Hot Compost – Composting in 18 Days

Hot Compost

 

From http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/
Regular composting, also known as “cold composting”, involves placing a variety of organic materials in a compost bin, enclosure, or even just in a large heap, and leaving it there until it breaks down several months later. It’s a very slow process and typically takes 6 to 12 months. It can be sped up by turning the compost, that is, moving around the material at the bottom of the heap to the top and vice versa to mix it up and get more oxygen in there, but it’s still a long wait.

The other approach to composting is “hot composting”, which produces compost in a much shorter time. It has the benefits of killing weed seeds and pathogens (diseases), and breaking down the material into very fine compost. In contrast, cold composting does not destroy seeds, so if you cold compost weeds, any weed seeds will grow when you put the compost into the garden.

Cold composting does not destroy pathogens either, so if you put diseased plants into your cold compost, the diseases may spread into the garden, hence the common advice not to (cold) compost diseased plants. The other issue with cold composting is that you end up with lots of large pieces left over in the compost when the process is completed, whereas hot compost looks like fine black humus (soil).
One hot composting method, the Berkeley method, developed by the University of California, Berkley, is a fast, efficient, high-temperature, composting technique which will produce high quality compost in 18 days.
The requirements for hot composting using the Berkley method are as follows:

  1. Compost temperature is maintained between 55-65 degrees Celsius
  2. The C:N (carbon:nitrogen) balance in the composting materials is approximately 25-30:1
  3. The compost heap needs to be roughly 1.5m high
  4. If composting material is high in carbon, such as tree branches, they need to be broken up, such as with a mulcher
  5. Compost is turned from outside to inside and vice versa to mix it thoroughly

With the 18 day Berkley method, the procedure is quite straightforward:

  1. Build compost heap
  2. 4days – no turning
  3. Then turn every 2nd day for 14 days

 

Composting Materials and the Carbon-Nitrogen Balance

In the hot composting method, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the compost materials needs to be between 25 to 30 parts carbon to one-part nitrogen by weight.

This is because the bacteria responsible for the composting process require these two elements, in these proportions, as nutrients to construct their bodies as they reproduce and multiply.

  • Materials that are high in carbon are typically dry, “brown” materials, such as sawdust, cardboard, dried leaves, straw, branches and other woody or fibrous materials that rot down very slowly. dried plant matter

 

  • Materials that are high in nitrogen are typically moist, “green” materials, such as lawn/grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, animal manure and green leafy materials that rot down very quickly.lawn clippings 02 Background of Mixed Vegetable Leftovers

If ratio of C:N is right in this technique of fast, aerobic (uses oxygen), hot composting, the compost will break down to the same volume. This is in contrast to slow, anaerobic (without oxygen) composting that happens in a compost bin, which drastically reduces in volume as it rots down.

hot cold composting

Many ingredients used for composting do not have the ideal ratio of 25-30:1. When using hot composting methods, you need to make an assessment of how quickly materials decompose, and then use a blend of things that rot quickly and things that rot slowly.

  • Composting materials with a very low C:N ratio of 7:1 would rot very quickly, because they are high in nitrogen, eg. fish, this decomposes very quickly
  • Composting materials with a very high C:N ratio of 500:1 would take a long time to decompose, because they are low in nitrogen, and need to be broken up, eg. tree branches

For example, if the C:N ratio is too high, you can lower it by adding manure or grass clippings. If the C:N ratio is too low, you can raise it by adding cardboard, dry leaves, sawdust or wood chips.
In trying to understand what C:N ratios are about, it may help to point out that all plants have more carbon than nitrogen (remember, they get their carbon from the carbon dioxide CO2 in the air) so that is why the C:N ratios are always greater than always above 1:0.
Below are the average C:N ratios for some common organic materials used for composting.

  • The materials containing high amounts of carbon, but low in nitrogen are considered “browns
  • The materials containing higher amounts of nitrogen are considered “greens.”

Here are some C:N ratios of some common composting materials:

Browns = High Carbon C:N
Wood chips 400:1
Cardboard, shredded 350:1
Sawdust 325:1
Newspaper, shredded 175:1
Pine needles 80:1
Corn stalks 75:1
Straw 75:1
Leaves 60:1
Fruit waste 35:1
Peanut shells 35:1
Ashes, wood 25:1
Greens = High Nitrogen C:N
Garden waste 30:1
Weeds 30:1
Green Wood 25:1
Hay 25:1
Vegetable scraps 25:1
Clover 23:1
Coffee grounds 20:1
Food waste 20:1
Grass clippings 20:1
Seaweed 19:1
Horse Manure 18:1
Cow Manure 16:1
Alfalfa 12:1
Chicken Manure 12:1
Pigeon Manure 10:1
Fish 7:1
Urine 1:1

Anything that was once living can be hot composted – and I really do mean anything. All manner of things, including strange additions such as wool and cotton clothing, bones, leather boots, even things like “roadkill”, ie. dead animals, but these have to go in the very centre of the heap to break down properly. There’s no trace of the original ingredients when the process is complete! Remember, the greater the variety of ingredients, the better the compost, because it will have a wider range of nutrients in the final product.

Basically, if you want to to get started in a hurry, aim to use 1/3 Manure and 2/3 dry carbon materials. It will work. Just pile alternating thin layers of greens and browns until you end up with a compost heap that is 1 metre square and a bit taller than that. There’s no real need to get caught up in the mathematics of precise C:N ratios. It’s more a matter of trying it our, though I can’t stress how easy it all is.

 

To illustrate the point, a friend with a small with only a courtyard (in a rental property) wanted to attempt hot composting, and I helped him out with the project. He gathered a wheelie bin full of fallen leaves from his local street, one wheelie bin full of weeds from his garden, purchased a small straw bale for the sake of it. I helped him collect a few garbage bags of cow manure from an urban farm. It took us under an hour to pile it all up in reasonably thin layers (under 5cm) of each ingredient to get a good mix.It was his first attempt at hot composting, and in around 18 days, he had over 1 cubic metre of rich, dark, compost to use in his garden. You couldn’t distinguish any of the original ingredients in the final product either, and it had a very fine consistency. Best of all, it cost him next to nothing – the straw bale was just a $17 luxury, it would have worked just as well without it, and without it it would have cost absolutely nothing.

Just think that 1 cubic metre is 1,000 litres, and if you think how much you pay for a 30 litre bag of potting mix (over $10) here in Australia, you realise what value this entails.

 

Hot Composting, Step By Step

 

DAY 1Mix together ingredients by laying then in alternating thin layers of “greens” and “browns”.Wet the compost heap down very well so it is dripping water out of the bottom and is saturated.

  • Can put activator in the middle of compost heap to start off composting process. Activators include comfrey, nettles, yarrow, animal, fish, urine, or old compost.

HC01

DAY 4Turn the compost heap over, outside turned to inside, inside turned to outside.To explain in more detail, when turning compost, move the outside of the pile to a spot next to it, and keep moving material from the outside to the new pile. When you’re done, all the material that was inside will be outside and vice versa.Ensure that moisture stays constant. Put gloves on and squeeze a handful of the compost materials, should only release one drop of water, or almost drips a drop.

  • If it gets too wet, can spread it down, or open a hole about 3-4” wide with the handle of the pitchfork, or put sticks underneath for drainage.

HC02

DAY 6 & DAY 8The compost heap should reach its maximum temperature on these days. As an simple guideline. if you can put your arm into the compost up to the elbow, then it is not at 50 degrees Celsius, and is not hot enough. Best to use a compost thermometer or a cake thermometer.Need optimum temperature of 55-65 degrees Celsius. At temperatures over 65 degrees Celsius a white “mould” spreads through the compost, which is actually”fire blight”, an anaerobic bacteria. Temperature peaks at 6-8 days and gradually cools down by day 18.Turn the compost heap over every second day (on day 6 and again on day 8).

  • If the compost pile starts coming down in size quickly, there is too much nitrogen in the compost.
  • To heat up the compost faster, a handful of blood & bone fertiliser per pitchfork when turning speeds it up.
  • If it gets too hot and smelly and goes down in size, it has too much nitrogen, need to slow it down, throw in a handful of sawdust per pitchfork when turning.
  • Using the this system, the Berkley method, methane is released from the compost.

HC03
HC04

DAY 10 to DAY 18Continue to turn the compost every 2nd day
HC05
DAY 18Just warm, dark brown, smells good.When earthworms move into the compost, you know it is finished and ready, because it’s cooled down and full of nutrients!HC06

Some important points to note:

  • Locate your compost heap in an area protected from too much sun or heavy rain, to prevent the compost from drying out or becoming water-logged and slowing down the composting process.
  • Space required for for your heap should be about 1.5 x 1.5 metres, and enough space in front of it to stand when turning the compost.
  • Water each layer until it is moist as you build the heap. After three or four days, give the compost air by mixing and turning it over, then turn every three days until the compost is ready, usually in 14-21 days. Remember, frequent turning and aeration is the secret of successful composting.
  • Turn the compost using a garden fork, or even better, a long-handled pitchfork.
  • In cold or wet weather, you can cover the compost heap with a tarp or plastic sheet, to prevent the rain cooling it down, since the water will penetrate into the core of the compost pile. Even though cold outside air will cool the surface, but not the core of the compost heap, by covering it, this prevents some heat loss from the surface to cooler outside air, and retains the heat within the compost heap better.

Happy composting!

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6 thoughts on “Hot Compost – Composting in 18 Days

  1. Great info here! Just heard a lecture by Jeff Moyer of Rodale Institute. USDA has strict rules about compost applied to commercial vegetables, and it looks like this method complies.

  2. Pingback: WORLD ORGANIC NEWS | Hot Compost – Composting in 18 Days | freedomfarmtvWORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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