Worth turning a frozen pile?

pipperee(6a / 6b eastern WA)December 10, 2013

I got a nice smokin' hot pile of shredded leaves going this fall (my first leaf composting adventure), right before we went into a good freeze of single digit days and nights. I know the outside is frozen stiff and there may or may not be activity on the center (thermometer is on my Christmas list).
Now we're finally looking at some "warm" temps, with highs all the way up to the mid 30's! I'm itching to do something outside and I love turning piles. So the question is: would the pile actually heat up again after turning in mid-winter or would it just be some good physical activity for me?
And there's always the possibility that It might be more like chopping wood than pile turning if I have a giant compost ice cube...

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I vote for the ice cube. Leave it alone. The freeze/thaw cycles break up a lot of cells for you.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 6:21PM
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lonmower(zone8 Western Oregon)

Pipperee...you do not give your zone or location (shame on you!) However here in the PNW we are experiencing the exact (unseasonably frigid) weather pattern you describe. I have my working pile uncovered and even though our overnight lows were sub-zero for two nights, the center of the pile remained hot (steamy) and only a very thin crust of ice on top. It was time to turn the pile, and I did so and the new heap heated right back up. The weather is moderating is why I knew it was going to be fine. If the temps were going to continue to be arctic-like I wouldn't have turned it,

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 8:12PM
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Me,I am in the hot coffee with Irish Cream crowd when the mercury drops. Sometimes hard to say which I injoy most,working in the garden or relaxing and staring out the window dreaming about the coming spring. zzzZZzzz
For you I suggest throwing clear plastic over the pile to keep it pliable during freezing weather so you can go out and turn it.
Only teasing of course. I always say,there is no wrong way unless it's not doing it at all.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 9:19PM
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Stick a long skinny metal rod down into the center, let it sit a
min or so, pull it out and quickly feel if it's warm.
This will give you some idea if the pile is working.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 10:25PM
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pipperee(6a / 6b eastern WA)

Thank you all for your feed back.
Lazygardens: as much as I think about compost lately (Rather frightening) I hadn't considered the work the freeze/thaw cycle might do. Good point.
Lonmowner: I'm still pretty new to this and thought I had finally rigged it to post. Oops! Zone 6a, eastern WA, suffering from the same cold snap as you. Actually kicking back with a peppermint patty right now, so "suffering" isn't entirely accurate. Clear plastic idea sounds good.
And Japus, sometimes the simplest of solutions escape me. I'm definitely going to try that.
I'm curious to see what's happening in there, so between holiday madness and kicking back with spiked beverages, I'll get out there, mess around wih it a bit, and report back. Eventually...

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 1:17AM
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I believe you are destined to do well with recycling.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 3:05AM
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I think I am enjoying gardening because I love composting.Throughout winter I'm still gathering up material, discarded produce, shredded chips, horse & cow manure, bagged leaves, etc.
My wife used to try to explain to me how important "black gold" is, I just ignored her and used my bagged fertilizer's.
Now it's nothing but compost with some fish emulsion.
Last season's garden was a bonanza for me, I had plants growing that never ever grew like they did.
I believe changing over 5 raised beds to SFG gardening did the trick.
I sure love composting... winter, summer, fall, and spring.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 7:38AM
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pipperee(6a / 6b eastern WA)

I have always liked composting, but my honey built me a 3 bin system this summer & we did a bunch of work this spring to make room for a chicken coop which resulted in a lot of clippings for my new bins. Plus we now had a fresh supply of chicken manure and pine shavings. My very first hot pile, with finished (but uncured) compost in under 2 months (usually took me several years) and I was hooked.

I also am loving it because it's the one thing that went Right with my garden this summer!

Here is a link that might be useful: A Summer of Sad Soil

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 5:44PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

In this cold frigid weather, that will be the last thing for me to disturb the rhythm of an establishing compost pile. Unless I need to get an exercise real badly.
I votes for some hot warming beverage too.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 1:25AM
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The only reason a compost pile would freeze solid is that it was too wet. I have had compost piles actively working in February here. Moisture and volume are the two primary factors in whether the bacteria stay active and generate that heat. Not enough volume will allow the temperature to drop low enough to slow bacterial activity and too much moisture will exclude the air those bacteria need to function.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 6:46AM
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pipperee(6a / 6b eastern WA)

Seysonn, I do Need to get exercise pretty badly, but I still think I'll opt for the passive approach at the moment. Plus, there are rumors we're going to be lucky enough to plunge back into single digit highs next week. I think I'll leave it be for now and just get my exercise by hurrying to meet the mailman to see if any seed catalogs have arrived.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 11:13AM
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When you write 30, make sure to say if F or C!

The advice might be quite different!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:09PM
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Pipperie, you might think about (or perhaps have) deep litter management for your chickens. I change the litter once a year, building it deeply over the year with wood shavings, chipped leaves, straw, hay, seaweed, pumpkins, and treats. My 8 x 12 houses (22 birds total) are often smoking hot compost bins mid-Jan., which, besides being a great way to make compost, also keeps the chickens warm. And when it's properly managed (as kimmsr often notes) the odor of the house is inoffensive.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 5:37PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Temperatures seem to be moderating around here (33 to 45F). But still I don't want to disturb my compost. I also like to take the passive approach towards composting. Just suppose that my compost is done in 10 days (by some magical utterance ) then what am I supposed to do with it starting day 11?
I trust that the microbes and the worms will do their duty for the sake of their own survival. I am getting ready to shift into some serious seeds germination gear and growing seedlings.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 6:57PM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Happy New Year, Annpat. Nice to see you again.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 5:16AM
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Same to you, Flora. Maybe 2014 will be the year we meet!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 2:44PM
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Of these 2 images which one do you prefer ??
I know the one I love...and it aint covered in white

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 4:36PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Japus- very nice! What are the vines? I can't quite make them out. Nancy

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 8:42PM
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The 2 vines on the left are morning glories with a clematis
buried in.
Left front side of the deck is a concord grape vine, right side front is a Virginia creeper.
Mixed in around the rest of the deck are 3 young wisteria plants.
The tree in the front is a 60 year old Bartlet pear tree that gives us tons of pears every year.
Their starting to offer me lots of overhead cover in the summer...
Quite cozy don't ya think?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 9:04PM
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pipperee(6a / 6b eastern WA)

Well, I decided to happily ignore my slumbering (but active) pile and focus on fostering other fungus and bacteria in my kitchen instead by way of my first sourdough bread starter - just as much art, science, & experience is required as in composting, it seems. I needed something to keep me from rushing out to poke around In a soggy/frozen pile every other day for no good reason. Patience is a hard to come by when you're a relative newbie with a first real success under your belt (my first hot pile last summer).

Annpat - thanks for the tip about deep litter, I will definitely look into that. Composting in the chicken coop with little effort on my part while effectively managing odor- What could be better?

And I know it may place me in the demented minority, but Japus, I would Love to see my yard and garden covered in snow right now ! It's a Dry snowless winter up here in the pacific northwest and I am desperately missing the beautiful snow even as I'm dreaming of spring planting.

Happy 2014 to you all!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 1:32AM
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