My Compost Pile. It's Alive!


I finally got there. 130 degrees. For weeks my compost pile sat at 80 degrees no matter how many kitchen scraps I added - chopped banana peel, coffee filters with grounds, carrot peelings, egg shells. The high point of the pile is when it tipped the hundred degree mark early last Spring. If nothing else the thermometer has made me much more attentive to the compost pile.

Between the thermometer and the memory of a short documentary on compost that I saw long, long ago I have an idea in my head of the perfect compost pile. On a chilly morning you can see steam rising from the dream pile. I'm not there yet. It has to be just the perfect combination of cold and warm, and not least, it requires that I climb out of bed very early and put pants on just to witness the phenomenom. It hasn't happened yet. I'll let you know when it does.

Over the weekend I raked piles of leaves that had fallen in the yard. I don't get a ton of leaves and I've often considered carrying a rake and Hefty bag in my car just in case I happened to pass a house with a lawn covered in leaf litter, then I would knock on the door and ask permission to rake them up. I've never had the courage. In my imagination I am chased away by the homeowner or the whole family gathers around pointing their fingers at me while laughing. It turns out I don't need their dead, crumbling leaves. I have wheelbarrows full of my own this year.

I filled the compost bin with leaves and added a large bucket of chicken manure then stirred it up. Then it rained. The next day when I went to add kitchen scraps I could see that it was at 120. It was pretty exciting. I gathered more chicken manure and gave the pile a turn. Later when I checked it had climbed to 130. I could only imagine what was going on in there!

Naturally I turned to the internet. Just what was going on in there anyways? It turns out that the nitrogen in the chicken manure had activated the pile. It was acting as the digestive enzyme and "eating" the carbon (leaves) and heated the pile right up. Microorganisms can only use organic molecules if they are dissolved in water so the rain that we had was key. Decomposition happens more rapidly as the pile heats but at the same time, you don't want the pile too hot. You don't want it to reach, say, 160 and stay there. Really high temperatures can kill beneficial bacteria and a compost pile is a living thing! You want to feed it. The carbon to nitrogen ratio should be somewhere around 30:1 by weight. You want to add 3 or 4 pounds of nitrogen to every 100 lbs of carbon to create a pile that works efficiently. It will stay hot for about three days.

My compost pile was finally happy. I could feel the heat from the beast and sense it working and eating. It was devouring the contents that I had added over the weekend. It had enjoyed the good soak that the rain brought. Soon enough it will rest and by late Spring I should have a very good additive for my garden soil.



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