[Market-farming] Re: composting questions

Mayapple Farm and Gardens mayapplefarm at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 22 12:08:24 EDT 2004


It's really hard to screw up compost, at least in
terms of the big picture.  If it has too few greens,
it will just take longer, if too many, it will
overheat and possibly become anaerobic, but these
things will also correct themselves with time.

A couple of recommendations from several hundred miles
away.  I would probably make a moderately fresh horse
manure pile (which is what you have - you'll get
significant heating and loss of nitrogen in the first
two weeks of a pile sitting, but there is also quite a
bit of nitrogen left) about half to 75% manure with
the balance as hay or straw or coarse weeds.  When you
heat as high as what you are saying, two things are
happening.  First, you are losing a lot of important
nitrogen through volatilization of ammonia.  That's
part of that odor you have along with volatile fatty
acids.  Second, there are communities of bacteria and
fungi that operate at different temperatures. 
Thermophiles are the ones that can live and function
at the higher temps of a pile.  Once you start cooling
things down a little, another group known as
mesophiles kick in.  I don't recall the name of the
group that operates at ambient temperatures.  Anyway,
if your pile gets excessively hot, you risk killing
the other microbes that will pick up in the breakdown
sequence.  Increasing the relative amounts of carbon
will slow things down a little and keep from getting
too hot.  Plus your final volume will be greater since
less energy was wasted on heat.

In terms of turning, too much turning can be
detrimental.  It keeps interrupting the cycle of
heating and cooling which are important for
maintaining the microbial community.  Train your hand
for detecting temperature difference, or just buy a
soil thermometer.  Turn your pile when it gets down
around 100-120, which incorporates oxygen and will
start the heating process again.  The second and
subsequent heats will not likely be as intense as the
first.  I don't turn my piles at all, but build
alternate layers of hay or bedding with animal manures
and use them the following year.  I end up with more
weeds that way, but I feel I have a better product in
the long run.


Krystyna L. Prochocki
Kevin L. Strohmeier
May Apple Farm and Gardens
4020 N. Grandview Church Rd.
Big Spring, KY 40175
mayapplefarm at yahoo.com

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