Do I need to inoculate my compost pile?


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I thought that you had to have a heap that is fairly compact if you want it to heat up? I'm concerned that if I spread it out the reaction will slow down or stop altogether.

After going it after it with my mini tiller the heating up stopped. So I threw some more grass on there today.

I will admit that I am irrationally delighted to see steam coming off the pile because I've been seeking this sign of activity for so long.
You are correct about the heating up. A large compact pile will heat up more than a small compact pile will, but by keeping it in a large pile you are inviting it to go anaerobic.
 
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And if it goes anaerobic what is the result? Aside from the stinkiness?
All of the microbes you are trying to grow are dead. What is left is sterile. No bacteria, no protozoas, no nematodes, no fungi. No living micro-organisms at all. They all died from lack of oxygen. Their dead bodies are what you smell. But you still have NKP and trace minerals. Just nothing living.
 
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Ok, that's bad. I'll turn it more assiduously. Too bad I can't seem to get the heating up without killing everything.
It will still heat, just not hot. You don't want it to reach temperatures where it can be harmful to soil life. What I do when I have a sizeable amount of green is to sort of layer it. I'll dig a trench into my compost pile, add some green, cover it up with 2 or 3 inches of compost and add some more green and so on. I try to not let the green go past a couple of inches thick. Then in a week or so I'll turn over the trench. This way I never go anaerobic or at least if it does I don't know it and if it did the surrounding compost will replenish all of the possible dead life.
 
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It has stopped heating up. I turned it and added spent plants I yanked from the garden. I think those are supposed to be nitrogen rich but the pile isn't heating up again. Perhaps I added too much soil. It's possible it was heating up because I poured some excess Miracle Gro on it.

I added a little more lawn grass. I hope to add more once it starts growing more rapidly. I'm also hoping that once things warm up the pile will become more active.

I still have the "old" compost covered in tarps. I pulled out a little of it the other day. I can't tell if it's truly finished or not.
 
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All of the microbes you are trying to grow are dead. What is left is sterile. No bacteria, no protozoas, no nematodes, no fungi. No living micro-organisms at all. They all died from lack of oxygen. Their dead bodies are what you smell. But you still have NKP and trace minerals. Just nothing living.
Given some of what is living anerobically is also pathogenic, how bad is this? I understand the Romans would use fermentation pots and they were not oxygenated.
 
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Given some of what is living anerobically is also pathogenic, how bad is this? I understand the Romans would use fermentation pots and they were not oxygenated.
I don't know how "bad" it is. Many of our forum members in the UK deliberately make anaerobic tea out of thistles and other plants. The Romans and their fermentation pots was, I think, to produce alcohol, but the mast, or leftovers was used for compost
 
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The heating up has stopped. I mixed some soil (perhaps too much) into the pile and it stopped. In fact I see little evidence of rotting but I suspect I am simply being impatient. This will probably take the better part of a year to turn into compost. I hope the process speeds up in the summer. I shall have to water it a lot though.

I have a new problem though. I started yanking plants to make room for spring sowing. But some of the plants, like the kohlrabi and turnips, have thick, strong stems. I don't see those breaking down easily. I tried attacking that stuff with my mini tiller but it just clogged the thing up.

Do I need to find some way to shred up those stems? I could try separating out the thick parts and running them over with the lawnmower. It kind of worked with the tomato plants.
 
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If you scar them such that the tough hide is broken open then they can be digested more easily by your pile. This would be true of most anything you put in the pile. I would caution using the compost on the garden if you have not ensured high temps. This is incredibly hard to do fully. The center gets hot but not the outer layers so many turnings have to occur, and even then a few particle or spores like the disease inherent to tomatoes per your mentioned example, will simply be spread. This makes you an agent for the spread of diseased compost when you intended to stop it. Mixing mineral soil is bad in the sense that nothing eats the minerals (short term) and oxygen is harder to come by in dense material. Save inoculating a pile, dirt mixing is a step for the end use of compost.
 
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I don't know how "bad" it is. Many of our forum members in the UK deliberately make anaerobic tea out of thistles and other plants. The Romans and their fermentation pots was, I think, to produce alcohol, but the mast, or leftovers was used for compost
Johnny spread Appleseeds for hard cider in America so a boozing Roman does not shock me at all. But as usual I overlooked the more basic driving reasons they had for the process. I tend to equate that idea with what I have read about the Amazonian tribes and their pots and shards found in the Terra Preta fields which I take to have been something of a sanitary removal service turned fertilizer. The Indians could have been boozing it up as well. LoL that might explain the broken pottery!
 
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The tomatoes I chopped up with the lawnmower didn't have any disease. If the tomatoes had shown signs of disease I would have torn them out and put them in the trash.

I doubt the "finished" compost ever reached high temps. But it's a weird compost pile. It was basically the result of our veggie kitchen scraps for years and years. I finally started turning it, adding to it, and managing it last summer.

I put some of the compost into the raised beds. The texture seemed pretty much ok but it didn't have the stickiness I thought compost is supposed to have.

The new pile is being built slowly but surely. I set aside some shredded leaves last fall for this heap.
 
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If memory serves the only thing that went seriously wrong with the tomatoes was blossom end rot on the San Marzano paste tomatoes. Which isn't a disease but a calcium uptake deficiency.

I know that if you run into tomato blight you are not supposed to burn the plants because that scan spread the disease.

I continue to dump grass clippings on the pile in hopes of putting enough nitrogen into the pile to start up the decomposition process.
 
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Actually, I had been told precisely the opposite. If you burn tomato plants that have blight or other nasty diseases it can end up spreading the disease via the wind from the ash. I suppose it depends on the disease.
 
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I don't do any kind of burns, nor do I do hot composting and many times I cold compost right next to my veggies and I've never had a problem with diseases.

On the issue of tomatoes and BER, I've heard that putting egg shells underneath the plant (buried in the soil) actually works. Sounds to me like it might be a myth, but I've read it enough (and on occasion from sources I consider reputable) to wonder if there's something to it, but I've never had a problem with BER, so I can't say from experience.

EDIT: I know egg shells have a lot of calcium, but I would think it would take longer before it becomes available to the plant, hence my skepticism, but like I said, I've read this trick from some good sources, so probably worth a try, if you have problems with BER.
 
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Protein, calcium, carbs, minerals, everything you need is in an egg. You can use the whole egg. Or make an omelette. The soil will like it. I do not have leftover eggshells that are recognizable at the end of the season. Don't use too many for fear of making tomatoes that taste like chicken!
 
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Egg shells are a supply of calcium but they are extremely slow acting for plants to be able to uptake their calcium. Just because you have ample calcium in your soil doesn't necessarily mean that your plants are able to uptake it. This is the cause of blossom end rot, the plants inability to uptake calcium. In my soil, which has an overabundance of calcium, BER is a huge problem simply because the plants cannot uptake calcium. The absolute remedy in my alkaline soil is to use epsom salts. Somehow epsom salts changes the chemical structure of the calcium and allows plants to uptake it. I don't know why or how this occurs only that it does. I get BER on tomatoes, watermelons, canteloupes and even peppers. It is a major problem every year but if I apply a handful of ES at planting and another at fruit set, BER absolutely disappears.
 

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