Posts Tagged ‘Heat’

There are several things to keep in mind when setting up your composting station:

  • Sun or shade?

A worm bin is best placed in the shade. The worms will not fare well in hot temperatures or during a deluge of water during a rainstorm. By placing them in the shade, they will be more protected from the elements and less likely to dry out.

As for a regular compost bin, direct sunlight does not cause the compost pile to heat up. The microbes working busily inside the compost are why the pile heats up. With this in mind, keeping your compost bin in the shade will decrease water evaporation. Also, people are more likely to turn their pile if they do not have to go out into the hot sun to do it.

  • Dirt or cement?

For a compost bin, it is best if it is placed on the dirt. This allows the beneficial insects to crawl up into the bin.  These insects will speed up the decomposition process and are naturally occur in a healthy compost pile. Put hardware cloth or wire mesh underneath the compost bin to prevent the larger animals from digging underneath and into the bin. If a compost pile is set on cement, it is likely that the cement will be stained.

For a worm bin, it does not matter if it is placed on cement or on dirt. It is more important that the bin is in the shade. People often even keep worm bins inside their garage, under their counter, or in a closet.

  • How close do I want my compost bin to the house?

Most people do not want to put their compost bin directly up against their house because of smell and pest attraction fears. If you are composting correctly, neither of these problems should be of issue. How close you put your bin to your house should more so be determined by hose length (if your bin is further away than your hose is long, you’ll be lugging buckets over to your pile!) and ease of use. If you don’t see yourself hoofing it across the yard to dump out your kitchen scraps, then you probably shouldn’t put your bin all the way across your yard. As for the pests and smells, err on the side of caution. If something goes wrong in your pile and it starts to smell or you get an unwanted visitor, it’s better away from your house than directly under your kitchen window.

  • How much room will my compost bin need?

If you plan on being an active composter and turning your compost pile, it is important that you have a space twice the size of your compost bin. This allows you to turn and then rebuild your bin directly next to where it was previously sitting. Turing your bin increases air flow and allows the microbes to break down the material more quickly. If you plan on having a more passive bin, this is obviously not necessary, though you probably want a little room around the bin so it can be accessed from all angles. Worm bins, on the other hand, do not need extra space.


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Crock Pot Composting

How to make the ultimate worm food!

By: Diane Hollister, Master Composter

Worms have no teeth, so they can’t consume the kitchen scraps you feed them until the scraps are broken down a bit.  You can do this yourself very easily by putting your food waste in a crock pot.  Here’s what I found works.

1.  I bought an inexpensive 5 qt. crock pot from Target for around $20.

2.  Put about ½ cup of good compost or some soil from around any plant that is growing well.  This will provide the microbes needed to break down the material in the pot.

3. Add kitchen scraps, the smaller they are cut up the faster they will break down.  Crushed egg shells are great to provide grit.

4.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on warm.  Check the temperature in 24 hours.  In mine, the temperature was 140 degrees, which was ideal.

5.  Stir when you think about it and add water to keep it moist.

6.  If the contents start to smell, add some paper from your paper shredder, some compressed pine pellets (sold as kitty litter), some coir or any other small sized carbon rich material.  Mix well.  If it still smells add more carbon.

7. In about a week everything will be nicely broken down.  Let it cool and feed it to your worms.  They will go crazy for it!

I found you can add meat and dairy to the pot as there is no problem of rats getting into it.  Also, if I think about it I turn the pot off at night and back on in the morning and that works fine too.

If there is more material than your worms can process, just bury the rest in your yard or add it to your compost pile.

Leave about a cup of material in the pot to start your next batch.

Have fun!

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It is a common misconception that a compost pile heats up because of the sun. Sure, if it is hot outside, the pile will be warmer than if it is cold outside, but the sun is not what causes a compost pile to hit the triple digits.

Thermophilic microbes are happily munching away in this 150 degree F compost pile

The microorganisms residing inside of the compost pile are what cause the increase in


  • Psychrophiles arrive during the first stage of decomposition. They exist in the pile mainly between 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit (F). The psychrophiles start to digest the material and release carbon dioxide, water and heat. This heat causes the pile’s temperature rise whichattracts the mesophiles.
  • Mesophiles thrive between 70 and 90 degrees F.  The majority of the decomposition in your pile is performed by these microorganisms.
  • Thermophiles will be found in your compost pile when the temperature rises above 104 degrees F. These temperatures will kill off almost all harmful organisms and weed seeds that may reside in your pile.

If a compost pile rises in temperature, it is an indication that the composting process is going well. When the thermophiles run out of things to eat, the temperature will steadily drop. This is a good time to turn your bin, add water, and add more nitrogen-rich green material into the center of your pile. The addition of material that is nitrogen rich, like coffee, manure, or fresh cut grass, will heat your pile right back up as the thermophiles go to work.

Compost thermometers are great ways to tell which stage of decomposition your compost pile is at. These can be purchased at the Solana Center for $20.

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It is very important to consider the possibility of extreme temperatures that may occur while you are gone if you have a vermicomposting bin.

Make sure your worms are safe from any extreme conditions that may occur while you are gone (hot/cold temperatures, etc.)

With holiday season approaching, we have received a lot of questions about what to do with your compost bin while on vacation. No need to hire a compost bin sitter!

If you have a backyard composting bin (Biostack, tumbler, etc.) your bin will be fine while you are away on a trip. Your bin will continue to decompose on its own. You may find when you return that the temperature dropped and the bin is dry but this can be fixed very easily. Just turn your bin, add water, greens and browns and your pile should heat up once again.

If you have a  vermicomposting bin (WrigglyWranch, etc.) your bin should be able to manage on its own for an extended amount of time. The most important thing to keep in mind is the possibility of extreme temperatures. Be sure that your worms will be safe from any extreme temperatures that may occur while you are gone (heat waves, etc.). Make sure  you leave your bin with plenty of moisture.

If you just started your bin, make sure you leave plenty of food and bedding to keep your bin going. If your bin is nearing harvest and has lots of vermicompost, less food is necessary. The worms will continue to process the vermicompost while you are gone. Our Master Composters suggest adding carbon rich bedding and coffee grounds or vegetables that take longer to break down (carrots, brocoli, etc.).

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If you put too much "green" material in your bin, it will not heat up and it will become malodorous.

If you put too much "green" material in your bin, it will not heat up and it will become malodorous.

Sometimes, composters find themselves lacking in browns (carbon rich materials like straw, mulch, shredded paper, etc.) and having a surplus of greens (nitrogen rich materials like kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, freshly cut grass, etc.). But is it bad to have too many greens? What happens if you have too many greens in your compost bin?

You will probably be able to smell your compost bin if you have too many greens. Your compost pile will get slimy and start to smell as the green material begins to putrefy. In addition to the malodorous quality of the bin, the compost pile will probably not heat up because it will not have the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio. The preferred carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30:1. This equates to about 50% of both green and browns by volume.

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HayFieldHay is considered a nitrogen source, or a green, and can be added to your compost bin. Because hay often has weed seeds in it, make sure that your bin is reaching a hot temperature, 100 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are passively composting and not achieving high temperatures, you can bag the hay and put it in the sun for a few days to kill off any seeds.

Straw is considered a carbon source, or a brown, and can also be added to your compost bin. Straw also helps aerate your pile.

When adding hay or straw, our Master Composters recommend moistened it first to help it break down faster in the bin.

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FG20P_dial_smallYou can definitely compost without a thermometer, but thermometers do make composting a bit easier. Thermometers can help you know when to turn your pile, when to add more material, when to add water, and when your compost is finished. Many composters also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing just how hot their pile can get!

Optimal Temperature: The target range for optimum composting is between 100 and 140 degreesfg Fahrenheit, where thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria thrive. This temperature is achieved by having the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio, moisture content, and optimal pile size (3′ x 3′ x 3′).

Low Temperatures: suggest decreased activity, at temperatures under 90 degrees beneficial microbes will go dormant, piles will still break down at low temperatures but will take longer to decompose

High Temperatures: At temperatures over about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, weed seeds and pathogenic organisms will be destroyed. Over 140 degrees thermophilic bacteria will die or go dormant. If your pile heats up over 160 degrees it is suggested to split the pile in half and water it down.

The Solana Center sells Compost Thermometers for $20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during our bin sales. Click here for directions.

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