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getting colder – trouble with my piles

October 20, 2012 Gotalottie, Tips No Comments
at last - 45 degrees inside, 12 degrees out

it’s that time of year – Autumn – and anyone planning their veg for the following year would be wise to be thinking seriously about their compost.

Our compost bins are quietly filling during the year, with odd bits of weed, scrappy lettuce which have been decimated by slugs and the usual tidyings of veg prior to taking it home.

By the time Autumn arrives, the days are shorter, cooler and our compost bins have possibly become a festering anaerobic mass where nothing is going to compost in a hurry. Of course, compost bins need turning, not just in Autumn, but at all points of the year, because the introduction of air speeds the process of the bacteria in the pile. Any gardener worth their salt knows this, in reality few pay enough attention to their compost bins and that is why the results are usually poor.

That is not what this post is about.

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll see that we’re employing a no-dig approach to the whole site quite simply because we ‘daren’t dig’ as a result of the forest of Horsetail on site. The no-dig method requires quite large amounts of material to be brought in and we have quite a large plot; doing the maths – that’s a lot.

We can’t dig though – not at all – because breaking Horsetail roots into small pieces is not going to happen on plot 36.

earlier - a forest of Horsetail

earlier – a forest of Horsetail

We’re levelling the site as we go and applying several layers of thick card and building beds on top of this; this is a serious amount of material to bring in, a task which is exacerbated by the fact that there is no vehicle access to the site and everything is bagged and barrowed.

We had a good source of material, well rotted and full of worms – we’ve exhausted it; it’s difficult to imagine, but true.

.. and so to Plan B – large scale on-site composting.

As anyone who has bought well-rotted horse manure will know, it’s mucky stuff, full of straw and usually not well-rotted. So at £2 a bag or £12 a trailer full, pop it in a pile, turn it a few times and in 6 months or so – it’ll be ok.

We don’t have that option.

We live in quite a ‘horsey’ area and there are some of the most pampered horses on this planet, living close to us. A bag of horse manure around here, contains 85-90% straw and 10-15% poo, it’s incredible poo but not not much of it in a bag, at any price; so what to do?

We have a solution, we have found a source of poo and not a scrap of straw in it. It’s free, it’s pure poo and it could be pure gold to a gardener planning to spread it on top of the roses or dug into a trench for spring potato planting.

It has to be composted, as I’m not prepared to risk spreading weed seeds or soil pathogens into our beds and it must be composted quickly. During the last 3 weekends we’ve brought in 90 large and very heavy bags of the stuff and have made 3 piles approximately 1.2m high and 2m in diameter, which we are going to hot compost, in 6-8 weeks maximum.

There’s no brown material in there at all and so, for composting to work it must be:

a) well aerated

b) kept moist, but covered from the elements

c) activated to kick-start the bacterial process

If you’ve ever made home-brew, you’ll understand my delight on seeing the piles finally getting activated. The activator, the ’yeast’ in this process, has begun its job.

at last - 45 degrees inside, 12 degrees out

at last – 45 degrees inside, 12 degrees out

At last, this morning, we were seeing around 45 degrees, so the piles were turned and moistened and re-covered; they should be cooking at 55-60 degrees by next weekend and destroying any pathogens and neutralising any weed seeds.

I’ll add an additional post to this in a couple of weeks, to show you the progress and demonstrate some simple methods of turning; but for now, I’m content that despite the colder weather - I no longer have a problem with my piles.

The activator? Urine; from the male of the species was always considered the best and laced with home-brew - even better?… I’ll not go there, it’s late.

Note to editor: All degrees in Celsius.

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