When is home made compost ready?

sprtsguy76(Santa Clara Ca. 9b)May 15, 2007

My pile is only about 2-3 weeks old and I have used an organic compost helper/starter, I've also been chopping at it every 2-3 days. I can still see some small peices of this and that and still smells a liitle bit like bad food.Any diagnosis?

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gonefishin(z7bTx)

Diagnosis - sounds like it needs more browns and time. In the future, do not waste money on "Starter", all the bacteria needed to start a pile are already present in what you pile up. If it makes you feel better, throw a shovel full of garden soil in there.

Some on the soil, compost and mulch forum may tell you it is ready when ever you want to use it, of like Delta used to be, "ready when you are", but I think that it depends some on what you are going to do with it. Material that is still recognizable and still has a good bit of decomposing to do will not be good for your vegetable garden.

A good hot compost pile that maintains heat of 140 - 150 degrees for three or four days, will kill most all pathogens and weed and grass seeds. I think that generally, it would be safe to use then, but probably might still have some decomposing to do and need to tie up some nitrogen if buried in your soil.

They say that compost is never "finished" until there is nothing left of it, as it keeps right on breaking down. I think that mine is "finished enough for me" when it looks like and spreads easily like .
*(for a closer up view, roll the cursor over the picture and click the little magnifying glass with the + in it.)
That is my .02
Bill P.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 6:17AM
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reginald_25(5)

A good hot compost pile that maintains heat of 140 - 150 degrees for three or four days, will kill most all pathogens and weed and grass seeds...

Bill P. I agree that rather fully composted OM is preferred to its more raw forms. However I have never had any significant problems using relatively fresh stuff (e.g., horse stable litter). Weed seed can be a problem depending upon the source of the OM.

So basically, my "composting" happens at ambient temps. Thus it takes much longer. But it does happen. So what I maintain is that it is safe to apply most raw herbivor OM-products to the garden without "composting." Raw stuff that produces hi concentrations of ammonia upon hydration (e.g., poultry litter or herbivor litter that has a very hi concentration of urea) is not safe to apply directly when plants are in the ground.

Reg

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 10:45AM
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gonefishin(z7bTx)

I basically agree with you Reg., but my post was kinda generic to a newbie, with apparently a long way to go and trying to learn. There will be plenty of time for him to learn the finer points when he gets the basics down. We would know how to apply that fresh stuff, and I do not worry much about the pathogens, but some do, some perhaps to the point of bordering on paranoia. My Brother kept cautioning me about using horse manure in the garden, worrying about me getting "lock jaw". I did go ahead and get a new tetanus shot because it had been quite a long while since I had one, and it made him feel better. ":^)

I am happy to apply horse manure, fairly fresh or aged in the late fall and winter months to turn under with my other amendments and green manure cover crops. That works fine for me.

I think that it is also pretty important to know the source of what ever you are adding to your vegetable gardens, I would not want to add any stuff made from toxic waste and some places seem to border on that, from the complaints of what people have found in their bought materials.
Regards Reg
Bill P.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 11:47AM
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kubotabx2200(Zone 5b NH)

if it smells bad it is not ready. well done compost has very little odor just an earthy smell.

I would not put any raw manure of any kind on my garden without composting it unless you want to risk parasites like intestinal worms and liver flukes.

I let mine compost for a year

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 3:48PM
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reginald_25(5)

kubotabx2200,

I let mine compost for a year...

Come on, that is just nonsense because that time frame does not produce temps that kill the baddies.

Reg

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 4:31PM
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kubotabx2200(Zone 5b NH)

The temperature of the compost heap and the time frame you decide to let it age for are two independent factors. Aerobic bacteria and fungus in the compost is what kills the parisites by the time it is composted, not a quick hot compost for a couple of days. That is why you need more time for manure.

However, if you think that it is safe to apply raw manure to a garden that is planted, I think you would be hard pressed to find any state ag extension in the country that would agree with that practice. You're free to take your own risks in your garden but I think you are giving poor advice by telling other people to put green manure in a food garden.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 4:57PM
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reginald_25(5)

kubotabx2200

However, if you think that it is safe to apply raw manure to a garden that is planted, I think you would be hard pressed to find any state ag extension in the country that would agree with that practice...

Many are afraid of the "M" word, even when fully composted. The real danger of applying uncomposted manure to a growing plot is that hi concentrations of urea (C=O-[NH2]2) go to ammonia (NH3) and produce NH4- ion which is toxic to many plants. Otherwise it is rather totally recommended.

Most of this adversion arises from the compulsive attitude that one must maintain virtually a totally clean toilet.

Reg

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 6:36PM
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sprtsguy76(Santa Clara Ca. 9b)

The small pile is organic. It consists of mostly veg., fruits, grass clippings, coffee, eggshells and very little seabird droppings. My browns are shredded redwood bark. Any ways thanks for the input.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 9:17PM
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coolbythecoast(10b)

gonefishin, you've raised an aspect of compost that has had me wondering. Maybe you can clear this up for me.

Here's my understanding:

Free nitrogen in the pile causes it to heat up.
Bacteria consume the nitrogen until it is virtually gone, then the pile cools down.

At this point there is little nitrogen in the pile, or there would still be heat. Additionally at this point there is plenty of undigested matter that have not been broken down to humus, the final stage of compost.

When this undigested matter is then put into the soil the bacteria draw nitrogen from the mix and continue to break down the vegetable matter, keeping the nitrogen level in the soil relatively low.

So until the compost is totally broken down to humus, there is a net loss of nitrogen in the soil and additional nitrogen should be added for good crops.

Am I missing something? Can bacteria be consuming nitrogen, yet nitrogen is fully available to the crops?
Is adding nitrogen fertilizer beneficial for strong crops?

Thanks,
Gary

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 1:47AM
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gonefishin(z7bTx)

Hi Gary. You bring up an interesting point for discussion. I am not a chemist, scientist, biologist or anything of the sort so for me to be trying to cite chemical formulas, actions and reactions would be completely out of my league and over my heard. I would have to fall back on cliches that are appropriate and confirm my personal observations of the end results. Things like "The proof is in the pudding" and "Time will tell".

Fairly soon after I embarked upon the course of amending my garden a number of years ago, it became obvious to me that it was a good thing that paid dividends. After all this time, I am still amazed with just about every passing season with how well something is growing in my garden. It does work, somehow. There is a lot that has been written, and much of it excellent like some of the info in Annie's thread, and sometimes is more than one wants to know on a subject, or at times it gets confusing. However, a lot of info is out there for the perusing.

I almost always back up what I say with my own personal pictures rather than copying and pasting someone else's, or posting a link to a google search.

I think that no analysis anywhere touts a high N P or K for compost, no matter how good it is. I try to make mine from as many diverse components as possible and believe that the nutrients and elements are sequestered in the compost for future use as plant food for the plants as the Kazillions of the micro herd consumes it and turns it into the particular plant food that a particular plant needs. I think that as the nitrogen is consumed and turned into a form that the plants can use, and that generation of microbes live their brief lifespan and die, it is available to the plants and the next generations of microbes, worms etc.

I was intrigued by the study that said that each different plant roots exude a chemical or enzyme that attracts the right micro herd to consume the other material in the soil around them to turn it into that particular plant food that they need and want.

Now that layman's opinion is just my thoughts based upon what I have read, coupled with what I have personally observed of the end result in my garden. I really do not know for sure how any of it works, but am convinced that some of it does work and works very well, obviously.
Bill P.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 8:35AM
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gonefishin(z7bTx)

Oops, one thing that I forgot to mention was about adding fertilizer Gary. If it is deficient, naturally it would help to add some in organic or even in the inorganic form. I rarely ever see the need to add fertilizer, just an occasional application of 21-0-0 ammoninum sulfate. If I use any, it us usually applied in the winter after I have applied a good layer of shredded oak leaves, along with my other amendments and turned them under. Our soil naturally leans a little to the alkaline side so the sulphur helps to adjust the pH a little and the nitrogen may help to break down the sudden infusion of the leaves etc.

Two soil tests this past spring indicates that my soil is in very good condition, with very little lacking. Perhaps you can see above that the plants are looking good.
Bill P.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 9:16AM
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kubotabx2200(Zone 5b NH)

reginald_25 here is what Purdue university has to say about applying fresh manure to gardens.

"There are a number of pathogens, including E. coli, salmonella, and listeria that can be transferred to humans from animal manure. Some animal manure may also contain parasites, such as roundworms and tapeworms.

If fresh manure is applied to the garden or compost pile, there is a high risk of causing illness to the gardener, as well as anyone eating fresh produce from that garden. Fresh manure can also be harmful to growing plants, due to being too high in available nitrogen, thus burning roots. It is safer for both plants and people to apply only composted, rotted manure to an active garden bed. Manure should be composted for a minimum of six months to reduce the risk of contamination. If fresh manure must be applied, do so during the previous fall so that it has a chance to decompose for as long as possible before the garden will be planted. Do not apply manure to actively growing fruits or vegetables."

http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agcomm/newscolumns/archives/YGnews/2006/April/060406YG.htm

here is what Colorado State has to say on the subject.

"Manure is an excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner. However, don't apply fresh manure to the soil in your fruit or vegetable Garden. Even aged manure can have E. coli present. Composting manure properly will kill most E. coli. In order for a manure pile to be composted properly, the following requirements must be met:

* Mix the compost regularly. This is important not only for aeration but also to ensure that the entire pile has reached the required temperature.
* Monitor the temperature. Long-handled thermometers are available for this purpose. The temperature must reach 130 to 140 degrees F for at least two five-day heating cycles. Mix the compost between cycles.
* After composting, allow the compost to cure for two to four months before applying it to your Garden soil. This allows the beneficial bacteria to kill disease-causing bacteria."

and here's another article on same subject from Washington State University:

http://gardening.wsu.edu/stewardship/compost/manure/manure2.htm

If you can find any counterpoint that says fresh manure in your garden is perfectly safe I'm sure we would be interested in seeing it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Preventing E. coli From Garden to Plate

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 11:02AM
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reginald_25(5)

coolbythecoast,

Here's my understanding:

Free nitrogen in the pile causes it to heat up.
Bacteria consume the nitrogen until it is virtually gone, then the pile cools down...

Actually they do not consume the nitrogen. The heat comes from the rapid population growth of (preferrably) various aerobic bacteria. They expend energy which produces heat. When the nutrient levels (e.g. carbon) fall off, then their activity and population drop as well... and so does the temp. Kind of akin to yeast in the brewing process... when their food supply (fermentable sugars) starts to go south (from their consumption of it), so does their activity.

Can bacteria be consuming nitrogen, yet nitrogen is fully available to the crops...

I do not think that they consume nitrogen, but some anaerobic bacteria can defitrify soils by using the "oxygen" in NO3 (nitrate) for respiration which reduces this ion and generates forms of nitrogen that can escape to the atmosphere (of course nitrate is rather soluble and can be easily leached from soils or lost by runoff from poorly-drained soils).

Reg

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 11:34AM
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lilacs_of_may

Please allow a compost newbie to ask some questions.

I started a compost bin this March, and it's about half full right now, after everything has settled. I haven't been exact in the layers, but basically everything of an organic nature goes into it: half composted leaves from last fall, weeds and grass clippings, kitchen plant-based waste, old mushrooms, eggshells, even pet hair and dryer lint. I've also sprinkled it with compost accelerator and put old potting soil in there. I've taken the temperature twice now. Last time was Sunday. My garden thermometer was well over 100 degrees, but my compost thermometer that I stuck into the middle of the pile actually went down and steadied at about 63 degrees.

So why isn't my compost cooking, and what do I do to get the stuff to cook down into proper compost? Is the weather not warm enough? Has it just not been in the bin long enough? Or am I doing something wrong?

Last fall, I piled up leaves to be waist high in another, shadier part of the yard. After several months, the leaves at the bottom have crumbled down to be almost indistinguishable from dirt. And I didn't do anything to encourage the pile to become compost. I just piled it up and ignored it. I didn't even turn it. I've twice tried to aerate my compost bin, lifting the stuff up and stirring it a bit so the air can get in.

Second question. I know that Roundup breaks down after a while. I'm trying to go as organic as possible. Is it okay to put Roundup'd weeds into the compost bin, or should I just put them out for trash pickup?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 5:03PM
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reginald_25(5)

lilacs_of_may,

So why isn't my compost cooking, and what do I do to get the stuff to cook down into proper compost? Is the weather not warm enough? Has it just not been in the bin long enough? Or am I doing something wrong?...

I think you are OK here. Don't worry if it fails to heat. Large heaps of OM get warm even in cold weather because they have good properties of insulation. Small piles of OM have less chance to heat because they lose it to ambient conditions. Important thing here is that the microbes are still feeding and breaking down OM into products that are useable to most plants.

So unless you are into upscale landscaping wrt OM application, do not worry about it.

However one thing about "composting" that one should avoid is a condition wherein anaerobic bacteria are well served. This is something that unnecessarily robs soil of available nitrogen and produces a stench. If it stinks it is not getting enuf air (O2) on it... and that is bad. So if your compost operation produces bad odors, it is not working well for garden veg health.

Reg

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 6:15PM
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lilacs_of_may

No odors at all that I notice. And it's been settling as I pile more stuff on. And as I said, I lift it and stir it around every once in a while.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 12:20AM
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reginald_25(5)

here is what Purdue university has to say about applying fresh manure to gardens...

kubotabx2200, All of the ag extention services are very conservative in their recommendations... and well they should be. However some of their methods, while not wrong, are just not necessary.

For example, I have seen an ag site that (for home canning) recommends sterilization of jars, rings, and domes before processing in canner. That makes absolutely no sense to me. It is not wrong per se, but it is a waste of energy.

Reg

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 10:50AM
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Mysticmojo26_aol_com

I'm new to composting, and I use a tumbler. I also have a container in my kitchen for the scraps that I dump into the tumbler. I use green and brown materials. My question is at some point do I need to stop putting new material into the tumbler and let what is in there compost?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 7:51PM
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dlcurle2_aol_com

I planted old compost from my compost bed. then why is it killing all of my plants? from jan. till june.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 5:49AM
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kk46504

I've had my compost pile for about 3 months now. I turn it every day, water it regularly and add fruit and veggie scraps, newspaper, dead weeds, leaves and any other organic stuff I can find. I'm wondering if there is a point when I should stop adding things to the pile? Should I let it "rest" for a while when it starts looking more homogenous? Things are breaking down in it, but the pile never feels really hot--just mildly warm. I'm concerned about that as well. Any advice is appreciated.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 6:27PM
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