Shortening composting time

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: Humanure Handbook - A Guide to Composting Human Manure: Shortening composting time
Author: taliesin
Sunday, September 01, 2002 - 7:00 pm
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I live in a small community and I am studying composting in an effort to convince my community to switch to composting everything, instead of the limited amount of "approved" materials we have been composting. Up to now, we have religiously excluded fats, oils, meats (considered the worst thing imaginable to place in a compost bin), cooked food, grains and, of coarse, human waste. The reasoning is usually given that these will draw rats. I have always thought it such a waste. My question is, when we expand our composting to include everything, including human waste, does it really have to age for a whole year? Our bins are medium sized and are composting fairly quickly as they are now used, with finished compost available after a two to three months of being filled. They also get quite hot, though I have not measured the temperature. And I live near Santa Cruz, California where there is no freezing of the compost ever. Would it not be safe to use the compost sooner than one year? Why the time limit of one year at all? Can't you tell when the compost is done by observing it? I also work at a restaurant as a waiter, and they are interested in reducing their garbage bill. If I could take their raw materials and add them to our bins, then our bins would fill up so fast that they would almost be "batch" bins. Would I still need to wait a year? I would like to know if there is anything I can do to help the compost be safe and ready to use in a few months after the bin is filled. The year long aging period may be enough for the fecophobia here to cancel the entire project. We have also been using a composting toilet which we are planing on replacing with a sawdust toilet as soon as I build it, and the toilet instructions do not say that you have to wait a year and it never gets that hot at all. It seems to me that the year is maybe excessive and that if cold humanure can be safe in a few months, why not stuff from a really hot bin? Thank you for your time.

Author: Joe Jenkins
Monday, September 02, 2002 - 1:19 pm
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Most commercial composting operations compost in a forced-air bin or vessel for about 3 weeks. The compost is then moved into piles or windrows until it cools down. The entire process usually takes about 3 months. At this time the compost is considered saleable. However, the compost is often still too hot to bag up after 3 months and the better composting operations move the "finished" compost to a storage facility (either indoors or out) and let it cure there for perhaps another 6 months. This makes the best compost. Backyard humanure composters without the benefit of forced-air operations should allow their compost to cure for a year for best results.

Compost that is immature contains substances that will kill plants. This was discovered by compost operations in a hurry to move their compost out. If your community wants to make compost on a large scale, better to look at commercial composting operations and see what works.

Author: taliesin
Monday, September 02, 2002 - 8:39 pm
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What are these substances and is there a test that I can perform on my compost to see if it contains these substances that will kill plants or not? It occurs to me from your reply that perhaps there is a way to test the compost to see if it is complete rather than rely on an arbitrary time limit.

Author: Joe Jenkins
Tuesday, September 03, 2002 - 9:34 am
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Contact compost@compostingcouncil.org for technical information about compost maturity testing.

Author: Jera Jones
Tuesday, September 03, 2002 - 12:04 pm
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Hi Joe,
I loved your book! I had been composting human manure prior to reading it, but now I do it better, thanks to your work. I just put up a website entittled, "Jera's Vegan Agriculture Page." As you can guess, I am vegan, and finding organically grown food that has no ties to the slaughter business is high on my priority list. I refer to your book on my site and link to weblife.org. I hope that's okay. If its not let me know and I'll change it. https://pages.sbcglobal.net/eminor13/index.html
is the address to my site, and my email is eminor13@sbcglobal.net.

Author: Anonymous
Tuesday, September 03, 2002 - 6:50 pm
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To Jera, Where do you live?

Author: Joe Jenkins
Wednesday, September 04, 2002 - 11:06 am
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Hi Jera,

Nice web page. You are, of course, very welcome to include Humanure and the link!

Author: TCLynx
Friday, February 03, 2006 - 10:21 am
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I've read about a test that would be easy for someone to perform. Take some of your finished compost, seal some in a plastic bag for a few days. When you open it check and see if it smells bad. If it smells bad after a few days sealed in plastic, it is not stable yet and should be left to age some more.

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