First Hot compost

nickrosesnOctober 28, 2013

I finally decided to start a compost pile. Normally I go to our local Recology garbage company which has free compost but now that I know it can take as little as 18 days to get a completed compost I decided to try my hands at it. I mowed my lawn today and got close to 2 mowing bags worth of grass clippings and since we had strong winds the other night I went around the neighborhood collecting leaves. The pile is going to be 4'x4'x'4 will the 2 mowing bags of grass be enough or do I need to add more nitrogen material like coffee grounds, and other greens?

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Welcome to the composting crowd. There are very few that put forth the effort required to fast compost. Because I want to incourage composting,I reccomend alowing time for nature to do most of the work unless a person has lots of time and enjoys the exercise while turning the pile.
If you don't want finished compost in the shortest time possiable,you will need additional N but you can use what you have and add as N becomes available. Were clippings all you had in the bin,there would be no need for additional N nor C but because clippings mat,other material that helps airation would be of benifit.
After you hear from a few on how they go about composting you can use the collective info to establish your own method.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 12:35AM
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Whether two bags of grass clippings will be enough depends on the size of the bag. The bag that came with my small, 18 inch cut, electric mower would not have supplied a 4 x 4 x 4 bin while the large bag that came with my 48 inch cut riding mower would provide more then enough.

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost in 14 days

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 6:37AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

It's not an exact science either, so mix up what you think is a reasonable mixture and pile it up. If it gets warm, you're in good shape. If it doesn't, you needed more greens, at least for fast composting. If it gets very hot and you smell that stinky grass/ammonia odor, you've got too much grass and you're losing nitrogen. Also the very high temps (above about 160F) kill off some of the good microbes.

Observe and adjust!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 11:45AM
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This morning I went to the next street over from our house and collected two garbage cans worth of leaves from two houses. I asked both home owners and they smiled and said go ahead and come back when ever you need more leaves. I probably need another 2 or 3 garbage cans worth of leaves. Also I will be hitting up my local starbucks for UCG's.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 7:29PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Certainly the most colorful compost pile I've seen!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:52PM
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This morning I put my hand in the middle of the pile and it is becoming nice and warm. Not 160 warm but warm, so it is working.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 5:33PM
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I have a blue tarp, should I use this and put it on top of the pile? Will this help speed up the process? I have read and seen videos saying to put a tarp or something on top and to also pack the compost down but I also have herd the other way around?

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 6:29PM
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The tarp will help you control the moisture level in that compost but will not do much of anything to "speed up" the process. How fast materials are turned into finished compost depends on the mix (the C:N ratio) and the moisture in that mix. The ambient air temperature also can influence the process some since temperatures below freezing might affect the bacterial activity in the compost pile.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 6:35AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

If you're in a moderate climate, it won't do a whole lot.

If it's getting chilly out and the pile is warm, a tarp will keep heat in a little better just like a blanket would for a person. It should not be tightly sealed as air needs to get in and other gases need to get out. You wouldn't wrap yourself completely in plastic either.

Keep in mind if the pile gets dry because it's cooking, rain can't get in through the tarp. So it takes a bit of awareness and adjustment if you're going to use one.

As far as packing it down, I would not. It needs the air that's in there as well as fluff to allow air to flow, especially during the hot phase. Let it settle on its own.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 12:52PM
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I doubt if you will reach 160F, maybe not even my usual 130F for fall leaves in my area (zone 6).

The limiting factor is that the leaves have not been shredded --- or at least appear not to have been so from the picture.

Shredding leaves (once with chipper/shredder, four times with my push mower), offer a lot more leaf surface area for nature to work with. Also, with whole leaves, there may be too much air in the pile. Put a tarp on top and weigh down with a few pieces of firewood. That last comment was just for you -- a compost pile of the proper sized ingredients should not be compressed.

Your compost thermometer will keep you informed about the core temps of your pile. If you don't already have one, spend the twenty bucks or so.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 4:43PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

My hottest piles were unshredded leaves and grass, when I overshot on the grass content. 180F in November.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:47PM
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@robertz6- You are right that not all of the leaves are shredded. I have used the weed wacker on some of the piles of leaves but not all. But I have noticed that after emptying the trash cans of leaves I have collected around the neighborhood that they have been broken up a lot.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:56PM
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Yesterday I went to two houses and collected 2 1/2 95gallon garbage cans worth of leaves. So that will go towards my second hot compost.

This is the current compost I have going and everytime I turn it I get a wonderful earthy smell.

Next two pictures are of the leaves I collected yesterday.

I will be collecting even more leaves for mulch but also backup for possibly a 3rd or 4th compost and this is where I will store them.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 4:16PM
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I started the compost on October 28th and it has not finished yet. I was trying the 18 day hot compost, that has been talked about. It does get hot in the middle and breaks up any veges I put in the middle by the time I turn it every 3 days. It does seem like it has slowed down a little bit. I have added about 4 gallons of UCG. Should I be adding more greens/UCG? The compost smells good, so I guess I could keep adding greens until it smells slightly bad and then back off.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2013 at 5:31PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

That's one way to find the edge of the zone. One thing about continually adding stuff is that it extends the time until the compost is completely finished. You sound like you're having fun with it, which is almost as important as the compost itself.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 10:42AM
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It seems like I will need to move the pile into a different area so it gets full sun. Maybe that will help to get it warm and then the microbes will start to work faster again.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 9:30PM
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Let me compliment you on your bin. Nice to see a newbie appreciating the best bin method.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 12:17AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I think, starting a compost in cold weather with fall leaves , is like starting a camp fire with some wet stuff. once it starts to get going finally, you should not disturb it, but try to keep it war by adding little bit more on top.
That being said, I thing trying to disturb (TURN ?) a new compost pile , every 3 days is a TOO MUCH of disturbance and messing up with its rhythm. JMO

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 8:03AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Nick! Relax! I'm up in your neighborhood (Sonoma CO), and normally, I just dump the kitchen stuff and UCGs in, then top with shredded leaves and let the rain take care of things (what rain?)
If it's nice out, I'll tip the pile over into another bin, but usually it's too rainy to bother with it!
I just use either a weed weasle (or something like that, has tines that make it easy to turn the stuff)or a pitch fork to fluff and turn things.
I almost always have a great crop of compost by spring!
I usually dump some of the not quite done compost on the asparagus bed cause I can't till it into the Gus bed. It needs to hang in and I usually top with soil and leaves if I have them.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 9:53PM
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"It seems like I will need to move the pile into a different area so it gets full sun."

Nope, it makes no difference if the pile gets sunlight or not.

Put that dog to work. He was on his way over to the compost pile in one of your pictures. I assume you had trained him to urinate on the pile.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 1:58PM
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I am on my way to building my own hot compost bin and have read a fair amount on it so far. I think your biggest problem is that the pile just isn't big enough to keep the heat in. The larger the pile, the better it insulates the inner portions of the pile and helps keep it hot. The Berkeley method requires your pile to be at least 1.5m (5 feet) high, and other sources that measured the insulation value of compost recommend a 2 x 2 x 2m (6.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 ft) pile to keep the heat in.

I don't have that kind of space in my yard or volume of waste, so I'm looking at building an insulated compost bin. The HOTBIN website has lots of great information regarding insulated compost bins, but their product is over $300 and ships from the UK (I'm in Canada).

I'm currently experimenting with insulating a plastic wine making barrel.

To help monitor my temperatures, I converted a $2 fridge thermometer that has a probe length of 1 meter and it is working great! Best nerdy composting buy I've ever made.

Here is a link that might be useful: My hot composting attempts and tricks

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 2:23AM
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