2 year old piles not what I expected...

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Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - 12:35 pm
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Hi Mark,

It sounds like you are concerned that the pile is not done (fully composted to maturity), or is not safe to use (might still have fecal organisms surviving).

I can only share my experience. I too use piles made from 4 pallets tied together. This creates a pile that is about 1.6 cubic yards in volume. I fill one of these bins every 4 to 6 months, depending on how much weeds I add. Less weeds means less heat, so my winter piles run a bit cooler (around 110-120 F) than summer piles (120-140 F). If you want to know how much the pile heated you need a compost thermometer (about 18 inches long) to measure temps in the middle of the pile.


I use the compost when it is about a year old. Last year I sent a sample to a lab for analysis. The results are here http://www.flickr.com/photos/nancybeetoo/3583583122/

When my compost is a year old it is dark brown but the structure of the sawdust particles is still visible. The lab test shows a C/N ratio of 21:1. Finished compost typically has a C:N ratio closer to 10:1. However, because much of the initial feedstock for a humanure compost is decomposition resistant lignin, I don't believe my compost is immobilizing nitrogen at one year old. Anecdotal evidence for this is the one year old avocado houseplant which is planted in pretty much straight humanure- it is growing rapidly with huge leaves and clearly has an abundant nitrogen supply.

Somebody in a soils lab could easily do a nitrogen mineralization study on this.

If I had my druthers and and had land and patience enough I would cover the one year old piles and leave them for a additional year. The resulting compost would be even better.

Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Monday, March 15, 2010 - 8:55 pm
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Understanding that the ideals of having a large mass to compost, together with the addition of sufficient nitrogenous material and green waste, all aid in the maintenance of thermophilic conditions, I feel that many of us just don't have that amount of "other" material around. When you live in a single-person household, like I do, there is minimal food waste. My vegetable garden is extremely small, so little waste is available from there. When I hire a mulcher occasionally, that green waste is useful but not on a regular basis. It's mostly just humanure that goes into the heap.
This is the reason I have made less emphasis on the thermophilic process, preferring to concentrate on long-term storage and worms for safety. The quality of my final compost is superb and surprises most people. Also, I live in the cool temperate climate of southern Tasmania, so there are no real problems of enteric diseases to worry about, like you would find in warmer/hotter climates.
What am I trying to say here? Just that the ideals need to be tailored to individual circumstances. This is happening a lot in this forum, and all for the good, because Humanure is not just for the few fanatics. Everyone can find answers to suit their needs.

Author: Utopian (Utopian)
Saturday, March 06, 2010 - 10:38 pm
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I also use pallets for my piles. I have found that a pile made of 5 pallets, forming a pentagon, works much better than a pile made of 4 pallets. In the past, my 4 pallet piles froze in Iowa but my 5 pallet pile did not freeze this winter even though its been colder this year. The added mass seemed to really make a difference.

Author: Utopian (Utopian)
Saturday, March 06, 2010 - 10:33 pm
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I also use pallets for my piles. I have found that a pile made of 5 pallets, forming a pentagon, works much better than a pile made of 4 pallets. In the past, my 4 pallet piles froze in Iowa but my 5 pallet pile did not freeze this winter even though its been colder this year. The added mass seemed to really make a difference.

Author: Joe (Joe)
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - 6:03 pm
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Wood shavings do not work as well in small (back yard) compost piles. Sawdust works much better. Have you looked at the "humanure planting trials" video clip? [http://humanurehandbook.com/videos.html#trials]. This will give you an idea of the difference in compost quality. Shavings may work better in the large compost piles that are generated by municipal operations. Also, compost piles require a certain mass. Yours may be too small, or combined with the shavings, may not have the right requirements for producing a hot pile. I would not add anything to the older compost piles. Just let them sit another year, then take another look at them.

Author: Dogbuckeye (Dogbuckeye)
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - 2:59 pm
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I know what sawdust is -- I've done woodworking. The stuff we're getting from our sawmill is a mix of medium-sized wood shavings and finer sawdust. My sense is I need to find another sawmill with just the finer sawdust, eh?

Author: Danilo (Danilo)
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - 2:49 pm
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If you can, you should use sawdust from sawmills (where tree logs are sawn into boards), wood shavings usually are too coarse and donít decompose easily.

Author: Dogbuckeye (Dogbuckeye)
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - 11:17 am
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My family of five with many visitors began doing humanure almost 2 years ago. We're big fans. Well, today I went to dig into our oldest piles and didn't find exactly what I hoped. It had a lot of semi-broken down sawdust shavings, was frozen the top 10" and otherwise was broken down, it just was mostly brown from the shavings.

We've realized we made a few mistakes along the way and we're wondering what if any corrective measures we can make on those older piles.

Mistake #1: Not setting down a 18-24" thick bed of straw or insulation on the ground; we probably had closer to 6".

Mistake #2: My roommates 'forgot' halfway through 2008 to scrape away the straw top blanket and instead simply added new humanure on top, like layers.

Mistake #3: Our top blanket of insulation was fairly meager, maybe 3 to 4" compressed (with time).

We're in a pretty dry place so we realized last year that maybe we need to add extra water beyond the washing bucket part. So we started to add 1/2 of a bucket (2.5 gallons) of water in addition to the wash water each time.

Another possible mistake is that we used pallets which didn't quite make it 5' x 5' square, closer to 42" x 42" square. How important is that mass for cooking the goods?

Corrections: So today I added more water to those old piles and added a huge heap of straw on top to help insulate. I know it will be well into the spring before below fully thaws out and starts some kind of cooking again. Is there more I should do? I'm assuming I should wait another year with those piles before using them. Should I add more kitchen scraps, weeds, nitrogen, etc...?

One more question. Sawdust vs. wood shavings -- we've been using fairly fine wood shavings (sort of a mix from our sawmill), but it's not dust. Should we find a different source of sawdust?

I appreciate your help.

Cheers,
Mark Schneider
Gardner, CO

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