Thursday, April 2, 2009
Hot compost works!
We finally got the chance to use some of the information I learned at the composting seminar a couple months ago. During spring break, we cleaned out the goat stalls and made this long pile of compost. It's two to three feet high and three or four feet wide. It's probably 20 feet long, but I didn't measure it. In the past we've just piled stuff up and forgotten about it for a couple of years, or we've spread it thinly in the garden. You can put fresh manure in your garden as long as it's three months before harvest of above-ground plants or four months before harvest of root vegetables. Piling up barn waste and forgetting about it is cold composting, and the finished product looks like soil. The problem with using fresh barn waste as mulch and fertilizer in the garden is that undigested weed seeds are basically sitting there in little fertilizer pellets, and they sprout!
Last year, we fenced in about twice as much land as we actually gardened, and our idea was to put barn waste on the grass, which would kill it, and then it would be ready to go this spring. Well, last summer and fall, that area sprouted a great crop of thistle! Goats love thistle, and apparently a lot of the seeds survive their digestion process.
Hot composting, by contrast, heats up the pile, which kills weed seeds and bad bacteria. We were worried the first couple days because it stunk. For the first time in seven years, it really stunk out here. The wind was coming from the northwest, and the pile just happened to be northwest of our house. Every time we went outside, we were assaulted by the stench. If a compost pile stinks, it means it's not heating up. We read what we could find on the Internet and were thinking that the pile needed grass. If that were true, we would be in big trouble, because no one around here would be cutting grass for a few more weeks. Then on the third day, the smell was gone. Mike checked the temperature in the pile, and it was 130 degrees. Perfect! We'd done it!
Now we just need to flip the pile over, so that the stuff on the top and sides can be in the middle, where it can heat up, and the weeds seeds in there can get killed, as well as the bad bacteria. Then, in a week or two, it will be ready for the garden. When making hot compost, it will not look like soil when you're done. It won't appear much different than when you piled it up, but it is "composted" and no longer considered fresh manure, so it will work in the garden as a fertilizer and mulch.