Why is the temperature of our compos...

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Why is the temperature of our compost bin staying around 73 degrees F.?
Author: Rman (Rman)
Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 9:44 pm
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For info on the thermometer problem and solutions see the thread on " Thermometer Depth " in General composting issues.

Author: Rman (Rman)
Sunday, August 03, 2014 - 10:35 pm
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I had an email conversation with Windywoo today and she gave me permission to post an update on her original thread. To solve the compost temp problem she did three things, she switched to peat moss cover, she started to run her thermometer only part way in to the pile and she adds about 5 gallons of water at each 3 week dumping session. These things have solved the problem for her and I can attest to a different temp reading when the thermometer is brought out to the more active area of the pile. Mine jumped 15 degrees F today in three minutes just by repositioning the thermometer. I now need to look up the manufacturers suggested use procedure.

Author: Rman (Rman)
Saturday, August 02, 2014 - 10:20 pm
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I was wondering about fine sawdust from a chainsaw myself but I am concerned that the quantity of petroleum oil from the chain lube system might interfere with composting or contaminate the finished product. Might start a thread about that. Also soapy wash water might be interfering with thermophillic activity if it is too strong or of the wrong composition.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Saturday, October 23, 2010 - 8:31 pm
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Thanks again to all those Responders with helpful advice! Only rain water used - never tap water. Interesting postings re. Douglas Fir probably being slow to decay. Worms were spotted in last dig down when emptying buckets into central hollow one week ago....Encouraging! Centre of pile only moist not wet, wet. Can let it age for 2 years as it is compost bin No. One - first time with this system so really wanting it all to WORK! Re. protein question in our diet - no worries, we eat sufficient quantities of protein daily together with our organically grown vegetables, fruit and locally caught (by us) fish. Protein does not only exist in meat! The advice to experiment, experiment is encouraging and we have this past week switched to using peat as coverings in our buckets to see if this will make a difference. Thermometer in pile only reached maximum of 73 F. for two days since my last posting mid October. We wait to see if pile temperature changes after we dump our buckets with the peat coverings.

Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Friday, October 15, 2010 - 12:58 pm
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After reading this thread I find myself perplexed.

I guess the key is- experiment experiment experiment. It will get better. This pile can fertilize the orchard, or the raspberries, or something, rather than the vegetable garden.

I will add another management tool- a cover of some kind, plastic sheeting or plywood. I use it to manage moisture levels and also to help hold heat in.

I cover the finished curing pile to hold moisture in in our dry Oregon summers and to keep the cold winter rains from washing the nutrients away. Sometimes I cover the active pile in the winter when it is very stormy, again to keep nutrients and heat in the pile.

I use douglas fir sawdust myself.

A question: How much protein is in your diet? I have often wondered if vegetarians eat less protein and therefore excrete less nitrogen than non-vegetarians.

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 8:51 pm
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Wrote too fast. The Admin post below confirm my quick search. Douglas Fir is slow to decay !

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 8:45 pm
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Found this post - ands sounds like your situation:

"Author: Ken Warren
Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 3:18 am
My compost doesn't seem to be heating up. I have been using my sawdust toilet for a couple of months now and when I checked the temperature this morning the pile was 90F when the ambient temperature was 60F. I am thinking that it may be because I am using Doug fir sawdust as it is the only thing readily available. There is an old mill where there are old piles of sawdust but they probably contains pine, fir, and cedar. Has any one out there tried using Doug fir?
My commpost bin is about 4'x4'x4'and I am using weeds, dry grass, straw and hay as cover material
I spray it with water every few days and I emptyl the blucket after wrensing on to the pile. Should I try adding some fresh horse manure. There are also older manure piles (horse) if that would be better"

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 8:41 pm
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I found this post, which seems contrary to my quick search on the web:

"Author: admin
Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - 1:12 pm
The fir should work, although it has a relatively low decomposition rate, as illustrated in the Humanure Handbook, 2nd edition, page 57 (Chapter 3). Douglas fir has a relative decomposition rate of 8.4, white pine at 22.2 and white oak at 49.1. The lower the number, the lower the rate of decomposition. Red cedar is at 3.9."

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 8:32 pm
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One more suggestion that might work -

If indeed this sawdust is decay resistant and you have the space, how about letting it age and rot longer before using ?

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 3:12 pm
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Check the moisture content in the center of the pile. You might be adding too much. It should not be wet, but moist like a wrung-out sponge. You aren't using tap (chlorinated) water, are you? Only use rain water or aged tap water.

(Message edited by demeter on October 14, 2010)

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 2:29 am
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I did a quick web search on Douglas Fir - it seems that MAYBE this wood is quite decay, WATER, and insect resistant - please verify with your own more thorough research. If true, its interesting that even in sawdust form and loaded with urine and manure and other compostable materials its still very slow to decay. And still the insects/bugs/worms avoid it !

If you have a garden/trees the sawdust would probably make a good mulch.

But maybe, the sawdust maybe a bit to tough to use in humanmanure system. Maybe, cut back on its volume use and try some other cover material (leaves, coffee grounds, grass, paper... still free) using the sawdust a small supplement.

Please check the Humanure book - I think the book suggests if the pile does not get hot enough, then allow 2 years after pile is complete before you use the compost. I think the book recommended in such case do not use for food, but I can't recall.

After your pile is full to the top, I am going out on a limb, but I would bet the pile will eventually shrink to about one and half feet high or less within 2 years.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - 5:43 pm
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Thanks to Danilo and Test2 for their comments. Yes we add 6 x 5 gallon buckets of humanure (pee and poo) and 2 to 4 buckets of kitchen and garden residue to compost pile which are sandwiched all together with a cover of straw on top each time. Added about every 14 days to pile. Since my last posting, we immediately added 6 more buckets of water to add moisture to the heap and several buckets each day since - in case possible lack of sufficient water is an issue. Fir sawdust is from Douglas Fir. No worms etc. visible when digging down into pile as Test2 asked. Temp. hovered from 80 deg.F to 84 deg.F for a period of 6 days - looked hopeful - now dropped down to mid 60 degs. readings daily. Thinking to start using peat as cover material instead of this sawdust although much prefer continuing with the recycling of this sawdust supply. Sawdust always damp, is semi rotted, as in wire compound so exposed to rains. Am still very puzzled as to why temperature does not reach even 90 deg. F since summer months start up! Does anyone north of Latitude 50 degrees, situated on the west coast, have any problem with their humanure composting set up I wonder?

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - 11:16 pm
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Give it a week and see temperature in the section you deposited.

I think you said you dug into the pile - did you see any worms, bugs, larvae when digging into the pile ?

You say its sawdust and not wood chips. You say it is somewhat rotted.

Any Idea species of Fir tree. Certain trees do resist decay - so it makes sense to find out species of tree you are using if possible and not to much trouble.

Author: Danilo (Danilo)
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - 3:51 pm
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Perhaps you should try to peeing and pooping in one bucket. Maybe the problem is there.

I usually add 4 to 6 receptacle of humanure and around 12 gallons (46 liters) of kitchen and garden residue, which are add between humanure (like sandwich) and on top I finish with humanure, cover with straw. I add to compost bin every 14 days and temperature is reaching over 120 deg.F (50 deg.C) and higher.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Monday, September 27, 2010 - 10:46 pm
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Thanks Nancybeetoo. Yes, we do move the straw cover material to the side exactly as you describe and place our deposits in centre each time and then replace the straw on top with additional straw amounts also. Five days ago, we added 3 x 5 gall buckets of poop layered with fir sawdust and 3 buckets of pee layered with sawdust (we have 2 simultaneous bucket systems - we pee in the house bucket and poop in the 'outhouse' bucket.) Also added were 5 dead mice, 2 buckets of garden waste with veggie/fruit peelings 1 bucket of seaweed, and 6 buckets of water. As well, we have had 24 hours of constant heavy rain so straw is soaked. No road kills possible as there are no roads here and no chickens also. Compost bin made to exact description by J.J. in his book and on his videos. Thermometer dropped to 63 degrees F. after above deposits added and today temp. is only 73 degs. F. Surely, the compost should have begun shrinking/reducing by now after 3 months from start up? Ambient temp. today is 57 degs. F. Could the fir sawdust (always damp) be causing a problem we wonder? Has anyone experience of using this kind of sawdust? We only add a bare minimum for cover each time we use buckets.We are completely puzzled by continuing low temps. i.e. no sign of thermophilic bacteria action.... or are we being too impatient?

Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 1:48 am
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After reading all the replies here I agree that the most likely situation is that the compost is too dry and C/N ratio is too high because of too much sawdust. My suggestion would be to find sources of nitrogen- road kill, animal mortalities (ask your friends who raise chickens), freezer and fridge clean out. Most of those add moisture as well. You could even add some organic fertilizer like chicken manure.

When you add new stuff to the compost do you move the cover material to the side? Cover material is usually dry and pretty high in C. I scrape the cover material to the sides of the bin, add buckets, then move the cover material (straw or weeds) back over the middle.

As an another source of comparison, my buckets are usually saturated with pee to about the middle of the bucket.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Saturday, September 18, 2010 - 12:58 am
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Thanks for all the advice! Am really hoping our humanure composting will succeed, especially since we replaced a commercial type compost toilet requiring regular additions of peat with our new humanure system. The thermometer temperature has increased a few points already since adding additional water to the bin but we are still a long way off hitting the 100 degrees F mark! Will add more nitrogen as suggested. Will keep the Message Board posted!

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Friday, September 17, 2010 - 12:29 am
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Sounds like you found the problem. Compost is supposed to be damp. Dry organic materials will not work. You were probably adding too much saw dust to the buckets relative to the urine and manure content.

This is common because people want to make sure no smell. But once you poop in the bucket the suff will smell until its covered. Even then the smell will persist for say a half hour. Then it will should not smell. With a little practice you will figure out the right of sawdust to add. A regular toilet has water that helps with initial odor, but even they smell until it flushed.


I would not add just plain water to the heap, though doing so will not hurt. Mix in some nitrogen. Push some sticks into the heap pull the sticks out and pour in urine or a urine solution or some other nitrogen solution. While your at throw in some soil with the liquid nitrogen. Then cover up holes.

Keep us posted.

Author: Danilo (Danilo)
Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:41 pm
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Can you show picture your receptacle of humanure when is full. Maybe this way we can easily see if the problem is too much sawdust and/or enough urine.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 11:41 am
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Ambient temp. ranges between 52 and 55 degrees F. over the last few weeks - bins are in shady spot under trees - only site available.
Yes, will try adding some soil to buckets....good idea.
Too much sawdust? Maybe.... so will cut back sawdust additions to our pee and poo buckets. Sawdust is definitely not kiln dried and not from treated wood. How do we know it is fir sawdust? Because we collected it ourselves in February (our humanure system commenced in June) from a site where commercial fir logs are cut daily with chainsaws in January for firewood - sawdust was already moist and partially decomposed. We dug deep into the compost bin today and found it to be surprisingly dry, and so added more gallons of water. Thermometer reading today is 67 degrees F.

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 11:11 pm
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Whats the ambient temperature been ?

Think of adding some soil - this could well jump start the process.

Are you adding too much sawdust - this will raise the c/n ratio. Maybe cut back a little on saw dust.

Add a little soil to bucket - normaly not needed, but it can't hurt.

Are you including enough urine ?

I have no experience with fir sawdust and are you sure its fir ? Is it Kiln dried type (not the best to use.) Is it from treated wood (very bad).

I think Jenkins says uses somewhat rotted sawdust - if yours is fresh may take a while till process kicks in.

Add some nitrogen.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 3:55 pm
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Thanks those two replies so far! Re. checking of thermometer. Yes we replaced the original thermometer just to check it was correct or not. We know there is a microbial problem as the pile is not yet shrinking - this is the puzzle to us. And yes there is plenty of air around the bin as three sides have netting up to height of 5 ft - the fourth side has wooden slats added individually with the need to increase the height to contain the contents inside the bin. After only 3 months of filling, our bin has only two more slats to go until it is filled up to the top! Yes, we add 5 gall of water each time we add materials to the bin and the bin is open to the rain also. Something is definitely not working here...

Author: Danilo (Danilo)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 3:32 pm
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Perhaps the problem is in thermometer, did you check?

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 11:07 am
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Sounds like you have the right mix of materials. So the lacking ingredient(s) might be 1) air or 2) moisture.

Author: Windywoo (Windywoo)
Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 7:39 pm
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Our first humanure compost bin was created three months ago, sized 4' x 4' x 5', constructed of wood with wire mesh sides and wooden slatted front. Straw in base and around sides and a top layer added after each addition of materials about every ten days. Materials include our pee and poo (with old fir sawdust layered in our buckets) together with veggie peelings and garden materials. Centrally positioned thermometer has reached 103 degs. F. three times over the summer months but now only reaches a high of 73 degs. F. Compost bin/s are positioned in shady spot under trees. Why is our thermometer not reaching the higher temperature zone and why is the thermophilic bacteria action not kicking in?

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