Guest post on Hot Composting from Dave Beecher

An enormous thank you to Dave Beecher this guest post on his experience of hot composting. Dave has been working alongside Zach Wright who himself learned directly from the mighty Elaine Ingham herself! This post includes a very entertaining video of Dave making his compost pile, an activity the clearly fascinated everyone (including Billy the Dog!) at Caerhys Organic Farm in St Davids, Wales! You can contact Dave on (an image to protect him from spam):

So, my first attempt only got as far as turn 3 and would not heat up after that. It became very wet (liquid running out the bottom) once all the green material started to break down. I didn’t have enough high N and my green material contained a lot of internal water.

Pile shrunk down a lot as I did not compact sufficiently when building the initial pile. Using a flat head shovel every 6-12 inches works well. The second pallet was larger than first allowing for a bigger ring and making the pile look really small. Keep the diameter of the ring the same regardless of pallet size. This will allow better control when turning as you will be able to divide you material up evenly to comply with the turning break down as shown below.

I started again and treated the first attempt as 50% and then added 20% brown, 20% green and 10% high N. This worked a treat and i ended up getting 6 turns in as it was still quiet hot after the 5th.


I used a 500kg grain bag with pull cord to cover the pile. This worked well as i could open the top and release excess heat and condensation, preventing the top of the pile from getting soggy. I had to turn two days in a row as it was getting very close to 70c. I made sure to air it out well on the second turn and not compact it down at all. This allowed me to keep the temp 55-59C for 3 days.

After the first pile getting to wet i held back a little on the water when making the second pile. The temp was slow to rise only 18C the following morning. I add 7L of water to the top and sides that evening, it reached temp by the next day. I continued to add water when need and based it on visual and squeeze method.

Flies and Midges
When the pile was covered and slightly damp from condensation there were a few hanging around. Once i removed it and allowed it to dry out they disappeared

Got my first 2 mushroom on day 17 loads on day 19, by day 22 they were gone just some pin heads were visible.


Compost Biology
After 1 month i found 5 bacteria feeding nematodes, one predatory, lots of amoeba and one our two fungi spores

Predatory nematode, 400x
Predatory nematode, 400x


After 7 weeks i was getting 30-50 nematodes per slide mainly bacteria and 3-5 predatory, a diverse range of amoeba and fungi development.


The pile is now 10 weeks old, I will be heading back to Wales next week to see how it’s getting on and will let you.

Happy Composting!




Using the microscope to grade compost and compost extract

This is using Elaine Ingham’s microscopy techniques to investigate thermal compost – some of what I saw. I am at an early stage of being able to do this, so any errors are mine and not Elaine Ingham’s 😉 The principle is to classify organisms by their morphology – aerobic fungi tend to have a colour, diameter wider than 2.5µm and/or have uniform septa. Spiral structures are bad, indiciative of anaerobic conditions, and ciliates (hairs all over the body) also indicate anaerobic – bad- conditions. Apart form the spirochete most of these are good.

This is on a 5x dilution, the recommended intial conditions (use 1ml of compost and make up to 5ml total with water left to stand so the chlorine has gone).

Making Compost Extract

The easiest and low-tech way of adding the microorganisms from compost is to extract them fro mthe compost using water and a mesh, then spray the water  – in our case using watering cans. You can spread the compost itself, and there’s much to be said for that, but it’s more stuff to wrangle and needs to happen before you plant, ideally. Since we are going to test areas on already growing plants, extract it is. Compost tea is a way of getting more microbes out there, but it is technically harder and we don’t have the gear. Extract it is, then. The rate seems to be about a good handful per 5 gallons, we used half an IBC, ie about 500 liters, which is 110 gallons. So we need about 20 times as much

Start with a wodge of compost in a net curtain
Start with a wodge of compost in a net curtain
and some reasonably clean borehole water (so no worries on chlorine or chloramine)
and 500 litres reasonably clean borehole water (so no worries on chlorine or chloramine)

We made a bag by putting the compost in the middle of the net curtain material and tying up the top with a releasable cable tie.

You can see the brown of the humic acid leaching out of the compost into the water
You can see the brown of the humic acid leaching out of the compost into the water
the end result is a dark brown chocolate colour
the end result is a dark brown chocolate colour

Continue reading “Making Compost Extract”

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.


Composting – the Elaine Ingham way

Compost isn’t something I’d even given much thought to, I got it in bags from B&Q and job done.

Compost. On a farm scale you get it wholesale, not from B&Q 🙂

A long time ago I never bothered and used garden soil, perhaps an instinctive predilection towards natural farming – as exemplified in shumei.

I visited the guys doing Shumei farming in Wiltshire - being Japanese they had this image of Mount Fuji on the site, though the December rain doesn't do it justice
I visited the guys doing Shumei farming in Wiltshire – being Japanese they had this image of Mount Fuji on the site, though the December rain doesn’t do it justice

At school I learned that soil has micro-orgnaisms that somehow worked symbiotically with the plants, but pretty much everything in the decades that passed seemed to run counter to that – perhaps my schoolbooks were from an earlier era.

Continue reading “Composting – the Elaine Ingham way”