Pile not Heating Up

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: Humanure Handbook - A Guide to Composting Human Manure: Pile not Heating Up
Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 5:19 pm
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I have no problem using soap--real soap with no additives (homemade). I can see how synthetic detergent might be a problem. I have found one synthetic detergent that has no additives--not even enzymes. It's called "Country Fair Free".

Author: Joe (Joe)
Monday, April 21, 2014 - 7:05 pm
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This came to Joe Jenkins via email, April 2014:

"Been following your instructions and watching your videos and so far so good on the humanure compost pile. I've been reaching temperatures now over 140 degrees F. I'm on month six so far, I rinse out my buckets with plain filtered hose water then add it to the pile. Then wash separately in a sink with a natural liquid dish soap product and poured down a drain. I found out even though the soap is natural it had several ingredients that were I believe harmful to microbes in the pile. Once I stopped adding the soap into the pile the temperatures steadily started to increase even more so with the coming weeks. During when I would pour the soapy water into the pile temperatures would drop to as low as 90 degrees F. and remain inactive for a while then slowly come up to only as high as 110 degrees F. I think this might be helpful for some of those who are having trouble getting a hot enough pile."

Author: Pcinca (Pcinca)
Friday, June 04, 2010 - 2:37 pm
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Eric, LOL, I forgot about where the thermometer had been before recommending the kitchen pot of water test. My thermometer always comes out of pile shiny and clean looking, but washing it off first would probably be the more hygienic route.

I stab the thermometer horizontally into the pile through the side of the container and I don't have inquisitive little ones to worry about playing with it, so it's always facing the front of the pile and easily read.

Author: Estull (Estull)
Friday, June 04, 2010 - 2:00 pm
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Sorry, I misspelled your handle, Pcinca.

Author: Estull (Estull)
Friday, June 04, 2010 - 1:59 pm
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Thanks for your reply, Pcina. I followed Joe's example in his YouTube how-to videos, so for me to keep the face of the thermometer roughly even with the straw at the top of the pile I couldn't help but move the thermometer up each time I added fresh material. But your question makes me wonder if I should keep the thermometer protruding well above the top of the pile, thus probing only as deeply as the bottom of what has been freshly added. This would complicate my operation a bit, because I'd have to fit the probe through the grid of hardware cloth framed with wood that I fashioned so as to lie flush with the top of the straw. I also fear that a protruding probe will give our four little boys, whom we have had to pull a few times from the top of the screen, one more reason to be attracted to the compost bin; clambering up to the top of the pile inside a 5' X 5' bin and jumping up and down on the screen looks fun to them. Still, if this is the way for me to get an accurate reading of what my microbes are doing in there, so be it. As to your recommendation, I think I will test the thermometer that way. Although I'm not squeamish about it, I confess it hadn't occurred to me to dip a 20" probe into one of my kitchen pots, but if I clean it well, why not? Thanks for your help.

Author: Pcinca (Pcinca)
Friday, June 04, 2010 - 12:04 pm
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Eric, have you moved the thermometer probe up as you add new layers to the pile? After a while, the original probe location cools down after the bacteriological action has done it's job and that location then cools down. Try moving the tip up to the most recent addition area of the pile and see if the thermometer jumps up.

If there is a concern about whether the thermometer is still working, you can put the tip in a pot of cool water on the stove. The needle should drop down. Then turn on the heat and see if the needle goes up. If you have a kitchen thermometer, put that in the pot also and see how they compare. DON'T cook the thermometer! Just leave it in the heating water long enough to see if it moves up.

I move my thermometer up in the pile regularly to see how the action of the latest additions are doing. Usually, the pile averages around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit when it's done cooking (this is in So. California), but the most active area near the top of the pile is between 120 to 140 for a week or so, then it starts dropping down. When it hits 80 or below, I move it up again.

Author: Estull (Estull)
Thursday, June 03, 2010 - 5:47 pm
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Joe,

I built our bin in March, and it seemed to be heating up more then than it is now, when the weather is hot and the bin has a great deal of matter in it (toilet material, food scraps, etc.) from our family of six. I'm worried there is something wrong with my 20" probe, which hasn't moved much if at all in quite awhile, though it had been doing so in the beginning and though I've seen steam rise off the pile. Can you advise?

Eric

Author: Joe (Joe)
Thursday, May 06, 2010 - 11:40 am
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There is a difference between separating urine and collecting urine separately. You can collect urine in a bottle or whatever when urinating and then add it to the compost. The toilet works well for that purpose and a humanure toilet can be used to collect only urine - just keep it covered as you would any toilet material. If a toilet is not available, then you can use a bottle.

The issue of urine separation is different. This is when someone is taking a crap and has to be careful to make sure their urine goes into a separate collection compartment. This is unnecessary and crazy.

Author: Knothead (Knothead)
Monday, May 03, 2010 - 7:11 am
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Joe, why is it a problem to separate urine as long as it's added to the compost pile?
I have a bottle/urinal that I use most of the time and when it's full, I just pour it on the pile. It seems to work.
Is there something else that I'm not considering?

Author: Joe (Joe)
Sunday, May 02, 2010 - 8:30 pm
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Don't separate urine. Don't use wood shavings.

Author: Knothead (Knothead)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - 7:30 am
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Halipoo, One point that I didn't make clear. I do use the separated urine on the compost pile. I'm pretty sure that's a must to get it to heat up.

Author: Knothead (Knothead)
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 8:11 pm
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Halipoo, I am certainly no expert, but I also had no success in getting my compost to heat up until I gave up the barrel tumbler and built a big pile. Mine is about 4x4. I also am the only one using the system and I also separate the urine.
I have one neighbor that saves their kitchen scraps for me and sometimes I stop by the local vegetable stand and pick up some scraps there.
I add all the weeds, leaves and lawn clippings that I produce and I also add bio char that I produce from everything that I don't compost.
So far, so good. I don't have a compost thermometer, but the pool thermometer that I use it consistently pegged at 120 degrees.
I do think size matters.
Also, I do cover the pile in really heavy downpours.
Good luck

Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 7:42 pm
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My personal opinion is that this subject of Round Worm infection, at least the potential for infection, tends to bring on too much phobia.

I feel we need to take into consideration several factors when making an assessment of the risks.

1. Geographical location
2. Climatic considerations
3. Social and hygiene habits'
4. Cultural attitudes to contact with excreta.

I suggest that where Ascaris infections and deaths are prevalent, you will also find unhealthy ways of defaecating and coming into contact with the excreta. However, where hygiene and habits normally prevent persons having such contact, plus the availability of fresh water for washing of hands after excretion, then infections are very much reduced, even prevented all together.
I know there is always the 'potential.' Even if you manage to maintain thermophilic temperatures in your composting pile, there is no guarantee that ALL the pile will have been subjected to those temperatures. So, you must still allow the pile to mature for a further 12-or so months.
I would think Halipoo does not need to worry about not being able to achieve the thermophilic temperatures, if the compost pile gets the required maturation time.
One further point: In a Website I referred to some time ago, it was shown that if Ascaris Lumbricoides are present in a family, there is just as much, if not more, chance of picking up the eggs from a tap handle than there is from playing around with poo or part-composted materials. Most people just don't do that.
Certainly no reason for anyone in a cold/temperate climate to be deterred from using the Humanure method, just because they cannot consistently obtain thermophilic temperatures.

Author: Halipoo (Halipoo)
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 5:56 pm
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Hi, I've been composting for about 8 months now and the pile has never gotten above ambient temperature. I started in September which around here is quite cold (starts going down to about 5C at nights and 10 C in the days). It is almost May and our temperatures are still about 15 C in the days and 5 C at night. It will not be room temperature at night until high summer and then for about 2 months of the year. My pile has never been very big (one individual doesn't produce much) and I'm thinking maybe this is the problem.

Do we know of a minimum pile size requirement? I am adding maybe 4 or 5 parts of carbon to one of nitrogen, I am using coffee chaff (which is basically cellulose) and sometimes pine shavings and autumn tree leaves. I am separating my urine because the cold pile coupled with our heavy rainfall was causing most of the urine to leach out immediately.

I am waiting for some of it to cure and then have some berry bushes to put it on but this all is very frustrating. Any tips?

Author: John Smith (John)
Thursday, April 16, 2009 - 12:51 pm
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Marc responds:

"John, I admit that this was an overstatement.I've never done any investigation on the matter other than reading what other people wrote about it on the internet, my apologies."

No apology necessary, Marc. I just didn't want folks to come away from this discussion under the belief that compost temperature isn't important.

"I read in the link that you gave, Alan, that the eggs die at +40C temperature and that all infections occur in tropical, subtropical and warm-temperate regions."

No, not all infections. Ascaris infections are worldwide.

https://www.worldmapper.org/display_extra.php?selected=400#

"It makes me think that composting humanure may be a good way of fighting this intestinal worm. I should think that this temperature can easily be reached in compost piles in such regions."

Absolutely. Composting is a fantastic way to kill this parasite; provided minimum temperatures are met. Though, I prefer to see temperatures of at least 45C.

Here's some reading material on the subject (pdf file):

https://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/Nanning_PDFs/Eng/Annika%20Holmqvist%20et%20al%20%2027_E36.pdf

John

Author: John Smith (John)
Thursday, April 16, 2009 - 12:26 pm
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Demeter replied:

"Do you have a reference for that? Ascaris eggs can remain viable for some time, but not the adults, unless they are in a laboratory setting."

You're absolutely right, Demeter. I meant to say eggs, not worms.

-John

Author: Alan J Marshall (Ecointerest)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 7:34 pm
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Or even worse Marc, when he's about to eat a forkful of fresh cabbage from the garden.... Hilarious, my weird sense of humus (humour), sorry!

Author: Marc Van Hummelen (Rowan)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 4:59 pm
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I'm not worried about it Demeter. On the other hand, you don't go asking your visitor 'hey, you don't happen to have intestinal worms or anything do you?' before he uses your toilet. That's kinda delicate ;-)

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 4:36 pm
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It's not baffling when you realize how much of the world uses fresh "night soil" to fertilize crops. _Ascaris lumbricoides_ is a well-adapted parasite to this lifestyle. And yes, thermophilic composting kills the eggs. But remember, if no one who uses your Humanure toilet has Ascariasis, you don't need to worry about it.

(Message edited by demeter on April 15, 2009)

Author: Marc Van Hummelen (Rowan)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 11:39 am
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John, I admit that this was an overstatement.I've never done any investigation on the matter other than reading what other people wrote about it on the internet, my apologies. I also admit that I had never heard of ascaris, and the fact that 1.4 billion people worldwide are infected with it, is just baffling. I read in the link that you gave, Alan, that the eggs die at +40C temperature and that all infections occur in tropical, subtropical and warm-temperate regions. It makes me think that composting humanure may be a good way of fighting this intestinal worm. I should think that this temperature can easily be reached in compost piles in such regions.
When I started my pile a few months ago it barely reached 20C for weeks (I live in cold-temperate Western Europe), but as my pile got bigger, temps went up really fast, with peaks of 45C, still nowhere near Joe's pile, but sufficient enough I think. I don't know what other pathogens there are in the world, but honestly, I'm more afraid of dying in a car accident than of some pathogen that survived my compost pile...
Marc

Author: Alan J Marshall (Ecointerest)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 3:11 am
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Interesting point Demeter, thanks. In response to that I Googled the subject and found this site.

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/996482-overview

Worth reading, and it puts things much more in perspective.

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - 10:57 pm
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Do you have a reference for that? Ascaris eggs can remain viable for some time, but not the adults, unless they are in a laboratory setting.

Unless someone in the family has Ascariasis, it will not be a problem.

Author: John Smith (John)
Monday, April 13, 2009 - 6:11 pm
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Marc writes:
"All pathogens die after days, weeks or at most months after leaving the body."

That's not entirely true. Ascaris worms have been observed living for years after leaving the human body.

Within seven years, time and temperature are equally important for pathogen reduction in composting processes.

John

Author: Marc Van Hummelen (Rowan)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 - 7:16 am
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You need a minimum of mass in your compost heap to have a sufficient raise of temperature, the measures that you give are about ideal. High temperature is a good way of killing pathogens, but time is an even more important factor. All pathogens die after days, weeks or at most months after leaving the body. Even if your pile doesn't heat up properly - when you leave a full pile to ripen for a whole year before using it, your compost will be safe. And remember: if you don't have any life threatening disease and none of the other toilet users have, no life threatening viruses or bacteria will be found in your pile.
Marc

Author: George Coder (George_123)
Monday, March 09, 2009 - 1:27 pm
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Is there a relationship between the size of the pile and the temperature it will go to? Specifically, will a pile 3 x 3 x 3.5 feet reach temperatures high enough to kill the pathogenic bacteria?

Author: Amy-Sunshine
Thursday, August 08, 2002 - 5:04 pm
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I'm using well-aged sawdust, and occasional weeds for extra green matter. I fill up a bucket quickly, making mostly urine deposits, and about 8 fecal deposits.

I'm wondering if there's just not enough green matter? Or if I need to introduce bacteria maybe? Also, for a while I was adding soil to cover the bucket's contents when added to the compost pile. Not a whole lot, just enough to cover for odor. Could that be inhibiting composting action?

So far, I've tried transferring the whole pile to a new bin, layering it with fresh grass clippings. Still not heating up! What's going on here? It seems damp enough...and I'm not new to composting....Any ideas?

Author: Amy-Sunshine
Thursday, August 08, 2002 - 5:26 pm
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I just noticed the similar thread in the "Comosting around the world" forum. I am intrigued that you've got thermophilic activity in your fresh sawdust pile, Joe! Hmmm, that seems to rule out the "not enough green matter" option if it's capable of heating on it's own!

Author: Joe
Friday, August 09, 2002 - 9:52 am
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The sawdust I had that heated up was freshly cut from oak logs. It was, essentially, ground up oak trees with all of the associated sap. Thermophilic organisms love this stuff (ground up plants). Dried sawdust or aged sawdust will need nitrogen and moisture added.

Are you including your kitchen material in your compost? How are you checking the temperature? What kind of sawdust is it (tree species)? I have, on occasion, had compost that was reluctant to heat up, which I could not understand. I collected it anyway and eventually it developed heat. The reluctance to heat may have been due to too dry a pile, certain type of sawdust (resistant to degradation), insufficient additives (green material, food scraps, etc.), lack of oxygen, etc.

Author: Amy-Sunshine
Sunday, August 11, 2002 - 12:55 am
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I think that between adding soil as a cover material, and the soil that was on the roots of some grass that I composted, there may have been too much innert material (soil) layered in the mix. Also, possibly too little green matter. I've been adding weeds, and now grass clippings, but not all of my kitchen scraps, as I want to have some compost for next spring.

The top of the pile is finally starting to heat up. I didn't take a temperature reading, but it was noticably warm when I inspected it today. Yay, finally!

I seperated the hot stuff out into a new bin, and I'm starting from there. I've piled lots of good stuff on it, to keep the thermophilic process going. The old pile will just have to age for a couple years, and go into a flower bed...

Author: jrt
Saturday, April 19, 2003 - 9:53 pm
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Joe,

How much mass do you have to have before the pile will heat up??

I have a 4x4 bin with about 1-2 feet of material...

In your book you talk about a compost thermometer... I have never heard of it before... where would I get one?

thx!
jrt

Author: admin
Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 12:32 pm
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How do you know if the pile is heating up or not if you don't have a thermometer?

You can get one from reotemp.com

https://reotemp.com/BackyardCompostingPage.html

Author: jrt
Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 1:06 pm
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Joe,

wasn't sure what other category to place the question. (guess I could have created a new conversation.)

So the answer is Im not sure it isn't heating up but I also didn't think I needed the thermometer immediately based on previous answers that you have given. (i.e. not able to compost in a bucket as there is not enough mass... etc.)

so I was curious as to when I needed to get the thermometer to see how the pile is doing.
I'd guess from your answer that there is enough mass in my pile and should get a thermometer soon...

By the way, I found your book fascinating and hope that I am able to get the same results for myself...

Thx!

jrt

Author: jrt
Friday, May 02, 2003 - 10:42 am
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Joe,

finally got my reotemp compost thermometer and eagerly measured my compost. I was happy to find
that it was 105 degrees... so it looks like things are working out correctly...

jrt

Author: Anonymous
Monday, May 05, 2003 - 6:59 am
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I have also had some trouble with the pile heating up.

Right now, I have a large pile of good looking humanure that likely never reached proper temperature. Amy mentioned that she had some too. Is there a way to layer this into a new pile that, now as the weather has heated up and I have grass clippings, might get really hot?

If so, any idea on the ratio of this semi-cookedlooking humanure to the "raw" ingredients? If you think it wouldn't work, any idea on how to treat the humanure safely? I was thinking it could be used next year in hollow pits around fruit trees. Or is there some possibility that like with lettuce, the E. coli could migrate into fruit? Thanks. -Michael

Author: admin
Monday, May 05, 2003 - 12:39 pm
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How did you monitor the temperature?

Author: Anonymous
Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 1:39 pm
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I used a compost themometer, put in the top, about a foot down. It was hotter earlier (although I didn't have a themometer then and don't know the exact temp, but it wasn't too hot), but is now down to 80 degrees.

Too, I'm curious what you think about using the stuff that didn't reach sufficient temp in a new pile.

What are your thoughts on this. Thanks. -Michael

Author: admin
Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 8:39 pm
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I recommend collecting a pile for a year and then letting it sit to age for another year. After that, if you are concerned about potential pathogens, you can either have the compost tested for pathogens in a lab, or else use it for horticultural purposes. If it's not heating at the moment, that doesn't mean it won't begin to heat at some point in the future. Lack of moisture is a common cause of compost not heating, as is lack of green material. Are you putting all your urine in the compost?

Author: Anonymous
Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 7:25 am
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I think it won't necessarily heat up in the future. It looks fairly well composted already. It is still warm in the pile (80 degrees) with daytime and night temps in the 40s and 50s, but I believe it did its heat thing earlier, but probably without reaching a suitably high enough temperature.

Not all of the urine gets in the pile, but we use lots of leafy greens, coffee grounds, and fruit from a local health food store. The way we have been doing it is to dump about 30-40 gallons of humanure into the compost pile and then layer this with lots of the above (probably about 80 gallons equivalent). We make 4 or 5 layers with the greens, fruit, and coffee grains sepearated by a layer of humanure. The resulting pile heats up OK (like 105-110 and maybe a bit more but I did not have a compost themometer earlier) but not hot enough for me to feel safe.

We use peat moss as a covering agent. Sawdust is hard to get around here. I am wondering if the peat moss, which is easy to acquire and works wonderfully for odors might be part of the problem. When you mentioned that a pile of raw sawdust heated up quite a lot, I was impressed and thought that a pile of peat moss would never heat up. Actually, the one source of sawdust we could get would be aged horse manure that used sawdust as a bedding agent, but I assume this wouldn't work so well for a cover in the bucket.

What are your thoughts on this? We'd really love to be able to use it this growing season if possible. My hope is to be able to layer is somehow with some materials that will enable it to get really hot and non-pathogenic.

-Michael

Author: Nik
Tuesday, February 01, 2005 - 5:11 pm
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It's Nik again. A specific question about the thermometers is which to get. I am currently browsing the REOTEMP selection. Presently we have one 20' equivalent to the Backyard Composting variety. It has been suggested to me by the previous composting tech. that a 36' or even a 48' may be helpful in better regulating our 5x5x5" bins. Also the idea of purchasing a moisture meter has come into play. As I am still in the beginning stages of learning this process, left with no recorded information of the our past's progress other than the rich humanure that pours from a freshly opened bin, I would greatly appreciate your guidance. thank you

Author: admin
Tuesday, February 01, 2005 - 9:05 pm
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I doubt that a moisture meter would be helpful unless you live in the desert and have problems keeping your compost wet enough. The 20" reotemp thermometer is adequate for your size pile.

Author: Nik
Tuesday, February 01, 2005 - 9:17 pm
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Thank you for responding so quickly. So you don't think there is a need to keep temp. tabs on the lower portion of the bin?

Author: admin
Wednesday, February 02, 2005 - 12:40 pm
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No. The lower portion of the bin may be many months old. The thermophilic activity takes place in the upper portion of the pile and is relatively short-lived.

Author: heather
Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 9:18 pm
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Another note on temp...
My pile seems to spike in temp about 3 days after the addition of humanure. Its been reaching around 90F with daytime temps in the 20's and night time in the teens.
I started the pile last august, and unfortunately didn't get my thermometer til december, but it sure looked steamy last summer and well into the late fall! I'll be very eager to see if it reaches 120F come summer. The temp seems to drop very quickly (3-4 days) after spiking- confirming Joe's comment that the heat is short lived!
(I've turned into such a geek, I'm now charting my pile temp and air temp).

Author: admin
Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 12:22 am
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You should see the temperatures gradually rise as spring approaches, then plateau somewhere between 110F and 130F and stay there for the duration of the year until it gets cold again.

Author: cheff
Thursday, April 27, 2006 - 3:06 am
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hi... what if i heat up a closed bin? could it take a shorter time to process?

Author: TCLynx
Thursday, April 27, 2006 - 11:01 am
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Cheff, are you talking about batch composting? When you say closed, do you mean sealed? A sealed bin is probably not a good idea because compost needs air.

If you have a relatively small amount that heats up suffeciently and then you don't add any more to it, you can then let it age for about a year after it has heated up. In a way that is a shorter processing time but I don't think that is what you are asking.

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