Compost Pile Not Working- Help!

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: Humanure Composting Around the World: Compost Pile Not Working- Help!
Author: Nancybeetoo (Nancybeetoo)
Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 1:33 pm
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should i try to covering the top with an opaque material so the sun doesn't hit it so hard?

It sounds like you are in a dry climate. I would recommend covering with something like plastic to retain moisture. For your next pile, consider lining the pallets with cardboard to hold moisture in. Those porous pallet sides will let too much moisture evaporate when the hot dry winds come.

Here in western oregon we have a mediterrean climate- cool wet winters and warm dry summers. I cover my compost in the summer to hold moisture in and in the winter to keep the rain out. When I have used cardboard liners I get more complete decomposition all the way to the edge of the pile. Without cardboard the outermost 2 inches of so of the pile will still look like un-decomposed straw. I think that's because it is dry.

Hope that helps.

Sounds like you guys are making progress in developing the methods that work for you in your specific circumstances.

Keep refining your methods and it will get routine after a while.

Author: Gucha (Gucha)
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 2:35 pm
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update: my compost bin has improved tremendously just by the improvements i've made in my technique of depositing and covering based on what i learned from watching the youtube videos. i no longer have smell nor flies and my compost is shrinking and maintaining a workable level.

however, the compost doesn't seem to be producing enough heat. even after a week the excrement and kitchen compost seems to be breaking down very slowly. could it be due to too much evaporation? should i try to covering the top with an opaque material so the sun doesn't hit it so hard?

Author: Joe (Joe)
Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 5:22 pm
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Here are compost thermometers: https://humanurehandbook.com/store/Compost-Thermometers/

Author: Md_heath (Md_heath)
Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 2:38 am
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compost does not usually heat up on the outside. it is inside the pile where it is getting hot. that is why, if you want to monitor temperatures, you need a composting thermometer- very long temperature probe shafts.
off odors are typically from either too much moisture (creating an anaerobic environment) or too little cover. If your material is too coarse, even though you put lots of it there, it is not really 'covering'. the objective of the cover material is to create a bio-mass 'blanket'. the material has to be fine enough to blanket over the deposits and sort of 'trap' the odors in the biomass blanket. those odors are methane and ammonia leaving the compost, so you want to trap them to improve the quality of the compost, besides making your life less malodorous.

Author: Gucha (Gucha)
Friday, January 14, 2011 - 11:39 pm
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i put my hand over it, and it doesn't seem to be heating up...?

Author: Md_heath (Md_heath)
Friday, January 14, 2011 - 3:21 am
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i would agree with others that the cover material is too course. you say you have lots of visitors. cover your access road with the cover material and let the vehicles drive on it for a week then gather it up and use it for cover material. the traffic ought to do an excellent job of size reduction.

particle size and moisture are the two biggest factors in composting. if the material is too coarse it will take a very long time for it to break down. the fact that there are flies and odors indicates that there is too much open space and the material may also be too dry. for particle size you want from sawdust to grass/straw thicknesses ideally. for moisture you want it like a wrung-out sponge.

Author: Joe (Joe)
Thursday, January 13, 2011 - 7:50 pm
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It sounds like your cover material is too coarse. Coarse cover material fills up a bin too fast and allows odors to escape and flies to breed. I use mostly straw on my bins, but also leaves and weeds. You don't have to create air spaces. Unless it's under water, the air spaces are there sufficient to allow compost organisms to thrive. They need a LOT of moisture, so as I stated, unless it's underwater, it's not going to be too wet. Try switching to a different material or mix of materials.

Author: Ecointerest (Ecointerest)
Monday, January 10, 2011 - 5:28 am
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Gucha, concerning the humanure which has not composted so far, in the way that you would like it to:
Get some composting worms, (e.g., Tigers, Red Wrigglers, etc.). One pound weight, or half a kilogram of them should suffice. Immediately before adding them to the compost pile, sprinkle or spray 2-3 litres (5 pints) of fresh tap or rain water over the compost. The compost needs to be moist, but not soggy wet. Then add the worms, and cover with mulch. Leave the worms to do their work for 9-12 months, undisturbed.
Don't worry about getting the compost to warm up - it won't! The action of the worms will turn the compost into humus, then you can use it on the garden. Doesn't matter if the sawdust has not fully decayed by that time.

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Sunday, January 09, 2011 - 1:48 pm
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You don't have to shred the leaves but doing so will speed up composting, one of your concerns. A thin layer of leaves should do as well as soil, but a little soil can only help.

Try to get an idea if the pile is heating up - dig into the center of pile say a half a foot to a foot and a half down - is it steaming or warm when you put hand near it ?

Use a thin layer of soil as possible, then add some of your other cover materials. Combined they very likely will solve the odor and fly problem.

It does take at least 2 years to compost humanmanure safely.

Dry sawdust will not rot, but if kept outside and gets wet will rot.

Author: Gucha (Gucha)
Sunday, January 09, 2011 - 1:19 am
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to answer questions: (1) i haven't got a thermometer yet. (2) sawdust rots? (3) i don't have a way to shred.(4) i don't want to leave it there longer than 2 years max.

my problem at this point isn't the cedar. it's the cover material at the compost bin that is causing the bin to fill so quick. there are worms in the matter that i'm dumping-in but the dry cover material isn't being consumed like i expected.

Can i use dirt as cover material for the compost?

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Saturday, January 08, 2011 - 12:46 am
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Here is some more info on using cedar from prior posts:

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: Anonymous
Friday, April 08, 2005 - 9:14 pm

We have been using cedar sawdust in our sawdust
toilet and have 3 full bins with minimal decomposition. When we began we thought that the
cedar would have aromatic benefits and did not
realize that it isn't going to rot because cedar doesn't rot! I am feeling very foolish and am wondering if there is some way to redeem the bins. Will it ever be safe to use as compost in
my garden?

Author: admin
Saturday, April 09, 2005 - 12:48 pm

It wil probably take a lot longer to decompose than other sawdusts. Is it possible to allow it to just sit undisturbed for a couple years? That may be your best bet.

Joe Jenkins

Author: Test2 (Test2)
Friday, January 07, 2011 - 8:31 pm
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To help eliminate odor flys use any of the following cover materials on top of the compost pile -try leaves(shredded may work better), some of the saw dust if you can spare it, even shreaded newspaper. You can also try adding a not to thick layer of grass clipping. However, shredding your current cover material (lawn mower, shredder...) is probably all you really need to do.

What temperatures are you getting ? With a pile that high it should be steaming hot.

Use the minimum amount of sawdust as toilet cover material.

You have added about a 150 gallons of material plus cover material within 1 month time. It does take a while for compost piles to begin to shrink (in my experience months). If you can't get any more material into the pile, just start a new one.

One more suggestion - if you let the sawdust rot a bit before using the whole process should speed up a bit.

Author: Gucha (Gucha)
Thursday, January 06, 2011 - 11:50 pm
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I read the handbook, and we started using the compost toilet a little over a month ago, and our compost pile is already full, it smells, and it attracts green flies. What am I doing wrong? (No problem at all with the toilet/collection point).

The compost bin is made out of four freight platforms (about 1.3 meters each side) and lined with chicken wire and covered with a wire lid. Cover material is brush, cane leaves, wild tomato plants and other wild plants growing on my property. We use course cedar and fine pine saw dust (from a lumberyard, not sawmill. We donít have any sawmills in my state) for cover martial at collection point.

The compost bin gets direct sunlight and the temperature during the day is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year long (Mťxico). Maybe because of the sun and heat, Iím losing too much moisture? Should I cover it to give it shade? (the only water I add, is from rinsing out the 19 liter buckets- I deposit about a bucket a day to the compost pile.) (Humidity is moderate- weíre not on the cost).

We are a family of 3, but we get a lot of visitors and family constantly staying at our house, which produces probably the equivalent of material of a family of 4-5. We cook a lot, three times a day, and all that compost is added.

I reviewed some of the posts in the forum and watched the video on how to deposit at the compost bin. At first I thought maybe my cover material was too course, but it doesnít seem too different than what Mr. Jenkins uses in the video. I do have a lot of sticks and cane in the cover material so the bacteria can get oxygen. I definitely havenít been digging in the center deep enough when depositing, so Iím going to start that now; and I have been putting cover material between deposits which Iím going to now try to avoid, but that still doesnít seem like a sufficient explanation of why my pile got full so quickly. Any ideas?

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