The Pile That Wouldn’t Cool Down…

The saga continues from the previous post….

I’m happy to admit that this title is somewhat deceiving….I just checked temperatures and the pile has cooled down – still toasty but no longer hot composting, which is a good thing because this pile was a mammoth to turn by hand. Now that its cooled down below 130 degrees we wont risk letting the pile go anaerobic by letting it sit unturned until the fall; that was the plan all along: Build a big biodynamic static pile that would be cured and composed and ready to apply to newly double-dug garden beds in the fall.

In the previous article I documented the beautiful layered pile that we ambivalently added a coop’s worth of chicken manure too, plus water. For a static pile?…bad idea. That super high-nitrogen mixed with old and new horse manure, straw, stems, weeds, and chips got hot! 130-160 degrees was the range. So we had to flip it. Here is what our neat box-shaped pile turned into:

Yes, Compost on Contour

That’s Jake there, my good friend and fellow permaculturalist who I live with. We added more high carbon material when we flipped it, using mostly weeds from the garden in layers as we extended the pile down hill and on contour to the garden. The added organic matter should’ve created more air pockets and by mixing it in layers we tried to break up as many “hot-pockets” as we could. We made it this shape so that any rain would hopefully run through the pile and stay caught in the curve and funnel into the garden, rather than wash away those precious nutrients down hill.

As beautiful an idea as this was, the pile was still steamin! I think it had to do with the moisture level – I instinctively watered the pile despite knowing that the water would keep all the bacterial and microbial activity high (the microbial activity is what creates heat and uses up the oxygen!) So we split our compost into two…looking like neat wind-rows now with wood-chip mulch in the pathways.

Twice As Nice!

The mulch 2-3 inches thick will ideally decompose slowly, stimulating a good mycelium network underground. The mycelium help break down and decompose organic matter and form mutualistic relationships with most root-systems (the woodier the plant, the more the plant benefits) to make nutrients available for the plant and receive nice carbon chains from the plant’s roots.

This time our two newly-flipped piles cooled down, thankfully, to 90-120 degrees – low enough for me to leave it till the fall. I think this decrease in temperature happened for a number of reasons:

1) A third flip of the pile opened up the middle and allowed air into the pile

2) We layered in 2 and 1/2 dry straw bales to dry the pile out a bit and create more air pockets

3) We diligently broke up any hot balls of manure that had aggregated and begun to go anaerobic

4) By building 2 smaller rows we decreased the size of the middle of each pile, which is always the hottest part of the pile, creating more longer sides, tops, and bottoms – the cooler parts of the pile.

So we’re happy with this, and now we’re motivated to double the height of each row. We know that over the months the pile will compress and shrink, and with abundant free manure at our disposal (from neighboring horse farms) we’re confident we can now add to it appropriately without heating the pile back up! So for now, success!

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