Compost Operations Continue Despite Freezing Temperatures


The awesome power of microbial decomposition is all the more evident despite outside temperatures dropping below freezing. This morning, Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist turned a new compost pile containing manure, food waste, vegetable matter, leaves and other yard debris.

The pile was around 160°F just before turning while the temperature outside was 30⁰F. The images below show the steam coming off the pile, which is a function of intense microbial activity. Rick is following the National Organic Program rules and regulation for preparing compost, which states that windrow compost turning systems must maintain temperatures between 131°F and 170°F for 15 consecutive days, during which time the pile must be turned a minimum of 5 times. This rule is in place to eliminate harmful human pathogens like E. coli. This is Rick’s first turn since building the pile. Rick says, “a pile like this will hold temperatures above 130°F for a few months before curing and I average about 10-15 turns per pile.”

5 Responses to “Compost Operations Continue Despite Freezing Temperatures”

  1. Mark Swingle

    I saw your turner in operation at the Field Day event this Summer – impressive! We distribute an OMRI Listed biostimulant and soil amendment called AgraPro, and an overseas partner is trialing on compost. -AgraPro stimulates native microbes (a sister product is used in waste treatment plants to speed up those microbes), and should boost compost processing and also potentially carry into the fields to stimulate those plants. Potentially a turbocharged compost result? Have you ever tested such amendments, and would you be interested in side-by-sides to see if using AgraPro raises your temps and/or allows faster turning/processing? Not sure how to quantify residual effects in the resulting compost, but temps and such ought to be easy to note?

    Thank you,
    Mark

    Reply
    • Rodale Institute

      I am familiar with the use of stimulants during composting but have never had a need for them at Rodale Institute for a couple of different reasons. Given that we are composting in an agricultural setting there is no incentive to finish composting rapidly since we are only applying the finished material either in the spring or fall. We haven’t found any issues with the speed at which our compostables heat up – it only takes 1-3 days until I am within the National Organic Program time/temperature rules. Lastly, I tend not to use biostimulants because it increases the cost of production and as a nonprofit research institution we must do whatever we can to reduce costs assuming we are not sacrificing research and production.

      With that said, I would be open to conducting a side-by-side trial to see how your material can help other farmers and composters. You may contact me either via email at rick.carr@rodaleinstitute.org or phone 610-683-1415 to discuss the details.

      Thanks,
      Rick

      Reply
      • Mark Swingle

        Just noticed your response while at the NOFA-MA conference this weekend – apologies for the delay! I will reach out via email to see if a side-by-side shows benefits for other operations (even though I realize Rodale is not in a hurry, etc.!).
        Thank you,
        Mark
        PS The last couple of weeks you could have used that compost heat under high tunnels to heat/grow some plants!? 😉

        Reply
  2. James Downey

    This is awesome! Does anyone have any experience building a compost turner or using something other than a windrow turner? They are very expensive to buy but I would like to compost more and am currently using a skidsteer and bucket. Any and all ideas would be great, thank you!

    Reply
    • Rodale Institute

      There are many different types of turners available and they come in all shapes and sizes. I never met someone or heard of someone building their own. That would be quite a feat. There is usually no need to have a turner unless you are a commercial operation. Most mid-sized composting operations use the same equipment that you have and are pretty successful at composting. There is one turning machine that I think could work on your skid steer. Check it out here: http://www.machines4u.com.au/view/advert/R24C-BB-Windrow-Turner/49145.

      Reply

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