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Speeding Up Composting

Posted by rocksinthehead (My Page) on
Wed, Dec 11, 13 at 16:05

I was wondering what there is for speeding up composting. I want to use it for general use but mainly for tough things like pine needles and saw dust. I considered lye but found out it's not organic it's a metal. I am considering stump removal powders. I was wondering about acids and bases, if any thing would be good that wouldn't turn the compost toxic and could be neutralized later. Say for instance start some needles and sawdust in an accelerator and after it has broken down a lot make it safe to put with the rest of the compost pile.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Pine Needles are on the acidic side (but not extremely so). Lye, on the other hand, is extremely alkaline. (Or did you mean lime?)

Saw dust is very carbon-heavy and contains compounds that take a while to break down.

If you're talking dropped pine needles & sawdust--those are entirely carbon (or "browns"). What you need is nitrogen (or "greens"). Nitrogen + Carbon + water + oxygen + time = compost.

The easiest way to get things going would be to add some urea to your pile, unless you have other sources of nitrogen available. There's lots of info on this forum to that effect.

If it were mine, I'd let a batch cook, and if I were concerned about the ph, I'd send a sample of finished compost to your local ag extension to have a soil test done on it. My guess is that if you have a compost that was heavy in pine needles to start with, if you used it as an ammendment to existing soil, it's not going to alter the ph that much. But over several years, maybe. Only way to know for sure is to have it tested.

But yeah… I'd stay away from lye in the compost. That stuff is very caustic, and will likely screw with the ph big time. Not to mention it'll surely kill any bacteria that it comes in contact with.

Just my $0.02


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

How fast any material is digested by the bacteria depends on what the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio is, ie. how much Nitrogen is in the mix versus how much Carbon there is. Every type of material has a C:N ratio, pine needles range from 60 to 110 to 1, but also have a protective coating that slows digestion down.

I've not seen Sodium Hydroxide, lye, classified as a metal before, but it will contribute nothing to compost. Perhaps the link provided will be of some help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Composting is a biological process, and harsh chemicals are generally not going to help the little critters do their work.

One thing about wood is that in nature, fungi often do the first step of breaking the fibers and cells down, and bacteria move in to feed on the remains. Fungi are not necessarily fast at this job. If you want fast compost, don't start with sawdust or wood chips. Get the C:N ratio right (add N if you have to), moisture, air, turning, and inoculate with a bit of soil or finished compost. The compost 'accelerator' products MAY work, but I haven't used them.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

I'm not expecting finished compost over night. But one of the reasons I considered lye is that I read it controls odor. I figured if I could get the things like kitchen scraps composted faster so they don't attract bugs like gnats it would help. So the speed isn't so much the main reason it's the pests. Does lye control odor or is there some thing better to use? I tried to use window screen mesh over the top of my bin last year but the gnats still got through. Right now I am using storage bins, 18 gal. or larger so there is a size limit, I can't bury the scraps too deep.


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Odors from a compost pile are an indication of a problem with that compost. A putrid odor generally indicates the material is too wet and is undergoing anaerobic digestion. A too wet compost pile will also be more apt to have unwanted pests, they need moisture for the eggs they lay to hatch.
An odor of ammonia can indicate the pile has too much Nitrogen in relation to the Carbon.
Would lye mask undesirable odors? Yes, for a while. But if the cause of the odors is not corrected the problem will continue.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

I was wondering what there is for speeding up composting. I want to use it for general use but mainly for tough things like pine needles and saw dust.

The best thing for pine needles and sawdust is close contact with things like kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, lawn clippings, pulled weeds, etc. In other words, use them as part of the regular compost pile.

The two best accelerators for composting are : water and nitrogen

I've successfully composted tree chippings by keeping it moist and adding a light sprinkling of commercial high-nitrogen fertilizer between layers of chipped trees.

Make a mixed pile and keep it damp.

I considered lye but found out it's not organic it's a metal. No, it is not a metal any more than table salt is a metal or a toxic gas. It's NaOH (sodium hydroxide).

I am considering stump removal powders. They are basically fertilizer concentrates - potassium nitrate, or urea powder.

Say for instance start some needles and sawdust in an accelerator and after it has broken down a lot make it safe to put with the rest of the compost pile.

You are making it too much work ... just pile it up and keep itr damp and you can't prevent compost from happening.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

I figured if I could get the things like kitchen scraps composted faster so they don't attract bugs like gnats it would help. So the speed isn't so much the main reason it's the pests.

Your pile is too wet. Adding pine needles and sawdust layers between the layers of kitchen scraps will help.

Starting with a thick (5-6 inches) layer of sawdust, shredded paper and pine needles will soak up some of the excess liquids that are causing the anaerobic stink.

Does lye control odor or is there some thing better to use? It's main odor control use is shoveled in layers across the contents of a pit toilet ... not a compost heap.

A well-balanced compost heap will not stink and will not be breeding insects.

Right now I am using storage bins, 18 gal. or larger so there is a size limit, I can't bury the scraps too deep. You need better ventilation for those tubs, and some way to drain any excess moisture out the bottom.

Drill LOTS of hole in them.

Composting works best in open-sided bins where there is plenty of air circulation and a pile big enough to develop a nice microbe population.


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Agreed, if you have odor and insect problems the pile is too wet, not enough air, and/or too much greens (nitrogen) and not enough browns (carbon).

BTW, what you're thinking with lye probably applies to LIME, which is calcium carbonate, i.e. ground limestone. It's pH is more like 8-8.5, and it can be used that way. Also, horse stables use lime that has been cooked and converted to hydrated lime (Ca(OH)2), which has a pH more like 12 along the lines of lye (NaOH). It will suppress manure odors, but it will throw the pH way too high. Those guys are not trying to make compost for gardening so they don't care. Better not to use it in a compost setting.

Focus on managing the moisture/air/CN ratio and see what happens. Observe, adjust and report back!


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Thanks for the info. The odor I meant was what attracts fruit flies. If you set out a banana peal it attracts them for instance.


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I do not bin compost much because of nitrogen evaporation. I prefer direct composting. But I do pile compost wood chips. I spray them with honey water to speed up the decomposition. Kicks the bacteria into high gear. Then I can use them for mulching much sooner.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden For Nutrition


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" But I do pile compost wood chips. I spray them with honey water to speed up the decomposition. Kicks the bacteria into high gear."

You know, I was thinking about this kind of thing a day or two ago. Some how I compared it to making wine/beer and yeast being in the fungi family (if I have it correct) which is one of the best decomposers. Then I saw on the web, Bokashi, is Japanese for fermented organic matter, used in composting.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

I found this just now......

"Bokashi means fermented organic matter in Japanese. Bokashi composting uses a selected group of microorganisms to anaerobically ferment organic waste. The microorganisms are applied using a impregnation carrier such as wheat bran. The fermentation process breaks the organic matter down in a process that is odor free. The process is very fast and usually takes less than two weeks. Once the fermentation has completed you can add the scraps to a worm bin or bury them directly in the soil. Since the process is done in a closed system you don't have to worry about insects and smells making it ideal for urban or business settings. Unlike more conventional composting systems bokashi systems can break down heavier items like meat, fish and cheese."

Sounds like some thing to really look into.


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Oh ya, here is where I got that from.....

http://growgreatfull.blogspot.com/2011/08/bokashi-oh-my-gosh.html .


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Although some people will try to make composting into rocket science it is not. Sir Albert Howard told us over 100 years ago how to build a proper compost pile and that has not changed since, Mix 3 parts vegetative waste to 1 part animal manure just as the people in Indore had been doing for centuries and that will become the compost you want with very little fuss and muss.
Since many of us today do not have access to animal manure we have to substitute other materials, but the basic principle remains. What will speed up the composting process is the C:N ratio, the right amount of moisture in the mix, the right amount of air in the mix, particle size that is not too large, and then allowing the bacteria the time they need to work.
The pH of pine needles is in the 6.0 to 6.5 range, slightly acidic and considerably closer to neutral then tree leaves, so anything anyone has heard about pine needles acidifying soil is a myth,


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Anybody has an opinion on adding household ammonium to compost pile ? How much to add ? how much to dilute it ?


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Ammonia is a compound of Nitrogen and has been used as a substitute for N, but it can be more expensive then other forms of N. Since household Ammonia is already diluted to about 5 percent why would you need to dilute it more?


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

My opinion on buying anything to add to compost? (except water)

It's a waste of money. Compost doesn't need "starters", doesn't need supplements, it just needs time and moisture.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Well said, "lazygardens". THANKS.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Ammonia has been used by some as a source of Nitrogen for many years, however, there are other forms of N that are less expensive. Household Ammonia has already been diluted to 5 percent so why would you think it needs to be diluted more?
How much to use depends on how much material you have and what other sources of N have been added to the mix.


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Household ammonia will also have a very high pH even at 5%. If one were in desperate need of N, it could be used, but I'd dilute it at least another 10 times or more, and use it to water the compost.

But, I have to agree that it's not worth it to buy things for the compost. Make use of your supply of patience, which is already on the shelf and doesn't cost anything.

As far as odors and fruit flies, always cover fresh additions of food waste. It's good to have a pile of browns (leaves, straw, wood chips etc.) handy to do that. They might smell it but they can't get to it to feed & breed very easily.


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The reason I was inquiring about adding Ammonium( NH4not ammonia NH3 !?) to compost pile, was to act as a catalyst to speed up the process a bit. The same way you add greens, manure and other stuff.
And I was not going to take a second mortgage on the. Just to buy ONE gallon of it, IF IT CAN BE EFFECTIVE as a catalyst.

I read on the net that actually ammonium(NH4) is one of the nitrogen forms available to the plants. So it is mot really a harsh chemical at 5%.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

It is certainly a strong 'green' whether you use the liquid form (commonly called household ammonia) or in solid form such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer (commonly used in solid fertilizers). If your pile is low in N, either of these will definitely speed things up.

5% ammonia solution is actually ammonia (NH3) dissolved in water, because NH3 is a gas at ambient temp and pressure (or a liquid when compressed, which is what farmers use in those tanks to inject NH3 gas into the ground). When mixed with water, ammonia reacts to produce ammonium and hydroxide ions (NH4+ and OH-). The production of OH- is what makes the solution highly alkaline.

In ionic form the ammonium is not volatile. However, there is an equilibrium going on, and not all of it is in the NH4+ form, which is why you smell ammonia gas (NH3) when you open the lid.

And yes it is a harsh chemical, not because of the NH4+ but because of OH- formed when it reacts with water. If it were in salt form - ammonium nitrate for example - the pH is essentially neutral.

Just be careful if you use it. We just don't want you to kill your compost pile by driving the pH to 11. :-]


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

Thanks toxcrusader, for your informative input.
Hear is what I will do:
== I will dilute it 10 folds.
== I will add it to some leaves in a trash can and let it sit.
== Then , after seeing what has been happening in the can, I will add it to the pile.

My climate is not very favorable for composting here. My compost pile is in the shade. Besides I don't have greens , I dont do composting kitchen scrap(because of the troubles and odor (for neighbors sake).
I can always get a cubic yard of compost from the nursery down the road for $45. So winter composting is mostly for amusement.


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I have a plastic bin with a lid where all the kitchen scraps go, no odors, and the neighbors don't seem to mind it. It's amazing how much volume is generated from the average kitchen, and it's rich in nutrients. But, you gotta do what works in your situation.


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The main reason I do not bin or pile compost most of the time is because of nitrogen loss through ammonia evaporation. Composting studies done at Washington State demonstrated that if you make as little as a 5% mistake in C/N ratio, you could lose 30-50% of your nitrogen. If you get it perfect there is very little loss, but even professionals have a hard time getting it perfect every time. Plus you lose 10-15% during distribution alone.

Except for wood chip piles, I do not want to speed up decomposition. Most organic growers are looking for seeds selected to grow well in a high residue environment. There are many crops that grow mostly roots at first and do not want much nitrogen until they hit their growth phase which is usually about 6-8 weeks after sprouting. The slow release of decaying matter is just about right. Plus there is less leaching of nitrogen if it is only produced and released slowly as it is needed. Less ground water pollution.

Since I usually direct compost, I might spray a little honey water if I need to plant quickly and I am working in sunflower or okra stalks. Otherwise, I just work in last years residue, wait at least 2 weeks and then plant high residue tolerant seeds. But then that only works if you have highly bio-active soil already.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden For Nutrition

This post was edited by GreeneGarden on Fri, Dec 20, 13 at 22:37


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Anyone that looses 30 to 50 percent of the Nitrogen during the composting process is making many mistakes and needs to look closely at what they are doing. That much N loss would be very noticeable as a strong ammonia odor would be present.


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If there are studies on that, I would be curious to read some of that.


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Right now my purpose of composting is to make organic matter for soil amendment and not so much fertilizer. I am not an organic gardener. I use both organic fertilizers (manures) and synthetic ones. So we all have priorities and ways to do things.


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Composting ammonia escape study.
Unfortunately, some of the detail from the original study has been removed.
But you can see that from 22 to 20.5 N/C ratio, there is a major escape of ammonia.
There is also a major escape of ammonia on the other end.
And you lose some during turning and distribution.

Here is a link that might be useful: Washington State Study

This post was edited by GreeneGarden on Tue, Dec 24, 13 at 9:21


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Very large amounts of Nitrogen will gas off from any pile of organic matter, compost, animal manure, etc. as ammonia. If someone is loosing large amounts of Nitrogen from their compost then they have made errors that can be corrected, usually by adding more carbon material.
Nitrogen loss from composting will most often be because the person that built the compost pile did something wrong., and that is what that study from Washington State University indicates.


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RE: Speeding Up Composting

I agree, if you do it properly, there is little loss except during turning and distribution. But from my own experience and seeing lots of other peoples compost piles, getting the mix exactly right is hard since you have fluctuating availability of materials and quality and the best techniques are a little complicated and require more work. Since direct composting almost always loses next to nothing and requires very little work, to me it seems the better bet. But I cannot deny, that is because I do not grow the crops that are the most demanding: spinach, peppers, tomato, etc. They are too high in anti-nutrients anyway. And I grow crops that thrive in a high residue environment: collards, turnip, kale, okra, etc.

I just think it is important for people to understand. No system is perfect but they do have options. There are advantages and disadvantages of each system.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden For Nutrition

This post was edited by GreeneGarden on Tue, Dec 24, 13 at 9:54


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I will take a look at that study, very interesting. It sounds like you're saying N can be lost even at a CN ratio well below the 30:1 'rule of thumb' level.

So the next question is, has anyone measured offgassing of N from sheet composting, i.e. the way nature lays organic matter in a thin layer on top of the ground. In other words, do we actually know it is any better than pile composting in that respect?


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I found a reasonably good youtube eOrganic webinar from U.C. Davis
where they explain how important it is not to use too readily available
sources of nitrogen in gardens / farms in order to prevent nitrogen
loss due to leaching.

Essentially they are trying to get farmers / gardeners to think
more about how to tightly couple nitrogen production with
usage.
This prevents nitrogen loss due to leaching.
Having high organic matter in the soil that has not completely broken
down is seen as the ideal way to achieve this.
Also crops with high enzyme levels are important.

My interpretation is that it is important not to view composting
always as the ideal pathway to completely break down all organic matter
because then it will be too readily available.

Admittedly, it is not a black and white world.
Soils with high organic matter can accommodate and process even
more organic matter than soils with low organic matter.
They already have a highly active microbial community.

In other words, if I had soils that had very little organic matter
and therefore very little microbial activity, I would probably compost
organic matter fairly well before incorporating it into the soil.
But then as the microbial activity increases I would pile or bin compost
less and use direct composting more so as to increase the organic matter
and microbial activity even more.
Then I would look for plants which tolerate high residue soils.
The researchers admit they need more research to draw up better
guidelines as to how much un-decomposed organic matter is ideal because
it depends so much on soil, weather, and crops.

And the researchers admit they need more research to identify which
crops and varieties have the highest enzyme levels to assist with organic
matter breakdown.
But those of us with a lot of gardening experience can probably make some
educated guesses.
Spinach and bell peppers seem to be on the low root enzyme end.
Tomato seems to be on the low to medium end depending on variety.
I would probably always bin or pile compost to some degree with
these crops.

Anyway, the researchers seem to be going the 'Let us conserve our
nitrogen better' direction.
One reason organic agriculture is more expensive than conventional agriculture
is that we fritter away our nitrogen; 10% here, 15% there, 5% everywhere and before
you know it we have lost half our nitrogen.

Here is a link that might be useful: U.C. Davis - nitrogen coupling


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One way of cutting down on nitrogen loss that is sparking a lot of discussion is the addition of biochar (buzzword for charcoal used in soil). Rather than link to a specific study, I recommend simply typing the words "biochar" and "nitrogen" into a Google search...you'll get plenty of info on the first page. There is a lot of ongoing research into this amendment but it generally seems to do a lot of good with little or no downside. It should be added to the compost since it is an extreme "brown"...basically straight carbon, and needs to be "charged" with nitrogen before being worked in.


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While there are many that promote "biochar" there are also those that will tell you that the energy required to produce that "biochar" exceeds what ever benefit might be derived.


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I have learned that not every composting mixture will result in STEAMING one. There is also cold slow composting AND fermenting composting as well. The latter two are slow processes. And I think my situation is calling for cold composting. So I am just relaxing and letting the micro organisms and the worms take their time and do it at their spare time. LOL. And this way my compost might just end up with more nitrogen than I expect. Another plus for LAZY composting.


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I've used the drunken compost method. Works very well. Lookup Reaganite71 on YouTube and watch his drunken compost video.


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Watermanjeff

Interesting idea to use Biochar to slow nitrogen loss.
I might use it a little differently; slow nitrogen loss in soils
where manure and urine are dropped by cattle too late in
the year to plant a cover crop.

As you said, the research is promising.
Reminds me of Zeolite.
The research is a little immature to know what is the best
way to prepare and work into the soil.
And since clay is almost as good, in the high clay soils
of the Midwest, I am not sure if it is worth it.
But in sandy soils it might be a good way to go.
I look forward to more research.

Good point.


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Clay's great for holding nutrients (it's hard to get them out!), but texturally...ugh. I have charcoal anyway, from wood burning, so I'm adding fine charcoal to my clay as an aeration and drainage aid. If it helps with the biochemistry too, so much the better.


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