Progress with hot composting so far

We attended Elaine Ingham’s day long seminar the day after the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January 2015, and we were so impressed that Richard followed Elaine’s classes soon after, and we have been applying her techniques on our farm, The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, since then.

If you too are using Elaine Ingham’s methods in the UK or a similar climate then we’d love to host a “guest post” on your work, along with a link to your work, here on Green Mantle: please contact us! Don’t worry if you are still learning, so are we!

Richard’s blog post from October 2016 gives a good summary of our work to date, and there is more detail on our individual compost heaps and results below.

Our Compost Heaps

Joanne and Oak Tree Farm CSA member Glennis with a newly created compost heap Summer 2016

It has been a steep learning curve! The biggest challenge has been to achieve the demanding specification of Dr Ingham’s compost making techniques in our often windy and cold conditions here in the East of England. We have limited raw materials, and, perhaps more importantly, a lack of large scale machinery to create and turn our heaps. We imagine that this will be the same for many of our fellow small scale growers/farmer in the UK, so we hope you can learn from our experiences!

We have given each of our compost heaps a date code (the date when they we created, in YYMMDD format). You can read about each heap by clicking on the code of each heap (most recent heaps first): you’ll then be shown all the blog posts documenting that heap, with the most recent posts at the top:

  • 160910 building on the success of the previous heap, we went a bit mad with highly nitrogenous pelleted chicken manure mixed into a slurry with water. We had to go and turn a heap at 5.30am on a Sunday morning, then 7pm the same day! But it very nearly met the temperature profile spec needed for Ingham compost.
  • 160901 inspired by the success of the compost extract treated beans we introduced more nitrogen to this heap, and kept it well insulated with mypex, and it went far better!
  • 150912151024 we got a bit discouraged around this time, as we put a lot of work in, without much success! We hadn’t yet seen the remarkable effect of compost extract made from 150527 on our beans!
  • 150630 showed promise, but ultimately failed. We subsequently realised that using dry pelleted chicken manure had been a mistake as it was too concentrated and not mixed into the heaps sufficiently.
  • 150527 an early success! While not quite up to the temperature profile spec demanded by Elaine Ingham, the resulting compost looked promising under the microscope and it achieved our first clear and dramatic sucess with our crops!
  • 150508 a failure as too dry, lacking nitrogen and material too large and not compressed enough.

What are we trying to achieve?

Our aim is to inoculate our soil with the full soil food web with this high quality compost, not to add organic matter explicitly with the compost: we simply cannot make enough compost to be able to achieve this! We’ll rely on green manures and growing crops to sustain the food web once it has been added to the soil.

We are trialling compost extract and compost tea as ways to achieve this inoculation.

What equipment are we using?

The output of Richard’s compost temperature monitoring equipment: a web based graph showing real time temperatures either in a compost heap, or ambient air temperature (the green line when it “wiggles”).

Richard designed our remote temperature monitoring probes which enable us to monitor the real time temperature of our compost heaps from anywhere, despite the farm having no mains power or wifi connection. This is a huge help, especially when a compost heap threatens to overheat & go aerobic early on a Sunday morning!

We have a second hand 1980s research microscope to enable us to monitor the microbes in our soil and compost.