White/grey "powder" in hot compost pile?

AlexInAlbanyJanuary 20, 2014

Hey everyone!

I've been reading and benefitting from this forum for quite some time now, so I figured it's time to join the fun.

Anyway, I have a question about my hot compost pile... First, a little background. I originally built the pile in late December using approximately 50-60% dry brown leaves (mixed with a little rice straw), and 40-50% green yard clippings supplemented with some dry (baled) alfalfa. This was moistened, mixed, and piled about 3 ft high in a roughly 4x4 chicken wire enclosure. I turn it about every 3-4 days, and it's consistently reaching 130-140 degrees between each turning (I turn when the temp seems to start dropping). I'm shooting for something kindof like the "Berkeley Method"; frequent turning for fast composting.

On to my question... Each time I turn the pile, I see quite a lot of powdery grey/white material in the hottest zones. I believe this material to be actinomycetes. Is it bad for these guys to dominate the pile like they are? Should I be doing something differently? It seems to be composting rather quickly, but I just want to be sure I'm growing the proper microorganisms for healthy compost. I have read posts from people who mention a little bit of white/grey being no problem, but in my pile it seems pretty substantial.

I'd love to hear any thoughts about what I could do differently.

Thanks in advance,

Alex

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paleogardener(9)

Actinomycetes in quantity is quite normal & I bet you have no bad odor problem. This same bacteria is responsible for the humus-y woodsy smell that is present in the forest. Have fun & never stop composting.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 5:07PM
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AlexInAlbany

Paleogardener- Thanks for the quick reply! You are right. No bad odor whatsoever; just the fresh, earthy aroma.

I guess I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. With a little luck (and manual labor...), this batch should be ready before I plant spring/summer veggies. The winter veggies will have to make due with some castings from my worm bins.

Thanks again.

Cheers,

Alex

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 5:45PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I see that most often in hot piles made of grass clippings and leaves, just like your pile.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 11:32AM
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lazy_gardens

Is it bad for these guys to dominate the pile like they are? Should I be doing something differently? It seems to be composting rather quickly, but I just want to be sure I'm growing the proper microorganisms for healthy compost.

Considering how hard it is to kill actinomycetes, you will be relieved to know that it's OK for them to be abundant.

Basically, compost happens. Pile it up and it's a self-directed process.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 9:03PM
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ericwi

If your pile is generating significant amounts of powdery residuals, you might want to consider wearing a mask when turning the pile. I am aware of one person who landed in the hospital with a persistent lung infection that was thought to have been caused by turning a compost pile. The infection was successfully treated with antibiotics, but it took a week or so, as I remember.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 10:37PM
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AlexInAlbany

Ericwi- Thanks for the heads up. I've heard about that story, too. I haven't been wearing a mask, but I have been careful not to take in a deep breath of the stuff.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 6:32PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Definitely something to watch out for. A properly damp pile shouldn't cause any problems for the average person. I don't worry about it unless there is a visible cloud of dust coming up. That's usually when both the weather and the pile have been hot, so it's dry.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 11:34AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Perhaps the pile is a bit too dry?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 4:05PM
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AlexInAlbany

Last time I turned the pile, it was on the dry side. I moistened it down as I mixed, so we should be back on track.

Thanks, all!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 7:27PM
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