Compost Trick: 140+ for a week!

Right.  This is likely old hat for many of ya’ll, but after reading some soil books from the seventies (yes, I know I am that dorky) I ran across an anecdote about a biodynamic farmer talking about building his compost heaps and then covering them with straw to act as a blanket.  The epiphany almost knocked me out of my reading chair!  Mulch my pile?  Of course!  It would keep in the water, block the sun to let the bacteria go all the way to the surface, and even keep the yellow jackets off and act as an insulator late in the season!

So I went out, turned my pile (about 30% composted), watered it well, and topped it off with a 4″ layer of wheat straw.  I stuck the thermometer in, and the next morning I was chugging along at 154 degrees.  The next day? 155.  Next? 152, then 150, now 8 days later I am still over 144 with no added water or turning!!  ALL THESE YEARS of watching my compost heat up to 140 degrees after it was turned and watered, only to have it fall off in a week to 100 degrees until I turned it and watered it again I had thought the turning was the important part, but it looks like the moisture was even more so.

Mulch your piles!  Tops and sides too if they are wire.

So Simple!  So Perfect!


6 Responses

  1. I only ever mulch my pile enough to prevent odor from escaping and attracting rodents. I’ll have to see what happens if I follow your advice this week.

    Then there’s the likes of Ruth Stout and Emilia Hazelip, who used mulch that deep to compost out in the fields, and only kept hot piles for a few special purposes. You might get the occasional citrus sapling or volunteer F2 hybrid tomato, but I bet raw cafe gorp would do OK as part of your garden-pimping design…maybe sitting between your fertile soil and its mulch blanket as you grillo etc?

  2. Just turned the pile after 16 days – and it was still over 125 degrees! The core needed water and it had settled 6″. Really the only reason I turned it was that I needed to add some material and it was heavy with quack rhizomes so I didn;t want them on top of the pile.

    16 days over 125 degrees and over a week over 140 degree? I’m sold!


  3. I’ve had similar experience – the pile needs nitrogen too – and schredding helps.

    My problem is size. I rarely have a pile bigger than the 4′ cube. Most of compost is well-rotted manure that a horse farm loads onto my truck with the frontend loader🙂 So I shred and let the ‘deep mulch’ take it’s course over a couple of months. I just tilled into a new lettuce bed some beautiful worm castings this last weekend from a pile.

    This fall I plan on have multiple ‘deep mulch’ areas and move a chicken tractor to each pile. This will cut down on feed. But the chickens will also provide the final nitrogen boost. I had read about the idea and then it matched with my observations. I had always raked my leaves and shredded and composted the pile. But the last little bit of leaves I would take the mower and blow them under the bushes. Well when the check were free ranging I would notice the would kick the mulched leaves back on the lawn which annoyed me. Now I see the solution. Somewhere on the Web I read about someone doing this and positioning it on a hill. Fresh scraps go up top with the chicken and the composting continues as it is turned and tumbled down the slope and at the bottom is finished product.

    Any biodiesel yet?

  4. Hi, just discovered your site, it looks really interesting. I’m in the east of England and we cover our compost heaps with old carpet in the winter to keep the heat in and leave them open in the summer. Seems to work!

  5. I usually mix my pile together, but after the last turn, I put a six inch layer of shredded leaves on top. I don’t have a thermometer, but when I shoved my hand in last night, it was HOT! Thanks for the great idea!

  6. Love this idea, ironically I just mulched one little pile I just started with cardobard. I love the idea of using straw – just make sure it’s not contaminated with clopyralid, a nasty herbicide that can be found on conventionally grown wheat straw here in washington state (don’t know about other states). It will kill most veggie crops!

    I read your blog occasionally and really enjoy it, thanks for sharing!

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