Compost series – Part I – The basics

Composting is nothing new by any means. It is just part of the natural way nature continues in a circle. Hot composting is also not a new concept. Crocodiles have been composting for thousands of years to keep their eggs warm. So. If composting is not new and easy enough for a reptile to accomplish, I am sure you can do it too.

Hot composting is the process of taking nitrogen rich products and mixing them with carbon rich products and letting bacteria and other organisms break them down into new products that are beneficial to the soil. The decomposition process will happen to these products naturally even if we don’t hot compost, we are just speeding the process by providing the ideal living environment for the organisms that will do the work for us. In the process, will help destroy parasites that might normally survive and be able to infest our other animals.

The temperature of your hot composting has very little to with the air temperature too. Since the heat is generated by bacteria. If you want more information about the bacteria involved, Google them, but here are some of the very basics. There are three main types, Psychrophiles, Mesophiles and Thermophiles. The Psychrophiles are able to survive in pretty cold temperature, 70 degrees and lower for the most part, and will compost your manure very slowly if the pile is just left alone, but they will start to heat the pile enough for the Mesophiles to kick in around the 70 to 90 degree range. They will tend to do the most work in you compost pile, but if you start getting over 90 degrees, the Thermophiles will kick up the heat a notch again and can get it up to 160 degrees and are able to kill weed seeds and parasites with this temperature if held there for long enough. There are plenty of other organisms that will inhabit your compost, including fungi, yeasts, bugs and worms. Composting with alpaca manure only can easily hit 140 in a relatively small pile and I have been able to get up as high as 155 for two-three days with not an ideal size pile. For most small alpaca farms, an ideal size pile will be about 3′ x 3′ x 3′. This gives you a good amount of heat build-up and doesn’t take too much time to get that much manure. But your ideal size may vary, it depends on your needs and space available, will get into that more when talking about where to compost, bins and systems.

Many people worry about the smell of a manure pile. This is a valid concern if you don’t actively monitor the pile and let it sit and become anaerobic. Hot composting that I am talking about is an aerobic process that requires oxygen to be done properly. When the process is going along normally, you should have a sweet smelling pile that is nice and warm and often times steaming from the water in the process. The pile should be moist in the middle, not sopping wet and certainly not dry. Moist like a damp sponge.

If you are starting a compost pile out of purely alpaca poop, there really isn’t much to it since it already has pretty much the ideal Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. However, if you want to compost other things along with your alpaca poo, say you don’t have enough poo to fill a bin and you are excited to get moving on the process. You will want to layer your browns and your greens. Browns are the high carbon items and are generally brown in color, like dead leaves, sticks, old hay, straw shredded paper and things like that. Greens have high nitrogen content and are like green grass clippings, coffee grounds (the filters can go in too, but they are browns), chicken manure, as well as alpaca poo. You will want to layer the browns and the greens in alternating fashion about 2 inches thick for each layer. Make sure the layers are moist, but not soaked.

Maintaining your pile at optimimum levels is very difficult and a lot of work, but if you have the time, and energy, you should turn your pile to get fresh air, remember we are after an aerobic process, after it starts to cool down from it’s hottest temperature. This usually takes about 3 days to fully heat up and 2 or 3 days at full temperature, before you have to turn it. Then it can be a 3-5 day process over again. Let’s be honest, I don’t have the energy to turn my compost that often. I tried to be really good about it and took my temperature readings with my compost thermometer, but after about a month of that, I couldn’t fit it all in my schedule. My compost is still being maintained about once every two weeks, I just won’t get my completed product in 3 months, it will probably take 8 or 9 months.

That’s some of the very basics, next time I will talk about bins and systems…there is a wide variety.

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2 Responses to Compost series – Part I – The basics

  1. Pingback: Compost Series – Part II – Bins and Systems : Fancy Fiber Farm

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