Reactivating a (large) cold compost pile with something liquid?

Puglogic(4)April 25, 2013

Hi all,
New here, so I hope this is an acceptable question for this forum :)

We find ourselves with a rather large compost pile at our community garden.....far too big to be managed with a couple of folks with forks. But the pile has gone cold, I think because of too much carbon and not enough nitrogen over the winter, and we're looking for ways to charge it back up again...WITHOUT the ability to mix in juicy solids like grass clippings or manure.

I'm wondering if anybody has every kick-started a cold compost pile with something liquid? Is there a high-nitrogen liquid that we could saturate the pile with, turn it as best we can, and it will start to "cook" again? Any ideas on that?

Thanks in advance for any idea, no matter how "out there" they are :)


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Any reasonable liquid nitrogen fertilizer should do the job. But, its effect will probably be short lived, lasting no longer than the nitrogen source. If you're going to do that my vote would be fish emulsion, generally available at Lowes or HD.

A few added questions / thoughts...

Can you break your large pile into two or more easily managed smaller piles? That would allow you to turn it more readily, which it will need anyway even if you get the beastly pile reignited.

If you can't turn or move it by hand, know anyone who has a tractor with a front end bucket?

If you can manage the pile(s) more actively, then grass clippings or manure would be great N sources. Another one that is good and can really get things going is alfalfa meal, generally available at feed stores. Blood meal works too.

Hopefully Mr. Lloyd will come along - he is the master of large piles and does it up in Manitoba in large windrows. Maybe he'll put up the link to his pics.

edit - an afterthought ... have you considered taking that pile and transforming it into a sheet composting arrangement ? If you have a bit of extra garden space that might be particularly attractive given your current situation.

This post was edited by TXEB on Thu, Apr 25, 13 at 10:58

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 10:17AM
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Piss on it.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 12:23PM
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I still can't edit my posts.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 12:25PM
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Allen is correct! the easiest, fastest, cheapest, and most available liquid "compost charger" is definitely urine! I prefer it to be diluted w/ water -- for multiple reasons -- but it's what I use when I'm faced with way too many leaves.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 6:46PM
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david52 Zone 6

If the pile is dryish, you could take a few gallon jugs of household ammonia (the stuff for cleaning floors), dilute it by 10:1, and pour that on.

If the pile is wet, then don't use as much, nor dilute it as much.

/confesses to using household ammonia as nitrogen source, when just a bit is needed for a tiny boost.....

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 7:39PM
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Is your community garden strictly organic? If not you could buy a bag of pure nitrogen fertilizer, mix that in, and make sure the pile is damp.

More organic altho not necessarily strictly Organic are alfalfa pellets/meal, blood meal, or any seed meals (cottonseed, corn, soy, etc.) Of course these are not liquid but do work to help a pile heat. If you really want liquid you can mix alfalfa pellets/meal with a bucket of water and pour it on.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 10:26PM
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That compost pile may have gone "cold" because it is too wet. Spraying some liquid Nitrogen on it probably will do little iin that case and whatever you spray on that pile may just run off and not in.
Some liquid containing N might be of some help if the pile is turned, is fairly dry, and is sprayed on as the material is turned.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 6:43AM
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IMO not enough information to come up with a diagnoses. It would be like diagnosing lung cancer because a person coughed.

Having said that, if there are no questionable materials in the pile, there is nothing wrong with a cold compost pile. It will decompose if the ingredients are there. Personally, I'd rather go that route than add N, find out that wasn't the issue, and end up with a stinky mess.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 11:05AM
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Why try anything until the real problem is determined. Find someone who can tell you what the problem is. A photo may or may not be enough to figure it out.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 5:34PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I've heard that something sweet will get things going again! A lady from freecycle gave me bags of some sort of liquid (dextrose?????) from her deceased husband (a diabetic) and swore it was the best in gardens and compost piles! It also draws ants!
I haven't tried it yet, but when the use by date runs out, hospitals just dump it!
Might be worth a try! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 9:16PM
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That sounds like Peritoneal Dialysis Solution.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 9:56PM
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dextrose = glucose -- one of the simplest sugars and basic for life. A 5 wt % solution in water (D5W) is a standard intravenous solution.

As a simple sugar, dextrose will be a very fast acting carbon source. It would probably be good for chewing up excess nitrogen, or accelerating microbial nitrogen consumption either in compost or soil. And yeah, ants would love the stuff.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 11:27PM
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