SAWDUST PROBLEMS?

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: SAWDUST PROBLEMS?
Author: Andy Neil (Andy)
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - 5:59 am
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I wonder if there may also be an issue here with those pesky and persistent herbicides sometimes found on straw - aminopyralid and chlopyralid? This has been raised elsewhere on the forum I think. Worth checking with your source perhaps?

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Monday, August 18, 2008 - 7:01 pm
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Also, how coarse is the "sawdust." I have seen what some people are calling sawdust and it's really small wood chips. The finer the better.

Author: Tassiejohn (Tassiejohn)
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - 5:34 am
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Maybe it's a moisture issue. If it's a dry-ish mix that's going onto the pile, and you're not getting much rain or extra water into the pile, it may not be composting very well. Is the pile moist and steaming when you fork it open for the next addition?

Author: Burra (Burra)
Monday, August 11, 2008 - 3:25 am
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"I finish a pile mid September and start a new one for the winter then use the Sept pile in the spring on the garden. The compost seems to have resilient sawdust in it."

It sounds like it needs a few more months to mature. If the pile is finished in September and then used the following spring, it hasn't had a full year, which could be why the sawdust hasn't broken down enough.

Also, you say that you only cover the centre of the pile with straw. Maybe it needs more straw - I'm sure Joe will know better than me, but I think maybe the heap will need more readily available carbon as an energy source for the bacteria in the heap. The carbon in sawdust isn't easy to release so maybe you need to increase the amount of straw you use to get the bacteria going.

If you've had no luck with the plants from when you moved in, I'd assume your soil is lacking in something and check it out. If the problem was only the sawdust, the first year or two would have been alright and then things would have gotten worse after starting to use the sawdusty compost.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Sunday, August 10, 2008 - 1:42 pm
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Are you monitoring the temperature of your compost? Including all urine? Have you had your soil tested for Ph and basic nutrients?

You're the first to report problems with sawdust. We're doing some growing trials this summer in strip-mined depleted soil. We planted Ace peppers in the strip mine soil, then in a plot using humanure compost made from wood shavings, then in a plot using humanure compost made the way I recommend - sawdust, kitchen scraps, garden weeds, hay or straw, etc. The first is doing terribly, the second so-so, and the third is doing great. I will post a video of this on Youtube and on my web site when we're finished. My son is doing a humanure internship this summer with me via his college - Prescott College - and this is one of the things we're doing to generate data.

Of course, the sawdust compost heats up during the compost process, we include all urine, and we stop the pile in mid-June to allow for a longer curing time before next year's spring planting. The curing process is when the woody materials are broken down by fungi.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Sunday, August 10, 2008 - 1:39 pm
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via email:

I have been using your Humanure technique for the past six years. That is the length of time we have lived at this house. During that time I have had terrible luck with my plants. The general look of the garden has been malnourished. I think the problem is the sawdust:

Each week I put a gallon of kitchen waste on the top of the pile followed by a bucket of poopy followed by about two gallons of rabbit and chicken poopy mixed with about 50% sawdust (I put sawdust trays in cages for them to poop on then scrape off surface each week). Then I cover the center of the pile with about five or less gallons of straw. I now improve the pile building by using a potato fork to pry the sides of the pile outward to flatten for next center application and introduce air. Over the years I have improved the quality of sawdust by using only the finest near powder consistency. No white oak, no locust or no walnut, I think mostly red oak which is not resistant to rotting. I use only hardwood non kiln dried. I put about three cups or scoops of dust on the poop and once in a while a scoop on the pee as the odors build or I see moisture. Seems like I use about ˝ a bucket of sawdust for every bucket of end waste I take out to the bin.

I finish a pile mid September and start a new one for the winter then use the Sept pile in the spring on the garden. The compost seems to have resilient sawdust in it.

My concern is that the sawdust is not breaking down enough and then when put into the garden it breaks down absorbing nitrogen from the surrounding soils depleting that which could have gone to the plants.

Mike McGrath’s show about gardening recently discussed the use of sawdust in the garden. You can hear it (August 2, 2008) show or check out the “Alphabetized listing” under “Sawdust”. I copied it below for your reference. Mike is abit crazy but he has good credential and has written a book on composting. Worked as editor for Rodales Organic Magazine. A bit of an ego if you get to emailing him. He does read and generally react to each email. I have sent him your book and raised your ideas to him with no rise. Probably too outside the range of a national show. You can find his stuff at http://www.whyy.org/91FM/ybyg/archive.html

Let me know what you think and whether others have raised this issue with you. I feel as if I have been in denial for years and am finally running out of excuses. I do not think a chemical test would help since the effect may occurring during the breakdown process once put onto the soil. Seems like best test would be to raise plants in a few different composts / media and compare.

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