Can't quite figure out this composting....

germ1280(6)July 7, 2014

So this is my first year growing a veggie garden and composting. I cant seem to get my compost pile to stay hot. I originally started with just a pile of yard clippings and kitchen scraps in a pile and it never got warm. I finally figured that I was lacking nitrogen, and then added a bunch of grass clippings. It finally started heating up and steaming for a couple days then cooled down again. I then bought a compost bin to keep it in something instead of just in a pile in the yard. It stays in direct sunlight for most of the day, but isn't getting hot anymore. It's brown, clumpy and cold. Worms, spiders and rollie pollies have made a nice home in there now. I purchased a bag of compost starter/booster hoping that it would start heating back up again, but nope! I even threw on some rubber lined gloves and sat out there breaking everything up by hand, separating clumps and removing any sticks and larger objects. Will someone PLEASE help me and let me know what I need to do!?

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This is only a problem if you are in a bit of a hurry. If you let it sit it will keep breaking down, just on what is perhaps a yearly schedule rather than a weekly one. If you have worms and bugs living in it, there's no problem that HAS to be fixed. They, along with milder things like fungi, will continue the work.

Leave the sticks.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 6:34PM
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sounds to me that you are lacking carbon not nitrogen....use shredded paper, leaves, sawdust, rice hulls etc. should have more browns or carbon materials than nitrogen for a hot pile.

This post was edited by greenthumbzdude on Mon, Jul 7, 14 at 20:32

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 8:29PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

^ correcto! I got a great book when I started called "Let it Rot!" And that is what you need to do!
Read around here, there are some great tutorials, lots of advise, great arguments about what type of compost bins, systems, lasagna, sheet composting is best.
Personally, I have 2 kind of tumblers (one I like, one I don't) that I get the compost going with, then I dump them into 2 different compost bins. That's 4 compost bins of some sort or another! LOL.
Either way, I don't hold my breath for much of a hot pile cause I'm LAZY!
I do end up with enough homegrown compost to incorporate into my several raised beds at least 1xper year.
The thing takes time.....unless you get one of those $800 double whosits makes compost in 3 weeks if you go out and turn it every 30 minutes and have the perfect blend of stuff!
Anyway, I think the thing is patience, the right blend, water, turning ad patience! Nancy

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 1:24AM
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A number of things are needed to get compost to certain temperatures and hold it there and volume is a good part of that. The minimum size I have seen to get temperatures up is 1 cubic yard, a 3 x 3 x 3 pile of material in the right ratios.
A mixture of 3 parts vegetative waste to 1 part of a high Nitrogen source has been the general rule of thumb since Sir Albert Howard first wrote about composting. Then there is moisture. The material should be just moist, not damp, not wet, moist like a well wrung out sponge.
Perhaps the linked tutorial will be of some help.
Sunlight, during the digestion stage, is not a significant factor, your bin can be in full shade and still work if all else is about right.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 6:32AM
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Sounds to me that your compost pile is simply too small.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:08PM
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Compost doesn't need to get hot and stay hot.

Mine compost nicely, if slowly, as long as they stay moist.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 9:03PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

Moist is the key. I never heard OP say anything about adding water. Add water as you are building the pile, then daily you will need more as it is used up in the process.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 9:35PM
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Too much water can also be the problem. The material in a compost pile should be no more moist then a well wrung out sponge.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 6:21AM
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Thanks for the tips...This is the bin that I'm using...2ft wide and 4ft tall, and its halfway full. Should I fill it more? I try to keep it damp (like a rung out sponge) and turn it regularly. That itself is a pain, shoveling from bottom door ( which is poorly made and doesn't stay shut) out then back into top. The cultivator tool helps too. I was going to mow today and mix in the grass clippings, but I guess I'll leave it alone for a while and see what happens....I'll definitely check out those links and books. Thanks again...

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 4:24PM
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jensyen ( z7 MD )(7a)

Your bin may be too small. That might be the problem.
My first compost heap was a 4 ft by 4 ft pile and heated up nicely. Then, I bought a bin (to keep out the animals) that was 2 1/2 ft by 2 1/2 ft & 4 ft high and it has never heated up in the 5 years I have used it. I tried so many things and it just won't get hot. It still composts, it just takes a lot longer. I have read that your pile should be at least 3' x 3' to work well.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 4:59PM
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The minimum size usually talked about for a composter that can heat up some is 1 cubic yard, 27 cubic feet, a 3 x 3 x 3 pile of material. Yours is 16 cubic feet.
Although for many the words damp and moist are synonymous for many of us long time composters they mean different things with damp being wetter then moist.
I'd suspect that the volume of the composter you have simply is too little for the bacteria to generate enough heat, even if all of the ratios are perfect even though a similar volume of grass clippings will do that, for a while.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 6:37AM
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This will make compost if you use a good mix of ingredients and keep it moist and turn it once in awhile. It will not get hot or be super fast.

If you can remove the bin entirely from the pile without having to empty it first, simply set it up next to the pile and fork the pile back in. :-] Some composters allow you to do this but I haven't seen this one in person.

At some point you'll have to stop adding and let it 'finish'. The biggest problem with having a bin need a second one. I remove the bin and start a new batch in it, then cover the pile with burlap or a little tarp to keep rain from washing it out too much, and let it finish for awhile. Meanwhile refill the bin with new stuff. When you're ready to use the other pile, throw anything not finished back into the bin.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 11:26AM
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OK...So I took everything I had that was in the bin, the pile of left over stuff next to it, and filled it to the top adding layers of paper, and a little water. I'm thinking that if it was only half full, it definitely wasn't the recommended size. I just went out there to add today's coffee grounds and gave it a little stir with the cultivator tool, and saw some steam! I dug a little deeper, and it's definitely warm again!! I'm probably going to leave it alone for a while other than stirring it. Thanks again for all the tips and help.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 12:48PM
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Heat is determined by volume and shape of your pile. The larger and more concentrated the higher the heat. Also your pile may have consumed the available N2 and is basically finished with the high activity stage. It will continue to mature even though no more heat is evolving. You can re-activate it with an addition of N2 - grass clippings, etc, and maybe a handful of high N2 fertilizer like Can-27 or Urea. Mix in the new Nitrogen source, athe fertilizer and water

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 1:03PM
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The initial bacteria that will begin digesting materials put in to compost are the mesophyllic which function at lower temperatures, in the 70 and 80 degree range. If there is enough volume and they work hard enough then the various thermophyllic bacteria begin working on the material and they generate the higher temperatures, all the way to 180 degrees (spontaneous combustion) if allowed.
To get temperatures in the 135 to 145 degree range you need volume, something larger then 27 cubic feet.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 7:15AM
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