Dealing with too much carbon

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Dealing with too much carbon
Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Friday, July 17, 2009 - 8:53 pm
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Thanks Demeter and Xenos. I feel that the details are important, although of course there are some for whom it is irksome. Each of us can have a different way of looking at these issues.
The sheer passion and enthusiasm for doing things right, coupled with up-to-date scientific understanding, will help us to progress.
Thanks again.

Author: Xenos (Xenos)
Friday, July 17, 2009 - 11:38 am
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That's a great point Demeter -- so for anyone interested in biochemistry, or maybe I should say NOT interested:

Those B12 shots that once were popular are a good example of how this works.

The doctor might ask for a urine test for methylmalonic acid, because if it comes in "high," then your body's store of B12 is "low."

Methylmalonic acid can't be converted into succinate (one of the main 'Krebs cycle' substances) without adequate B12 helping the enzymatic action along.

So the doc gives you the shot, and all that methylmalonic acid you've had sitting around in there finally converts to succinate, it goes straight into the Krebs cycle, which blasts your ATP production into the roof.

YOU FEEL GREAT because ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is THE energy source for all your cells, and for all those happy compost critters as well.

too much detail but what the heck. :-D

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Friday, July 17, 2009 - 10:15 am
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To be specific about the chemical reaction that generates the heat, it would be the primarily the breakdown of ATP within cells. Food enables the beasties to build ATP.

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Friday, July 17, 2009 - 10:12 am
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Life generates heat. An active compost pile is a community of living organisms. You could sterilize the pile, and it will not heat up. The reason your topsoil doesn't heat up is that the population density of organisms is less than in an active compost pile, and also the depth of organic material is such that there is sufficient surface area to dissipate the heat.

In a compost pile, the "carbon" (read cellulose) and "nitrogen" (read fixed nitrogen in the form of some kind of amine) provide food for the microorganisms to grow and multiply. If the pile is small, most of the heat will be given off. But if the pile is about a cubic yard or so, it is large enough to retain heat in the core. Thermophilic bacteria, which can remain dormant for long periods of time, can thrive and thus generate even more heat.

When you stop adding to the pile, you stop feeding it. The majority of microorganisms die off, and the pile cools down.

Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Friday, July 17, 2009 - 2:36 am
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I'll add a couple of questions here, the answers to which might be of interest to everyone.
Most of us are familiar with the way grass clippings heat up within a compost pile. My question is: what chemical or biological action causes this? Is it the way the grass has been chopped, so that various enzymes get to work? Or is it the sugars, proteins, etc. which are doing the job?
I have found a similar tendency to heat up from some hedge clippings. These exhibit a lot of fungi growing, after a few days (I believe a species of Aspergillus) and this can also happen within the grass clippings. So maybe the fungal activity plays a part. Just guessing.
If there is a knowledgeable person reading this post, who could give us some factual information, thank you in anticipation.
Alan

Author: Ecb (Ecb)
Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 10:35 pm
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Thanks again for the replies.

Where our urine goes is mostly straight outside. I'm outside most of the day. It's just too easy to urinate wherever I'm at: in the woods, in the pasture, beside some fruit tree that isn't bearing yet, etc. I really can't see troubling myself to get that urine into a compost pile when it's part of a healthy, easy nutrient cycle already. Is there anything wrong (unecological) with that?

I mentioned the animal bedding because I've completely failed to get any heat with it. I think my cows mostly urinate out in the pasture. In any case, what I shovel up in the barn each day is just the poop (and whatever sawdust bedding goes with it). I'm probably using way too much sawdust for composting sake (even though I try to get as little sawdust in the pile as possible), but that's the only way I know to keep the barn and the cows as clean as I want.

I do have chicken manure, which I know is pretty high in nitrogen, but it's too valuable to take away from the garden, and for marketing purposes -- besides my own desire to apply humanure to the pasture instead of food crops -- I couldn't use humanure in the garden.

I don't have a humanure pile yet. I could enclose it or not. I don't want it in the middle of the barnyard or any other heavily trafficked or conspicuous place, where everyone that comes to visit will see it. And I suppose I should keep it further away from the chickens, too. I would want to put it in the woods, except then the trees would surely send feeder roots into my pile and rob the nutrients before I could apply the compost where I really want the nutrients. I suppose I need to build my humanure compost piles out in a far corner of the pasture.

I've been thinking lately that maybe I should use leaf litter instead of grass clippings, but I suppose I would need to find a way to shred the dry leaves. Or is sawdust really the way to go? (The sawdust I'd have would be kiln-dried white pine and cypress sawdust.)

Author: Joe (Joe)
Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 5:49 pm
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Ecb - get a compost thermometer. Then you'll know exactly what's happening rather than speculating.

http://josephjenkins.com/store/product.php?productid=16160&cat=283&page=1

Author: Xenos (Xenos)
Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 8:50 am
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Ecb wrote:
"As for going and getting nitrogen-rich additions, it seems for me it would have to be easier just to artificially add the heat by burning wood or maybe building some kind of solar cooker."

Thermophilic bacterial action does more than just heat the pile. There is a digestive/conversion function going on, which cannot be duplicated by simply adding an exterior heat source.

If by solar cooker you were thinking anything close to a solar toilet, its product is useless as compost. More like burnt-to-death stuff, maybe some minerals left but nothing living.

If you don't mind me asking, where is the 'humurine' going? Usually it's by far the most abundant excretion and it sure is perfect for the composting purpose.

Animal bedding is a real nice source of N; chicken coop linings are the best but nothing wrong with cows either -- still, it's that extra essential moisture you'll be missing.

Used cooking oils are fantastic for heating up the pile. By the way, are you enclosing it at all or leaving it piled on the ground?

Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - 3:19 pm
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Ecb asked "If I'm going to thermophylically compost, really the only way I can see to get my C:N ratio down is to use cover material with a much lower C:N ratio. Is that a bad idea? Is the high C:N cover material essential to controlling the stench?"

No harm in experimenting... Grass clipping might work well in the bucket. You might need to use more of them than you would use sawdust. Why not give it a try? If you can smell poop, add more grass clippings.

Nancy

Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Monday, July 13, 2009 - 2:59 am
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Ecb, I know the ideal is to obtain thermophilic conditions. I know that it takes a bit of careful management to keep those conditions prevailing, and if you are just adding feces and urine the high temperatures are difficult to achieve. And I respect the opinions of those in this Forum who consider thermophilic conditions essential.
Please don't let those matters deter you from composting humanure. Even without the thermophilic temperatures, if you have a good number of compost worms in the pile, and you leave it for a year from the time the pile is closed off, those worms will do the job for you well and there will be no danger from pathogens in the pile.

Author: Ecb (Ecb)
Sunday, July 12, 2009 - 7:41 am
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Thank you, Nancebeetoo, for the reply. I really can't see finding any practical source of surplus nitrogen-rich material. I'm a small-scale farmer, so I have plenty of vegetable scraps/wastes, but those scraps are mostly valuable as animal feed, and they're mostly not so high in nitrogen. As for going and getting nitrogen-rich additions, it seems for me it would have to be easier just to artificially add the heat by burning wood or maybe building some kind of solar cooker. Where I'd like to apply the humanure is in my pastures, so as long as what I'm doing is safe, I really don't care whether what I'm spreading can properly be called compost or whether it takes several years longer to break down. If I'm going to thermophylically compost, really the only way I can see to get my C:N ratio down is to use cover material with a much lower C:N ratio. Is that a bad idea? Is the high C:N cover material essential to controlling the stench?

Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Friday, July 10, 2009 - 8:02 pm
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It sounds like you are worried that your pile won't heat up. Urine adds two things to compost- moisture and nitrogen. You can add both of those by collecting as much food waste as you can. Can you bring a compost bucket to places where people eat? Can you bring home produce trimmings from a grocery store? Can you find a regular source of coffee grounds? Fresh succulent weeds from the garden are also good. And, don't laugh, road kill or any other meat or protein source. All of those will help the compost heat. Humanure and sawdust alone didn't heat for me, but since I started adding more food waste it runs at 120-130 degrees. Just for reference, I have 3 to 4 other people adding food waste to the humanure compost. I also bring home spoiled food from the grocery store.

Author: Ecb (Ecb)
Thursday, July 09, 2009 - 10:31 pm
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I'd like to start humanure composting, but I'm concerned about getting heat to my compost. Due to the circumstances of my household, I expect to have disproportionately more feces than urine. Should I compensate by using grass clippings instead of sawdust or something like that? In other words, can I compensate for higher C:N humanure by using lower C:N cover material?

For comparison, I use sawdust for bedding in the barn, and I regularly shovel up the cow poop and toss it in a pile inevitably with a fair amount of sawdust. Most of the urine just gets absorbed into the bedding. In any case, I haven't been able to notice any heat from the pile at all. I'm afraid humanure composting will be the same way for me.

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