Doing == Learning

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Doing == Learning
Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Monday, March 21, 2011 - 4:32 am
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Just to keep you up to date and share my enthusiasm: After starting my pile 3 weeks ago, and after since adding about 4 buckets in 2 batches, the inside of the pile has reached 50.2C (122F). I am using old hay as cover material. The comparative "outside" temp. on my digital thermometer reads a little high (currently 17C)because I lay it on top of the heap. There is obviously quite a bit of heat rising out through the top of the heap, so this reading is not entirely reliable. Joe has mentioned that the top of his pile does not freeze in the winter normally (I think that's right??).
Anyway, I have found this very encouraging. If I get cold at night this winter I can always go jump in the pile! Better than a feather quilt!

Author: Ken (Ken)
Friday, March 11, 2011 - 10:29 pm
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Here is some information I picked up from a respected person in the Biochar group on biochar and compost.

"1. Biochar helps remove odor from post by absorbing nitrogen that comes off
as ammonia.
2. Biochar -compost blends have higher Nitrogen due to lower N losses.
3. When added to compost biochar absorbs nutrients so the blend is a better
growing media. Even in the Seachar trials the biochar-compost blend had
better results than the compost or biochar alone. This may be simply because
the biochar adds porosity to the composting matter.
4. When biochar is added to poultry litter for composting the result is a
more friable, easier to handle material than poultry litter compost alone.
Plus it smells better.
5. Biochar apparently speeds up the composting process. This also may be due
to increased water holding and porosity. We see this simply by adding about
20% biochar to kitchen waste that we compost. It speeds things up and makes a
much nicer compost."

Author: Longsnowsm (Longsnowsm)
Friday, March 11, 2011 - 3:15 pm
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Well the new deposit was added today and the bucket was much less sloppy so I think the mixture of leaves and wood mulch in the right balance seems to be working pretty well. Temps were down to 122 when I went out, and started to go back up as soon as I added the bucket. I still put some wood mulch in the pile, added the bucket, and put a little more mulch on top of that. Then put some fresh straw over the top.

The new challenge is that my compost bin is filling pretty fast so I will have to start using my second bin in the next couple of weeks at this rate. So I will need to get my large compost bins built soon.

I am finding my cover material mixture that worked better was a couple handfuls of leaves, then a couple handfuls of wood mulch, and just keep layering that into my cover material bucket and press it down. So it has a nice mixture of leaves and wood mulch. That seemed to work OK this last bucket where I made sure there was more wood mulch in there with the leaves. My wood mulch is just branches off of a tree we had cut down that I have run through a shredder. It makes a nice fine mulch that seems to be working very well in the cover material.

I tried doing the worms at one time, but I was a road warrior at the time and wasn't around enough to keep them fed. Right now with everything going into my compost piles I am not sure I would have enough to keep worms fed again so I don't know I am in a hurry to try the worms again yet.

I am not sure I understand the advantages of biochar over composting. I did look at the wiki on it after you mentioned it. So maybe I am missing the bigger picture on biochar.

What I am focusing on is the permaculture raised bed technique called hugelkultur. That is the next big project along with swales to detain and capture as much rain as possible. Those things combined with a little greywater project are on the "learning list" this year. So it is going to be a busy year! LOL

So far so good with the humanure composting.


Author: Knothead (Knothead)
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - 8:02 pm
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It's fun to read this kind of enthusiasm once in awhile.:-)
It brings to mind my own experience where one discovery leads to another.
I first started composting. That lead to raising worms. I learned that the worms love the algae that used to be a nuisance. Now I love collecting it. Now I'm even raising Black Soldier fly larve.
Then I started reading about biochar. Our friend Ken sent me some links about how to make a simple stove and for the last year plus I've turned everybit of yard waste into either compost or biochar which I add to the compost.
Now I have chickens and am thinking about getting some rabbits.

Seriously, It's good to feel that you are putting as much back as you are taking out of this earth. It's about the only real impact we can make.

Great thread.

Author: Longsnowsm (Longsnowsm)
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - 3:05 pm
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Ecointerest, Very cool! Or should I say very hot?

I just did a quick spot check on my pile. The ambient temperature warmed up today to 48 degrees and the pile temp when I just checked is 134 degrees. So it looks like things are on track.

Lessons learned is don't be afraid to investigate your pile if your temps aren't doing what you expect. Make sure to take into account your ambient temperatures, and if your seeing freezing temps outside then pay attention to how wet that pile is because it can freeze, and if it does then you may have to jump start the pile by digging into it and adding material as needed to address the too wet or other conditions that may exist. Don't be too quick to start poking around however. Give things a little time for the ambient temps and pile temps to climb by themselves. If you are not seeing temps climb after a few days of warm ambient temps and your not seeing things progressing then don't be afraid to dig in and figure it out.

They need to change that commercial from "Got Milk?" to "Got Compost?" LOL


Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - 4:27 am
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Things are getting hot down this neck o' the woods! 45.3 degrees when I checked earlier today, that's been achieved in about 7 days. Must be doing something right!

Author: Joe (Joe)
Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - 9:51 pm
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Nice thread...

Author: Longsnowsm (Longsnowsm)
Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - 3:14 pm
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Ecointerest, Congrats on getting your pile started. I would say don't be afraid to poke around in that pile while you are figuring out what is working and what isn't. I can honestly say that had I been afraid to dig around in my pile I might not have gotten the info I needed to make the needed adjustments to the makeup. Your absolutely right the components that make this work are simple, but getting the right balance looks like it takes a little bit of trial and error until you stumble upon the secret formula. I would say just keep tweaking your pile and you will end up with the temps your looking for.

Nancy, You are so right about this being a lot like cooking. You really have to experience cooking yourself and not just watch it on TV to have it finally become an "Ah Ha" moment. I have found this to be the case with my cast iron skillets. People say they have a horrible time with them, but I found that experience with them and learning how to work the cooking surface is the key. But you will only know that by trial and error until you get it. Once you have it figured out it is just second nature. I am hoping this humanure composting experience will be the same way.


Author: Longsnowsm (Longsnowsm)
Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - 2:49 pm
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Just a quick follow-up on my original post. Last I left you with my first bucket deposit story and the soggy condition of things killing my pile temps. Once I recognized that is what was happening I went back and dug down into the pile a little bit and started adding dry carbon materials to the pile for air, and to absorb some of that overly wet condition. I covered the pile again and left it. I hadn't checked on it since then. It was right around 100 degrees when I last left it.

This morning I went out to add my second bucket to the pile. The temps had climbed back up to 118 and looked good. It is 26 degrees outside and the pile is steaming away! Very exciting stuff. So when I went to add the second bucket today I noticed it is still very very sloppy soggy wet. So my adjustments in materials made a slight improvement from what I can see, but still room for improvement. So before adding this bucket I pulled back my straw, I grabbed a few hands full of fine wood mulch and made a layer of that, then I added my bucket, and then I added a couple more hands full of wood mulch to the top of that. Then just put more straw cover material over the top of that. Much to my surprise when I put my thermometer back in the pile the temps went racing to 125 degrees! Wow, that was amazing and fast. I guess it was feeding time at the zoo?!?!

So don't be afraid to experiment. I think that once I get the proper balance with my cover materials and my bulk materials that there will be little or no need to go digging around in my pile to make adjustments. So let the learning continue! As weird as it may sound... This is actually fun... Ok, now I know I have lost my mind! At least I am having a good time?


Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Monday, March 07, 2011 - 11:33 am
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Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that others find it encouraging. Optimal composting is learned by doing and learning from the results of what you did. It is a lot like learning to be a good cook.


Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Sunday, March 06, 2011 - 8:01 pm
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Thank you Longsnowsm. Those 3 basic requirements for a successful temperature rise: Adequate moisture, adequate oxygen, adequate nitogen and the 4th one, adequate bulk I think are the keys. I started my first compost heap last week. Just 2 5-gal buckets, some garden waste which had been chopped up, plenty of straw on the base for the biological sponge and plenty at the sides and on top for insulation.
I checked the temperatures on the surface and deep inside the heap, for several mornings after starting up. Initially, they were 6.5 and 21.5 Celsius respectively. Then 4 and 32. Later that day, 9.6 and 34.1.
Two mornings later, 2 (yes, close to freezing!) and 36.5.
Yesterday, I added two more buckets. The temp. rapidly recovered to 30 inside. This morning it's 14 and 31.5 respectively.
I am still hoping it will get up to thermophilic soon.
My thermometer is not all that accurate. I purchased a digital one, running on battery. It's the sort you could fix to the windscreen of your car, giving inside and outside temperatures. I attached the "outside" sensor to a stick, covered it with "heat shrink" like an electrician would use, to keep it water proof. This is pushed carefully down into the compost heap. The monitor part is wrapped in plastic and left on top of the heap.
I live in Tasmania. Does anyone here have access to a supplier for the proper probe thermometer? If not, I might order a few from Joe, to make the freight costs more reasonable and distribute them within Tasmania.

Author: Longsnowsm (Longsnowsm)
Sunday, March 06, 2011 - 5:15 pm
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When I first started reading on the topic of composting humanure I have to admit I was pretty nervous and the process of composting seemed daunting. Too dry, too wet, not hot enough, too hot, pests, runoff, not enough carbon, too much nitrogen, ground contamination, and on and on. It was frankly very overwhelming.

I just decided to just press ahead and just do it. I had already begun a compost pile, but I never paid much attention to it in the past. I just added whatever scraps and things I had and didn't think about temps or any of that. So I suddenly put a lot of attention into my compost. Information was everything. I bought a compost thermometer, and started looking at what I was putting into the pile. There wasn't much activity and temps weren't very good. I looked at the makeup of the ingredients and I just didn't see that I had enough nitrogen. So I decided until I got my compost toilet together I would collect liquids(ie urine) and add this to my pile. The temps had been above freezing at the time and within a few days of starting to add urine temps started climbing in the pile. It was very exciting to see and within a week pile temps were around 100 degrees. Then a massive cold snap hit and we were seeing below zero temps. I watched the pile temps in amazement that they only dropped about 20 degrees the first day, but kept dropping the longer the severe cold lasted until it leveled out at 42 degrees. I continued to add my daily collection to the pile and as ambient temps started to rise I noticed my pile temps were not. I waited for a week and outside temps had increased but pile temps were stagnant.

So I decided it was time to start digging around in the pile to see if I could determine what was wrong. There was a strong smell of urine from the pile as I started digging around and I noticed the pile had become very wet. The deep freeze had halted the activity of the pile and then the pile became too wet. So I added some wood mulch, straw, and and leaves and turned the pile down deep to get some of this matter down into the pile. Within a day or two temps started to climb in the pile again and withing a few days the temps had climbed into the 110-120 degree range with outside temps in the 40-50 degree range. So it seemed things were back on track. No reason to panic, and I learned a lot in this process.

So there I am happy as a clam things appeared to be working again in the pile so I decided it was time to go ahead and get my composting toilet going one step further. I have purchased the materials to make a Loveable Loo, but no time to build it yet. So I ordered a snap on plastic toilet seat that you attach to a bucket and decided it was time to begin experimenting with that. So this last week I have been using my improvised toilet. My cover material in the first bucket is crumbled leaves. I emptied the first bucket into the pile today. And the education and challenges continue. So it appeared that my first bucket was very soggy and wet. The leaves didn't absorb the material very well and the bucket was very "sloppy". The temps when I added the bucket in the pile appeared to be right around 118 degrees. Shortly after adding the contents of the bucket the temps started to fall pretty quickly. I went out and checked on it again this afternoon and notice the temps were down to 100 degrees. So I decided it was time to do some more digging to see how badly the pile was "sogged". As I suspected the pile once again appeared to be too wet. So I added some more straw, leaves, and wood mulch to the pile and covered the pile again. So now I will wait and see.

On the leaves as cover material I can say that I actually used too many leaves because the bucket didn't last very long before I had to change it out. So I don't believe the issue with the wet factor was due to not enough cover material. That didn't appear to be the case. I don't think the leaves absorb as well as other materials possibly. So to address this I have filled my cover material bucket with a mixture of my fairly finely ground wood mulch and leaves. So I will report back out that works out.

So far there really has not bee any smell issues or problems of that nature with the humanure experiment. The improvised toilet seems to be working OK until I can get a more permanent solution built over the coming weeks.

My point for this book is to just encourage people not to get paralyzed by fear or let concerns hold you back. Most of the issues I have seen so far I wouldn't have learned anything without doing it myself. Someone can tell you things in a book or on a forum like this, but the real reward and understanding starts to happen when you do it. The fear and concern starts to melt away and you can do this. So far I am feeling pretty good about how this is going and what I am learning.

If your thinking about trying humanure composting get your supplies and materials together and just do it. I think you will find it isn't rocket science, and that by doing it you will feel rewarded and encouraged to continue. I can also say that just in the process of discovery the compost that I can see already starting to develop down in my pile is a beautiful sight to see. I can hardly wait to see how these piles turn out.

Now my concern is I need to get a larger compost pile system built. I am going to run out of space pretty quickly with these commercial plastic compost bins I am using. So I probably have about a month or so before I will be out of space in my two existing bins. So I have my work cut out for me.

So don't be afraid to give this a try. Sometimes problems and challenges are just what we need and are all part of the learning process. I know I am learning a ton so far and it is exciting. Have fun!


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