using the microscope with the finished compost

The successful compost is ready – it has now fallen to roughly ambient temperature.

1507_otl_AS_fourweeklyunfortunately the temperature logger failed when I was on holiday so I don’t know what the profile was as it cooled down. And yes, it didn’t spend three times three days above 55C – more like three days and two days. There’s still more to learn here.

Time to look at this and see what sort of microbial stuff is in it. I shook this up with about 20 times the amount of water and put a drop on a slide

fungal hypah and bacteria
fungal hypha and bacteria

According to Elaine Ingham’s rules of thumb this is probably a good sort of soil fungus, because if the little round cocci are 1µm in diameter the fungal hypha is about 4µm. I could see that this one was slightly tan coloured, but the incandescent lamp of the microscope plays havoc with the white balance of the camera, making everything bright yellow.

1507_hypha_DSCN2669_lznThis next one is narrow and clear, so not good in the morphology  rule of thumb that fungi < 3µm in diameter and clear are undesirable soil fungi.

I saw no protozoa or micro-arthropods. That’s either because there aren’t any or because I didn’t recognise them. The dilution is high, – it appears that Ingham starts at 5:1 so I’m four times less likely to see these at 20:1.


concentrated compost activators are hard to use

The high-nitrogen activator should typically be about 10% of the composting materials. These are typically animal wastes – I have used real chicken crap, pelletised chicken crap, and clover. With the chicken manure each time I have scored a fail, whereas the clover was a success.

pelleted chicken manure
pelleted chicken manure

I suspect the trouble is that it’s hard to mix a concentrated activator properly. For starters it’s not pleasant to do, which discourages it being turned in right. The pelletised stuff is easy to distribute evenly, but even then it seems to lead to localised action.

pellets seem to turn white
pellets seem to turn white

The pellets seem to go white, like dog crap used to go white when left on the footpath in the 1970s. This leads to a fast and furious burn on the composting front, but with no staying power

pelletised chicken crap - leading to a fast ramp up but no staying power
pelletised chicken crap – leading to a fast ramp up but no staying power – the dip was when it was turned

The clover was more evenly spread – somehow I need to find a way of spreading the others more evenly. Or maybe go for the urine, preferably from carnivorous humans (there is more N in protein). In Ben Easey’s Practical Organic Gardening (Faber, 1955) he says dilute this with water 1:20 which should make for a better distribution. So I’m going to steer clear of using crap, because I am a wuss and don’t like dealing with it and it’s too concentrated anyway. Clover or urine will be my activators of choice 😉

Joanne’s note Oct 2016: We subsequently (in later heaps) used pelleted chicken manure mixed with water and stirred into a slurry. It took a lot of water to do this! Poor old Richard has a very sensitive sense of small (tough on a small farm with animals!) so he had to leave the rest of the team to finish up building the heap when we started to add the slurry…