it speeds up the burn.

I was going to suggest that anything will break down faster chopped up, then I read your remark that the clippings went in whole. Still, the straw and manure should break down. You might have to seive out or pick out the whole, woody stems when the rest is ready to use.

I usually throw woody stems and stalks to on e side of the heap, and on ly add them aftyer I have time to run the mower over them a few times. But I'm not consuistent about that. If I were consistent, I c ould skip the screening I usually do now, just before I use it. I screen the compost from the right-hand end of the heap into a big wheelbarrow, and throw the big pieces back onto the left-hand end.

When I turn the heap, part of what I do (lately) is to rake tghe dry, uncomposted outer layer from right to ledft, and turn it into the center of the left-hand side.

(My heap is more like a row, longer than it is wide or deep, and too small in every dimension to b e a real "cooker". But it gets fed high-N kitchen scraps pretty continuously, so there is always an active area which seems to digest anything that isn't woody or tough, in just a few weeks.)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

"It sounded like mostly high-nitrogen stuff, but you say it smells OK. I guess there is plenty of straw. If you have shredded paper, you could add that to see if it speeds up the burn" (corey)

But if it really is high nitrogen stuff, it should smell BAD.

Hm. Thinking about how volatile nitrogen is. Maybe this is the problem. Horse manure is not as nitrogen-hot as, say, chicken manure. It's either too dry, or too low in nitrogen. THat is where I'm placing my bets.

We know a place where we can dig from their pile of stable cleanings ( manure and urine soaked sawdust) THe material is only a week or two old, as it filled up and someone hauls it away and brings a new bin. So this stuff we just dug, brought home in trash cans, buckets, and bins. The pile I described above, got hot in the middle where the rotten vegetable stuff went. A large trash can of the manure mix, about the same size as the pile above, was not noticeably hot yesterday when I dug into it. (But it was dryer too. But not bone dry.)

The pile I made that got hot, is less than three feet across, about two feet tall in center, and the hot stuff was six or eight inches under the surface. The surface being the moist, manurey, pee-ey sawdust, made a nice blanket.

I once got to bring home four big produce boxes full of produce waste from an organic market, That wet nitrogeny stuff got the dry-brown-leaf pile hot QUICK.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I guess with a good mix and fresh, rich materials, even a small heap can heat up. At the very most, I might IMAGINE that the center of my heap is SLIGHTLY warmer than the outside. But I never have a big load of fresh stuff to add, unless it's mowed-over wood chips.

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