Why no bones in compost?

kjirstynOctober 18, 2012

I go through a lot of chickens that are free range, organic meat, and I hate to waste the bones. I've read in gardening memoirs and "story" books (not encylopedia or how-to types) of folks tossing a dead animal in their compost. Then there's the fact that we have to buy bone and/or blood meal for various plants, so it is a component of successful gardening.

So what exactly is the problem with throwing high quality bones into a compost pile? Is it a temperature thing? My compost is in the beginning stages and living in rubbermaid crates, so with one of them I did toss in some bones to experiment with and so far that crate's contents are breaking down faster than the rest of them which looks like success to me.

No compost books I've found refer to how to make bone meal or why some folks talk about tossing animals into the mix-- they just say, black and white: no meat or dairy. Please help me understand this if you have any knowledge-- I would LOVE to be able to redeem some chicken carcasses. :-)

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    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 1:20PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)


we put all scarps in our gardens, so the soil structure critters can clean it all up if blanched bones become and issue we can collect them as we find them for removal, but that never happens we put our mussel/oyster shells in the garden as well, they can act as moisture traps.

all we need to look out for is rats/mice and we have bait stations to control them.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens straw bale garden

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:02PM
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They don't compost, at least in my bin. Bones last as long as peach pits, and they last forever.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:20PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I compost bones and my compost is not hot. They go eventually and I don't mind a few bones around in the soil. Rats can be a nuisance but I have wire screening on the bin and disturb it pretty often (I'd hesitate to call it 'turning'- that sounds too organised for what I do.)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 4:58PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Chicken and turkey bones, being birds, are mostly hollow so they compost much better than pig or cow bones. It also helps to bash them a bit to give them a head start.

Varmints is really the only reason to keep them out.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 6:10PM
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Awesome, thanks for all the input! I'm not too worried about the rat/mice issue since that's pretty easily dealt with, and we don't seem to have too much else bothering gardens around here-- stray cats, maybe. :-)

My compost is in enclosed bins and will be moved to an enclosed tumbler next spring, so I think we'll be fine. I don't mind bones in the dirt-- they'll break down eventually and I've read story after story of trees winding their roots around old skeletons and such, so I'm guessing that whole or otherwise, the garden will benefit. :-)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:00PM
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My pile wouldn't get turned if it weren't for rats. They leave nice little piles of finished compost that I can put in a bucket and take away to the garden.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:40PM
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It's a varmint thang ... I have composted entire dead pigeons by burying them in the top foot or so of the piles. Make sure you have plenty of "browns" and make thin layers of bones.

As long as you don't have the bins where they are accessible to rats, dogs, or wildlife such as coyotes, bears and raccoons you should be fine.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 3:13PM
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After two years of composting, and a certain amount of experience, I started putting small and medium size fish in the core of a hot pile (130F or higher). They dissolve in less than ten days. The dog took no interest in the pile, and no other pest animals have disturbed things.

Some dogs may be more intrusive, and no racoons are in the area. The piles are at least feet in diameter and the usual height is two feet. No bones have ever been found, but the fish range from bluegill to two pound size.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 4:11PM
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My soil test said I need Phosphorus. I bought some bone meal, but have started saving chicken bones too, because we have a ANCIENT dog who is getting picky, she's 16 years old, so she gets chicken and Barley now and then. I bury the bones under some of my oak trees. But I was wondering if the bone meal is the best organic phosphorus source for veggie growing/beds?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 3:09AM
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Bones, added whole, are difficult for the bacteria that would be converting your material into compost to digest and they might attract unwanted critters. Grinding them before placing in the compost pile would solve both problems.
We bought this property 40 some years ago and I am still finding bones they buried before then.
Bone meal may not be the best source of Phosphorus since the form it is in, in the bones, is not something readily available to plants and needs to be converted by the Soil Food Web first, or steamed. The link below may provide some information for those interested.

Here is a link that might be useful: About bone meal

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 6:38AM
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I bury chicken and fish in my compost at least a foot down and I haven't had any critter problems. Any larger bones I bury a foot or two below a tree or perennial plant I'm planting that will be there for awhile.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 10:24PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I don't have 'varmints', unless you count the occasional enterprising cat.
My piles are covered in carpet, so they don't generally bother.
I actually enjoy seeing things again and again. I have a slightly eccentric relationship with my compost: "Hello avocado stone/corncob/bone, nice to see you again".
Btw, this is a purely internal dialogue with my compost, so it's ok, right?
I've heard of people burning and crushing bones too...

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 7:43AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

No one here will think you're weird for talking to your compost. Just make sure 'normal' people aren't within earshot. :-p

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 12:12PM
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I tend to put anything that will degrade eventually in the compost bin. Bones, dairy, pits. I take out the usable compost and the rest of it goes back for another round. Itseems like a lot of people only compost things that degrade quickly. In a tumbler or sealed bins you shouldn't have any pest issues. I do bury bones and dairy in the middle of the pile. I haven't used chicken bones, beef and pork so far.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:49PM
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When I went salmon fishing in the fall, I could legally bring home 9 fish weighing 10 -20 lbs. (Friends went along)
I would clean the fish for everyone and place the remains of all these fish in my garden, buried about 6-10 inches.
separated and inline.
This was usually in Oct, I would till the area where the fish were buried in June and never had a trace of these remains.
An odor and small pockets of secretions were noticed, however all mixed up in the tilling.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2013 at 11:51PM
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There's a guy with farm-sized compost piles - built with a front end loader - who composts horses and cows. I forget where I saw it online, but it might have been a forum several years old now. I'm pretty sure he pulled out the bones and hooves.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 12:55AM
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Jon, that thread is over at Homesteading today.

Here is a link that might be useful: Extreme Composting

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 1:30AM
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The only reason that I stopped putting (cooked) bones in the compost is because they become very splintery and I don't like my dog finding them.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 11:28AM
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