My compost is cold

organic_buckApril 27, 2014

Decided to try composting for the first time. Last fall, I collected a garbage can full of grass clippings and a garbage can full of leaves. I mixed the grass and leaves in a pile in the garden and made sure it was damp, threw in some garden dirt,then covered. It was cooking last fall but the cold Iowa winters took care of that. I have been adding vegetable peelings and coffee grounds also but the pile is probably 95% grass and leaves. Now that the temps have finally warmed up I've been expecting the pile to heat up but it is cold. Looking at it, it looks like it's all leaves. Wondering if I have lost my nitrogen source. I was hoping to add this batch to my garden when I till in the next week or so but I read somewhere that unfinished compost will actually steal nitrogen from your garden. I would sure appreciate some advice! Thanks in advance.

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Howdy Buck,I see that you have been around GW for a few years , welcome to soil and composting. By comparison your 8 or 10 cu ft is far smaller than needed for hot composting. But that's no reason to give up altogeather. It only takes longer to make compost in small batches and plants love just the same. There are a few different avanues you might take at this point. One is to bury or till the material between rows where it will continue to decompose. You could also spread it between rows or simply mulch around plants with it if the area is protected from wind that might scatter the material. Any of those will help maintaine moisture and eventualy enrich the soil. There are some here that do small batches and I'm sure they will have other suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 3:58AM
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The material in a compost pile should be moist, damp may be too wet and a too wet mixture will not heat up. However, it may also be too little Nitrogen in the mix.
Burying undigested organic matter in soil can cause the Soil Food Web to spend their time and energy working on that which will cause a temporary Nitrogen deficiency which could cause plant growth problems. However, if that same material is laid on the soil, as a mulch, that will not be a problem.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 6:44AM
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Think of it another way. Even when you put green plant material in the pile, it will eventually dry up and turn brown, if it isn't already used up in some way.

Brown piles will eventually break down but as you are concerned about wanting a hot pile, then you do need to regularly add green materials.

With spring here, you should be able to get lots of green plant material, but don't forget that pretty much any time you cook vegetables or eat fruits, you also have a source of green materials.

For example, some people eat watermelons now and then, and we might usually just toss the rind, but that entire watermelon rind is awesome green material that would be great in a big pile of leafy compost. That's just one watermelon.

When we really think about all the greens we generate, waiting for spring grass to grow and get mowed is actually a very small percentage of what might go into the compost as a green material.

Same for the browns. When we don't have dead leaves in the spring and summer, we still have plenty of newspaper, paper, junk mail, cardboard, paper towels, etc

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 11:25AM
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Thanks for the replies. I think I'll till it in between the rows. The wind blows a lot around here. My garden is 200 sq. ft. so I only have about 1/2" to till in. Guess I need to get an earlier start for next year and think a little bigger!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 2:31PM
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An earlier start for next year's compost needs is to start it this year.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say 1/2". You can trench compost almost the same items you would throw in a compost pile, but you can do it to about 6-12".

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:45PM
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I have just made a bin out of left over cedar fencing so I will start filling it soon for next year. What I meant by 1/2" is that if I spread my compost evenly across my garden, it would be about 1/2" deep. I will till it in several inches.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 7:16AM
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