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Compost woes November 18, 2008

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 9:35 pm
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I am blessed to live in a town where you can actually get some stuff for “free”. (Nothing is really for free; obviously it’s all paid for by my tax dollars, but still, if this stuff is available and I don’t have to pay then I’m getting me some!) The thing I just got for free was a huge pile of what was supposed to be wood chips. I had it in mind to refresh the area in front of my house outside the fence where we park our car. That way, next spring, I would not have to bring down the neighborhood due to my lackadaisical attitude about timely mowing.

What was actually delivered didn’t much resemble wood chips. It is mostly sticks and leaves and it’s bloody hard work to get it moved around. I just put in about two solid hours loading the wheel barrow, dumping it where I wanted it, and raking it out. My girls even helped! I love when they join me in my projects. It feels like the way things are supposed to be. But I digress!

After a few hours of this, I started trying to free up an area at the top of the pile because the whole side was just such a tangled mess. And when I finally got some of the wood chips (ahem – sticks) untangled, steam vapors rose up! At first, I thought it must be due to moisture but when I put my hand there, it really was quite warm. Off I went to get my compost thermometer that came with my composting toilet. I checked the temperature of the spot that was giving off so much steam and slowly it rose all the way to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit! That is right in the top range of cooking along nicely! I was so curious, I checked the temperature in a number of other spots and all were cooking! All were at least 100 degrees Farenheit. The pile had been there for just four days and I believe it was freshly chopped because it was delivered by the truck that did the shredding. So wow! Just a few days and real compost action happening!

According to my thermometer, it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And even though I’d already checked the internal temperature of my compost pile, I can not get past the fact that I think I’ve been doing everything right. So off I went to check it again. And guess what? Internal temperature of….wait for it…..yep, that’s right! Sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Crap. I was determined this time to find at least some sign of life in there so I poked until I did manage to find one spot that was all the way up to a whopping 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh boy.

So what gives? I have been feeding my pile and learning as I go, adding more different kinds of good stuff. And yet, nada. Zilch. Zippo. What gives? According to the Humanure book and other composting books I’ve read, twigs are not suitable for compost.

So what gives? How come when I do everything right, I get a big pile of garbage, and when a load of four day old sticks shows up, it’s immediately lovely compost?

I am totally rethinking my idea of using the pile for spreading around my parking area. I am considering just leaving it all winter and checking to see if it automagically turns itself into rich compost by spring. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

If you want to tell me what’s going on here, please comment!

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2 Responses to “Compost woes”

  1. Nancy Bee Says:

    That wood/chip pile is heating because they chipped green leaves and fine twigs in with the big branches and trunks. In my experience, it will heat briefly (2 weeks) or so as the readily decomposable carbons are decomposed, and then settle into a longer slower cooler decomposition as the microorganisms get to work on the cellulose and lignin in the sticks. In a year you will have recognizable sticks still present but they will be mixed in well humified worm and bug (really millipede and isopod) poop.

  2. Thinking Woman Says:

    Cool, Nancy. Now perhaps you want to come have a look at my actual compost which is distinctly not warm.


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