Posts Tagged ‘Temperature’

Hot Composting

Hot composting, also called “active composting”, is when you turn your compost bin often.  With high temperatures, weed seeds are often killed, many pathogens are destroyed, and the decomposition process speeds up.

Cold Composting

Cold composting, also called “static composting”, is when the compost bin is not turned or is turned very rarely. It requires less work, however, materials will take much longer to decompose.

Click here for more information about compost bin temperatures.


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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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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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By Pete Ash, Master Composter

Pete supervises as greens are added to a compost pile

Pete supervises as greens are added to a compost pile

It all happened by mistake. Or did it? At this point I don’t really know. Many would say it was no accident, but in a way, it was. It all started a year ago when I decided to come to India to study Biodynamic Agriculture.

I had just completed a couple of intensive trainings in Biodynamics at ISKON Farms just outside Mysore in South India when I fell off a motorcycle and broke my shoulder. I had planned on staying in India for another two months to practice what I had just learned when the accident happened. There was nothing left to do but come home early.

1 pile is made every day at the ashram.

1 pile is made every day at the ashram.

I couldn’t get a flight home for another three weeks so I decided to go over to the coast and lay low. The day before leaving Mysore, I met a young Westerner at breakfast that had just arrived from Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, a small fishing village amidst the coconut groves along the Kerala coast. I didn’t know anything about Amma, “the hugging saint,” nor did my breakfast companion explain. That night I took the bus, arrived the following morning and checked into the ashram. As part of one’s stay at the ashram, one is expected to do a couple hours of “seva,” or service. I was told that because of my shoulder, I wasn’t expected to do anything, but when I saw the ashram’s Eco Department and gardens I thought I could at least pull a few weeds and do some watering.

Pete adds water to a compost pile.

Pete adds water to a compost pile.

When it got out that I was an experienced farmer and gardener, taught composting and organic gardening workshops—and was indeed a Master Composter—well, I got hooked in. Amma, who travels the world giving hugs and spreading her message of love, also preaches the need for making a “Greener” world (see www.amritapuri.org/). In no time, I was teaching composting workshops and giving lectures in organic farming and gardening, both at the ashram and also in Amma’s colleges attached to the ashram. By the time I returned to California in late January of this year I had helped Amma’s Engineering College start an organic garden (see http://www.amrita.edu/news2009/events-news/e-april/earth-day-amritapuri-organic-garden.php). The students had formed a “Green Friends” club following our composting workshop. By the end of June, I had lectured and composted with Amma’s Ayurveda College in Amritapuri, where the students also formed a Green Friends club and started their own organic garden. I have also been to Amma’s ashram in Mumbai where I lectured and composted with the Ayudh International group there (see http://www.ayudh.eu/2009/mumbai-organic-farming-workshop/).

The interior temperature of the piles are checked with sticks.

The interior temperature of the piles are checked with sticks.

But my real “seva” has been the composting project here at the ashram in Amritapuri. By the end of my first trip in January of this year, I discovered that the ashram had been dumping the food waste (about 750 to 1000 kilos per day) into the backwaters. It was hard to believe. As it turned out, there had been several attempts in the past to compost the food waste but each time it had failed, creating terrible smells and attracting rats and crows, and upsetting the neighbors to no end. I couldn’t bear the thought of all that waste being thrown into the backwaters. I decided then that I would return and start a composting program.

I made my second trip to India in the last week of April. By the first week of May, we began composting, making a new pile each day. Today is August 25th and this is my third time to the ashram. We just finished making compost pile #106. It has been a lot of hard work, we’ve faced many challenges, but it has been very rewarding and so much fun.

Pete with friends at the ashram.

Pete with friends at the ashram.

Pete Ash has been a Master Composter since 2007 but has been composting for many years. He is highly involved with the Master Composter program; instructing workshops, up keeping demonstration sites, instructing the Master Composter Course, and answering Rotline questions. Pete will be instructing the Master Composter Course this fall in Encinitas. To learn more about the Master Composter course, please visit the Solana Center Website. If you would like to ask Pete any questions about his work and experiences in India, please email Carlie (carlie@solanacenter.org)  and she will forward your question onto Pete.

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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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