Do I need to inoculate my compost pile?


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I just started trying to reboot my compost heap after several years of doing exactly nothing with it. At one time it was working. I base this one the pile steaming in the winter when I turned it several years ago.

Now it seems to do nothing. I have been tossing nitrogen and carbon on the pile and started turning it again. And watering it. But no discernible activity. And no earthworms.

Did I kill all the micro organisms that do the composting? Do I need to get some kind of bacterial spore mixture to start it up?

Thanks.
 
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alp

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No worms at all?
 
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All you need is moisture and life will come back alive. You don't need a "hot" pile of compost to have compost, cold compost is just as good. BTW, to create a "hot" compost pile you need to make it at least 3 cubic feet, emphasis on at least ; and many think they need to be bigger.... http://www.wilderness-survival.net/composting/compost-pile-size

I never do hot piles, so I can't say, but I like cold piles, because they have more life/bio-diversity.
 
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The pile is currently in what was a small dog kennel so I don't know if it's that big. I'd say it's about a foot deep at this point.

My goal is to get enough compost so that I can use it to amend my crappy clay soil in the spring or late winter. And to use it to rejuvenate my rather spent raised beds.
 

alp

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Why don't you add well rotted horse manure, and other organic matter to your spent raised beds?
 
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I imagine it would be difficult to find horse manure in the Portland Metro Area.

You don't necessarily have to compost first. Let your existing garden work for you.

Are you saving kitchen scraps? We do, and they add up fast. You can bury them directly in the garden. You can also check with local supermarkets. Many just throw away their spoiled produce.

As a kid, we used to rake fall leaves and dig them right into the garden. Did them same with grass clippings.
 

alp

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Agree with @MoonShadows - now is the time to add fallen leaves to your compost and add all sorts of kitchen waste, cardboards, vacuum dust, pruned materials.
 
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No horse manure is available. There are folks around here with livestock but I kind of don't want to go bugging perfect strangers for critter poo.

I have been raking the leaves and shredding them with the lawnmower. Some are used as mulch and some go into the compost pile. All kitchen plant based kitchen food scraps go onto the compost pile.

At this point I think what I am lacking is nitrogen. The dryness of summer has meant little lawn growth. And lawn grass would be my main nitrogen source. In a month or two it may come back.

I did buy some blood meal for nitrogen and put a small amount onto the heap. But I'm not sure how much to use as I think blood meal is pretty concentrated. I could toss in more.
 
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Do you know anyone who raises chickens? Chicken Manure is very high in nitrogen (highest of all the barn yard animals) and also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. You do need to compost it for at least 6 months before you can apply it to your garden, otherwise it will burn your plants.

Check out this Craigslist page for the Portland area. Some places sell manure: https://portland.craigslist.org/search/sss?query=manure&sort=rel

And, here's some that will give it away for free: https://portland.craigslist.org/search/zip?query=manure
 
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Excellent ideas. Thank you. I kind of/sort of am growing a cover crop in the compost heap. I had a packet of Ed Hume "Variegated cat crass" seed that has oats, wheat, etc. in it. I tossed the seeds into the compost heap. My reasoning being that I read about those plants being used as cover crops in some situations. I also dumped a few pea seeds in it.

I don't expect the peas to give me any pods but I have some hopes of nitrogen fixation. It's now too late in the season for anything else. Also, I don't want to plant the entire compost heap because then I can't turn it without killing the plants prematurely. I am going to dump in grass clipping as the grass re-greens. A lack of rain has kept most of the grass short and brown.

I just worry that I didn't provide an environment for decomposing microbes and now they are all or mostly gone. Also, I never see earthworms in the pile. Not that I ever see them anywhere else.

My folks don't want any manure in the compost heap. This is their land so they get to call the shots.
 
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I figured I would provide an update. I continued to dump in shredded leaves, grass clippings, dead garden plants, and veggie trimmings from the kitchen. I tossed in more garden soil and tried to distribute it and dig it in. I even tossed in a little cottonseed meal and some blood meal.

I think I have increased the bulk of the compost heap. But still, nothing is happening. No heat is coming from the heap. I turn it at least once a week. Sometimes with a mini tiller/cultivator. Usually with a garden fork or a shovel. The heap has plenty of moisture because of our almost constant winter rains.

No heat is coming from the heap. And I have found exactly one worm in it. I haven't seen any significant breakdown of the stuff I put in the heap.

So what am I doing wrong? It's got plenty of stuff in it.

I've accepted that I won't have finished compost by spring but I would like it to eventually heat up and get going.
 

alp

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Could be the lack of heat and warmth. Some people suggest putting a warm water bottle to raise the temperature of the pile. My compost bins are always stagnant like this in winter time.
 
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The pile is currently in what was a small dog kennel so I don't know if it's that big. I'd say it's about a foot deep at this point.

My goal is to get enough compost so that I can use it to amend my crappy clay soil in the spring or late winter. And to use it to rejuvenate my rather spent raised beds.
I figured I would provide an update. I continued to dump in shredded leaves, grass clippings, dead garden plants, and veggie trimmings from the kitchen. I tossed in more garden soil and tried to distribute it and dig it in. I even tossed in a little cottonseed meal and some blood meal.

I think I have increased the bulk of the compost heap. But still, nothing is happening. No heat is coming from the heap. I turn it at least once a week. Sometimes with a mini tiller/cultivator. Usually with a garden fork or a shovel. The heap has plenty of moisture because of our almost constant winter rains.

No heat is coming from the heap. And I have found exactly one worm in it. I haven't seen any significant breakdown of the stuff I put in the heap.

So what am I doing wrong? It's got plenty of stuff in it.

I've accepted that I won't have finished compost by spring but I would like it to eventually heat up and get going.
In post #4 (quoted above) you said your pile is in a small dog kennel, but not sure of the dimensions. Can you give the dimensions? However, I'm confident it should be deeper than one foot, so you may at least have to reorganize the pile to make it more of a cubic shape.

To have a hot pile, one crucial factor is the size of the pile, it must be at least 3 cubic feet, emphasis on at least. Some say it must be at least 4 cubic feet. And if it's not covered on all sides I'd say probably bigger then 4 cubic feet. BTW, if you are able to create a hot pile, that one worm will die or leave (if able). That's a main reason why I don't attempt to make hot piles -- low biodiversity in life.


EDIT: Is this pile on the dirt or is it in a container?
 

alp

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Yes, I am surprised as even my grass cuttings has got worms working on them.
 
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Our heap has millions of wood lice, worms, spiders, slugs (decomposing material eating types) even at this time of year. I turn it once in its life time and we get really good material. However at this time of year there is a lot less activity than in the warmer months.
As long as the stuff is not smelling rancid, then just leave it until you get some Spring sun on it.
 

alp

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Now I know what organic activator is made of - woodlice:eek::D! And I bought several boxes!:LOL:
 
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Mix a cup of 48-0-0 into a 5 gallon bucket of water. Drench it. Plus remember, these are bioactivities and are temp sensitive. >50f ambient is a minimum for what you are doing so "chill" and it will be ok
 
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I'll take a tape measure out to the heap tomorrow. I still don't think it's more than a foot deep. I could shovel the compost from one end and plop it onto the other. It couldn't hurt. The compost pile rests on the bare dirt, not a container.

I am hoping to add significantly to the heap in the spring. Once the lawn starts growing again I intend to dump a lot of grass onto the heap. I stockpiled a significant quantity of shredded fall leaves as "browns."

Aside from that one worm I haven't found a single living critter in the heap. They may be there but too small for me to notice.

Should I get some worms from a bait shop and dump them in there? Will that help?
 
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Should I get some worms from a bait shop and dump them in there? Will that help?

No, you will be wasting your money. Google tells me it's too cold there. Wait for Spring, like the rest of us! ;)

Red wiggler worms thrive in temperatures between 55° and 75° Fahrenheit (12° to 24° Celsius). (...snip...) If your worm bin conditions are too cold, worms may congregate together in a ball that looks like ground hamburger meat to keep each other warm. If temperatures drop below 40° Fahrenheit (4° Celsius) for extended periods of time, your worms will die.
https://naturesfootprint.com/community/articles/worm-bin-temperature/

University of Illinois Extension said:
The Science of Composting
There are different types of aerobic bacteria that work in composting piles. Their populations will vary according to the pile temperature. Psychrophilic bacteria work in the lowest temperature range. They are most active at 55° F and will work in the pile if the initial pile temperature is less than 70º F.


Do you have a temperature probe? If so, stick it in the pile at a couple places, then let us know the highest and lowest temps. That will help determine your next step.

Meanwhile, in the Portland area, you should be able to find a Starbuck's. They collect coffee grounds for gardeners and give them away, just walk in and ask. Coffee grounds are a source of nitrogen, so if you need a bigger compost pile, that's a good (free!) resource. ;) Get some of them, and you can use your stockpile of leaves now. :)
 

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