Humanure and coffee grounds for compo...

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Humanure and coffee grounds for composting?
Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Friday, July 11, 2008 - 5:00 pm
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Madeline,

125 degrees is good. I'm surprised that you got the old humanure to heat up as someone else tried composting old commercial compost toilet material and didn't have much luck. I don't think he added anything to the pile however, as you did. I'm glad that you tried this experiment because you have confirmed what I suspected - that old commercial compost toilet material will compost thermophilically if appropriate materials are added to the pile to get it to heat up.

When one has a "continuous" compost heap - one that is added to on a continuous basis, the heat will only be maintained as long as material continues to be added to the pile. Once the deposits stop, the heat will maintain itself for a while, perhaps weeks, but then it will decline slowly, unless new material is added.

Regarding the flowers, they should make good compost. You may want to use the compost for horticulure (trees, etc.) rather than in your food garden, however, if pesticides are a concern. Most pesticides will bio-degrade in thermophilic compost, however.

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Wednesday, July 09, 2008 - 12:05 am
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Joe, this is an update on three compost piles which I have started and you had asked me to let you know how it went. We have a bought compost toilet (Sunmar) which I emptied, did not add carbon to and just left to age, about 2 years. A few months ago, after reading your book, I decided to heat up the pile so I could start using it in a greenhouse (vegetables only) we are building.

In the first two piles, I used black plastic composters and added some "aged" humanure to both compost piles. I added fine shredded paper. Within days the temperature rose and stayed between 120 to 130 for a week. It then stabilized at 110 for 3 days, then it started to decline a few degrees each day until it settled at 80-90. At some point, I added some kitchen scraps, it rose the temperature a bit for a few days but it seems to stay at that temperature now.

The third pile was the left over humanure from the compost toilet, about 9 square feet. I removed it from the wooden bin it was in, added a layer of hay at the bottom, and then put back the humanure in a layer at a time alternating with leaves, or fine shredded paper or straw. I also added a big bucket of kitchen scraps. The temperature went from 67 the first day to 112 within a week. It went as high as 125 for 3 days, but that is the highest temperature I was able to reach. It started to go down a few degrees every day and has now stabilized at 80-90.

Am I correct in assuming that the humanure has heated up as much as it will, and I now need to let it age a while longer? Since it has already aged for 2 years (without minimum carbon though) I was going to have it tested this summer and see what I get. I am not going to use it until next year anyway...

One last thing, the local florist would like to pass onto me on a weekly basis a big box of left over flowers and greens from his shop. I am tempted to use it in my compost pile but am worried about all the pesticides I am sure were used on the flowers. From reading your book, I am assuming that it is OK as long as I am able to maintain 130 for 3-4 days. Any advice on that front?

I live north of the 61th parallel and we are now enjoying 21 hours of sunshine here :-)

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Monday, May 12, 2008 - 11:55 pm
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I am not engaged in continuous composting for this new pile I made according to your instructions. Within 2 hours of my adding carbon and a small quantity of my old humanure pile, it was at 120 degrees! So I added me of both and will use that as my test batch. I decided to set this one aside and not do anything to it - it is a black plastic tumbler style composter which I will not turn and will not add anything to, except water if I need to (a moisture thermometre would be great). Is that fine? Will the temperature come down when the pile is ready to be aged for another year?

I have started another batch by adding humanure to an already existing compost pile, added carbon and water but nothing is happening to that one so I will need to play in there tomorrow to figure out what's missing. I suspect the compost pile is not all thawed...

I live above the 60th parallel and I now have 20 hours of sunshine, which will increase to about 23 hours soon. I need to do as much as possible between now and the fall as things will freeze again then, nothing happens in winter: it is too damn cold here! :-)

I would be happy to keep track of how long it takes me, and what temperature I am able to maintain.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Monday, May 12, 2008 - 12:46 pm
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Madeline - The EPA regulations pertain to commercial batch composting operations, not to backyard composting. If you are engaged in "continuous composting," in which you continually feed a compost pile, the temperature in the center of the pile (where you should be adding new material) will vary according to a number of factors. How often you feed it is one factor. If you feed a continuous compost pile at least weekly, you may have a steady temperature of about 120F for months. That temperature will vary however, depending on some of the other factors, such as ambient temperature, moisture content, etc. For example, my compost tends to vary between 110F and 120F and hangs around 120F most of the summer/fall, but it was 130F a couple days ago, probably because of a recent "feeding" followed by steady rain. A damp compost pile is a happy compost pile. Are you using a compost thermometer? It would be helpful if you were monitoring temperature and could report your results to us.

In late fall/winter, the compost temps drop considerably and fluctuate a lot according to what I'm feeding the pile. The temp. of the pile last winter dropped to 40F at one point, but was also up to 127F at another point when it was only zero F outside.

I should add that we will be experimenting with compost moisture meters in our compost soon and will probably be offering backyard moisture meters for sale on our store (at josephjenkins.com). We live in an area where we get about 44 inches of rain a year, which keeps our compost damp, but other parts of the world are much drier and moisture levels may have to be monitored for best compost.

Author: John Smith (John)
Monday, May 12, 2008 - 8:45 am
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Madeline asks:
"How long do I need to maintain that temperature for?"

According to EPA regulations:

104F maintained temperature for minimum of five days. For 3.5 days during the 5-day period, the temperature in the compost pile must exceed 131F.

The clock starts, of course, when the last addition to pile was made.

John

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Saturday, May 10, 2008 - 3:34 pm
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How long do I need to maintain that temperature for? For the duration of the composting process? at least a certain number of days? I will let it age at least a year in addition to that.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Saturday, May 10, 2008 - 11:11 am
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Temperature is one contributing part of the pathogen suppression effect of composting, but there are several others which are aided by retention time (aging). If the humanure has already been aged with a carbon material and if it has been produced by healthy people, then you can add it to the active compost a little at a time until your pile is full, then let the pile age for about a year afterward. I like to see temperatures of 110-130 F in my compost, although temperatures will vary according to the time of year, etc..

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 6:33 pm
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I prefer this idea since I already have an active compost pile. That will be easier to manage. To what temperature should the heap remain at if I am adding humanure to it? I do want to use it for the greenhouse to grow vegetables. My husband is worried about the pathogens...

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 12:05 pm
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Instead of adding stuff to the old humanure pile, you may want to add the old humanure to an active compost pile, a little at a time, maybe even as cover material. I think you would probably get a better result. That is *if* you have an active compost pile (i.e. one that heats up).

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 11:52 am
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The old humanure pile is about 1 cubic metre, I will add some very finely shredded paper for carbon content throughout the pile, add some vegetable scraps and coffeegrounds and get a hold of some more worms, and try that. We have a compost toilet, not the Humanure system....Thanks for your suggestions...

Author: Alan J Marshall (Ecointerest)
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 9:03 pm
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Madeline, "So should I simply add the coffee grounds directly onto it (in what proportion?) with some general compost materials ...." I would say yes, with caution. It's better to keep a "healthy" mix of ingredients for any compost heap. Coffee grounds I would suggest are a fairly harsh ingredient, so add them gradually to the heap, mixed in with other household ingredients, and the old humanure. I suspect your judgment on the right mix proportions will be ok... just try it and see. If you are using the Humanure (with capital H) system, follow the same sort of process. If the pile is big enough, say at least 1 cubic metre, that would be ideal for the worms. They can move easily within the pile to find their preferred temperature. An estimate of how many worms you are adding: I kilogram of nothing but worms would be about 4000! So "couple of pounds" would be about the same, more than adequate for them to build up a prolific colony within 6 months.
One thing that worms do very well, is distribute healthy compost bacteria through the heap, quickly and thoroughly.
When you use the resultant humus (largely worm castings) in your greenhouse, use it sparingly. Don't waste it by adding large amounts over a small area.
Hope this is helpful to you.

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 6:14 pm
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I just checked and yes, the old humanure pile can be salvaged. Things are just starting to melt this far North and everything is moist. Good news. So should I simply add the coffeegrounds directly onto it (in what proportion?) with some general compost materials (or not, and if yes in what proportion as well) and add a couple of pounds of worms to the mix?

Author: Alan J Marshall (Ecointerest)
Monday, May 05, 2008 - 6:28 pm
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In my experience, worms cope with coffee grounds, when mixed in with general compost materials extremely well. Presumably the worms would also work into that old humanure if it was combined with the coffee grounds.
I know that old, dried cow manure does not readily absorb water again, this being one of the reasons it is used for rendering walls in developing countries. Does that old humaure have similar properties? If you add water, does the humanure readily absorb the water?

Author: France Benoit (Madeline)
Monday, May 05, 2008 - 1:12 pm
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We are building a greenhouse and need lots of compost. We have been using a compost toilet for the last few years but have never used it for the vegetable garden (should have read your book years ago!) so I have that pile of old humanure to which carbon was never added. I also have easy access to coffee grounds from a local cafe. Can I salvage the old humanure pile by adding carbon to it, or is it too late? Can I mix the humanure to the large quantities of the coffeegrounds I can access? If so, what do I need to add to it?

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