Sawdust not decomposing

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Sawdust not decomposing
Author: Utopian (Utopian)
Wednesday, December 07, 2016 - 5:32 pm
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What temperature is your pile reaching?

Author: Mindimmf (Mindimmf)
Saturday, October 01, 2016 - 9:51 am
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Hoopy frood -- thank you for the thoughtful reply! That's interesting about the fungi and makes a lot of sense (though I still don't get why my sawdust isn't breaking down or should need that... since the inoculation you talked about isn't a standard part of the humanure-compost procedure). My sawdust from the saw mill is from many kinds of local lumber, so it feels a little overwhelming to go into the forest and try to find rotting trees of all different types, esp. because I'm not great at tree ID (esp. rotting-tree ID!). But your logic makes sense. I wonder if I just gathered some forest soil, though, and added it to my pile before aging it (on top so it doesn't get burned up), if that might help things a little? Surely any local forest soil has a better fungi supply than what my compost heap has already. Usually we use old hay for cover material, or sometimes leaves. Do you think hay is a bad cover material? When I think about this fungi issue, I'm thinking there isn't going to be any useful wood-eating fungi in hay (or in poo)!

Author: Hoopy_frood (Hoopy_frood)
Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 10:10 pm
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Mindimmf - Have you heard anything from anyone else?

I'm very new to this so I don't have a lot to offer, but I have been using wood products in my compost and have learned a bit from it... I'll offer the little bit I can.

First, you've got the right sawdust. The stuff you really don't want is kiln dried. It can last a long, LONG time. But even fresh (i.e. "rotted") sawdust can pose a problem. It's not going to "hurt" your garden, it's simply your call if you want those fibers in the dirt where you work.

Wood is obviously tough. It's only broken down by fungi that are not present in your typical garden. You can get some clues into the nature of wood decomposition by researching a bit on "hugelkultur."

Another trick: if this is a local mill processing more or less local lumber, do some recon in the area. If you can find a nearby forest where these trees are rotting, harvest some of the soil and the rotting wood where it lies on the ground.

You can take that sample home and inoculate some of your sawdust supply with it and see if you can propagate the fungi. They WILL be killed in thermophilic compost conditions, so do it outside of that environment. If you succeed, then spread that into your sawdust supply and aging compost. Be sure too keep some in reserve to inoculate future batches! Or just shovel some finished compost into the future batches with the right moisture content.

I don't know what trees you have there. But where I'm at I got a load of shredded wood fiber from a brush clearing/landscaping contractor who also is a garden enthusiast. He brought me a free load of shredded wood fiber he inoculated. I know the inoculation succeeded by two signs. One: both the wood fiber cover material pile and the cool part of my active compost pile sprout copious amounts of a particular mushroom whenever they get significantly wet. Two: I've dug through my compost pile in forensic troubleshooting (no thermophillic reaction yet) and found most of the wood fiber has broken down into a humus-like substance.

Mind you the cover material is shredded cleared brush and tree branches. There were some branches in there that were almost an inch in diameter! I pulled the big ones out but even the smaller ones are still sticks. However some of the fiber bits (no bark) were an inch wide, 1/8 -1/4 inch thick and 6 - 8 inches long (read MUCH larger than sawdust) and they have all but disintegrated in only 2-3 months!

Bark is part of the problem. Very, very hard to break down. A lot of rotten sawdust can be bark, too.

I have yet to find a magic bullet. Hopefully you can find something that helps you! Good luck!

Author: Mindimmf (Mindimmf)
Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 9:12 pm
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I have the same problem. Does anyone else have ideas? The answers here don't necessarily make sense to me... The sawdust comes from a local sawmill, which I think is the standard way to get it, so of course it is probably not that old. It's very rainy where I live so nothing is too dry. As far as not having enough nitrogen rich materials, isn't that what the humanure is for? It's just 2 of us here, so our kitchen scraps aren't much, but we put everything in there. Our sawdust is all different types of wood from a local mill. After a year, it looks like nice compost, but with sawdust still mixed in and not decomposed, so I can't use it on the garden. Any other advice? Thank you...

Author: Rowan (Rowan)
Friday, August 15, 2014 - 12:34 pm
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The saw dust was/is probably too dry, maybe also not enough nitrogen rich materials. The saw dust I use is from dried wood, mostly pine, douglas and spruce, but i have never seen saw dust in my matured compost. I keep my compost pile very wet (it rains a lot here), and add all of my kitchen waste to the pile together with the toilet buckets. Sometimes I use fresh saw dust, but never noticed any difference. Btw: we always use canola oil for lubrication of chain saws here, works perfectly and is much more nature friendly.

Author: Jeffm (Jeffm)
Friday, August 15, 2014 - 10:18 am
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I have same issue. For me I believe the hold up is that I use fresh saw dust while Joe uses sawdust that has been left out side for a while (I think he says 1 year in the BOOK) . I have the extra space and time so I let mine sit at least 2 years before I apply it to garden. I believe that it is safe still after 1 but I prefer my compost to look like compost

Author: Rman (Rman)
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - 8:43 am
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Jesse, what kind of sawdust were you using for cover and could you describe your system?

Author: Jesseallatt (Jesseallatt)
Saturday, May 10, 2014 - 12:24 pm
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I have let my compost pile sit for 2 years now and all i have left is brownish sawdust. should i leave it for another year and add a fourth bin which is kinda taking up to much space already. why isn't the sawdust decomposing. Any help would be appreciated.

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