#114 - Step-By-Step Active Composting - Day 3
It has been two days since we set up the new compost piles so it is time to check their temperature again, turn them over to oxygenate them, and check them for moisture.
Since the piles have been working hard for the past two days, I am absolutely sure they will be extremely thirsty and will need water. I did check them yesterday and had to add water to both piles to keep them going as they were drying out too quickly in the Hawaii heat. The first pile yesterday morning was at 165 degrees and the second pile was at 125 degrees. Both were starting to get pretty dry so I had to moisten them both back up again to keep them going.
Since the first pile is getting so hot I need to back its heat down a bit to make sure that the temperature does not get too high that it starts to cook out the beneficial bacteria that is breaking down the material.
I also need to heat up the second pile. To do this I am going to have to add more biomass to it. The second pile is only about 2 feet tall so it is not quite tall enough to contain enough biomass to properly generate enough heat for active composting. a three cubic foot pile is required to generate the heat necessary. Normally I would never add material to a compost pile that is already working because it throws the timing off of the decomposition. I would rather start a new pile each time, which is why I have multiple cages set up. Since this is only the third day for these piles I will make an exception this time so that I can get the pile up to the required height for it to work properly.
The first pile is barely tall enough for a proper compost pile and I am afraid as it composts down over the next couple weeks it will become too short to generate enough heat to finish the compost out. To fix both problems, what I have decided to do is merge the piles together since they are the same age. This will put the pile over the minimum 3 foot height and should cook down nicely. While I am at it I will also chop down the citrus tree cuttings into smaller pieces to help them compost faster.
I am already seeing a good amount of decomposition in what was the first pile in just the first three days. Everything is darkening up nicely and was extremely hot to the touch.
I made the mistake of turning the pile wearing slippers and parts of it would roll down the front of the pile onto my foot as I was transferring it from one pile to the other. Let me tell you, a pile of grass clippings that are smoldering at 160 degrees does not feel good on your bare foot.
Even the other green leaves from the first pile were starting to break down.
I also received a text message yesterday that someone in the next neighborhood over from me had some asparagus ferns and stalks they just cut out of their garden. A few minutes later I also received a text from another neighbor on the same street that they had 7 bags of grass cuttings ready for me to pick up. I really got lucky having both of them on the same street so that I could pick them both up at the same time. So while the wife was still asleep I loaded down the trunk and back seat of her Dodge Avenger like it was a pickup truck. Luckily she doesn't read my blog, so she will never know.
The asparagus ferns were too long and too bulky to compost quickly so I will have to to chop them down before adding them into a compost pile. I do not have any brown material to start a new compost pile with right now so I will be using torn up cardboard boxes for the brown layer in that pile.
I ordered a wood chipper/mulcher yesterday from Home Depot, but it won't be here for another 6 to 8 weeks, so I have to do these by hand this time. It will come in handy for chopping things like this down for composting later on with future piles.
I also have a pile of branches from a small tree that I had a friend of mine cut down a few weeks ago that was interfering with one of my amateur radio antennas to make way for a raised garden bed. I will need those wood chips to use as a top dressing of one of the raised beds later.
Combining the the two piles together into one as I turn them both over to oxygenate them is time consuming and took me about twice as long to complete as a normal pile turn would have. Hopefully this will take care of the heating issues I was having with both piles and instead of having one pile that is getting too hot and one pile that isn't getting hot enough I will have one "Goldilocks" pile that is just right. And when I checked its temperature a few hours later it seems to have worked. Right around the 140 mark is where I like to keep these piles.
When you turn a pile over you want to go around the pile and take the outer layer of the pile and put that as the center of the new pile. Then as you work your way through the pile what was once the center of the old pile will become the outer later of the new pile.
This moves materials that has not yet begun to compost to the inside of the pile so that it can start composting. It also makes sure that all of the materials have fresh oxygen added to it so that the bacteria can thrive once again as they have used up the oxygen that was inside the pile and have converted that to mainly carbon dioxide.
As you turn the pile over be sure to check the moisture level of the pile. The best way to do this is to grab a handful and squeeze it tightly. It should feel moist like a damp sponge, but you should not see water dripping out of it. We only get it thoroughly wet the first day, now we will just maintain its moisture level to make sure that it does not dry out.
Once the pile has been turned over and you have verified that it has enough moisture, put the tarp back on the compost pile to keep it from drying out. We will turn it again in another two days.
I went ahead and set up a second pile with some of the asparagus ferns and about 6 bags of grass cuttings. These cutting are not as fine as the normal cuttings that I use, so I am not sure how quickly this pile will decompose, but it should be close to the same 3 to 4 weeks. Because the grass cuttings are not as fine it made this pile appear to be larger even though there is actually less grass in it.
The brown material for this pile was a combination of hand torn and machine shredded cardboard boxes from all of my Amazon orders. The crosscut paper shredder works well with these cardboard boxes, but I decided to try a combination of both shredded and larger hand torn pieces. The larger pieces should retain moisture better for the pile so I will see what effect that has in time.
I also decided to try a product on this pile that I normally do not use which is Dr. Earth Pure & Natural Compost Starter that I purchased from Amazon. I have never used a compost starter so I wanted to see what difference it made to the compost. I will update you with the results. I personally do not believe they have any miraculous benefit to justify the additional cost for them, but we shall see.
I just received an email that someone has an additional 6 bags of grass clippings ready for me to pick up. Looks like I am going to have to get a third pile started after all. Normally I like to space the piles out a week apart from each other, but I have to take advantage of when resources are available to me.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73