Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cracking the secret of very hot hot compost

I've been trying to make hot compost for a great many years. I've never gotten it right. The usual things have befallen my attempts: pile not big enough, not enough nitrogen, drying out, etc etc. I've read books, I've been to workshops, I've thought and I've talked to people, but still I managed to get it wrong. That is, I got it wrong until I discovered The Secret. And what this secret involved was, for me at least, just a slight shift in thinking, and taking a step towards some other materials that I'd never tried before, namely: chicken offal.
Compost bay 1: chickens dig it
We here in this lovely valley have the good fortune to have access to Australia's only small scale, co-operatively and grower-run small species abattoir. For us folk here at Autumn Farm, this is a massive boon, because it means that we have a local facility where we can legally and safely process our meat chickens (first batch of chicks arriving in less than 4 weeks!!). We are tremendously excited to be embarking upon this little CSA/regenerative ag biz, and will definitely be writing more about it SOON. But I digress...

In preparation for our entry into the pastured meat chicken biz, I've been getting involved with the co-op. This means working on processing days, which means I get to hone my chicken killing/gutting/plucking techniques, and I also get access to quite a lot of chicken offal. I have to say the first time I brought home those wheelie bins, I was a tad nervous. So many feathers! So many guts and organs! But I did as I'd been taught (oh so many times...) and layered them with carbon (a combo of wood shavings and cut grass from our property) and wet the whole thing down and whaddya know? That baby heated up in NO time. I was thrilled.

Encouraged by this success, I thought it high time I embarked upon another composting challenge - humanure.
The dunny shed. Dunny box was made from timber scraps and doesn't wobble or collapse when it's sat on. I was pretty proud...
Since we moved onto our land, we've been making use of a commercially-made compost toilet that has a rotating drum, which was supposed to pre-compost the 'stuff' before it went into a compost bay or worm farm (we used the latter). In short, it wasn't big enough for us, and was kind of a pain to empty. Inspired by the amazing humanure handbook, and the vast plethora of information about safely composting human poo available on the trusty inter-web, I sought to simplify our situation.
And it's working a treat.

Now before you get all grossed/freaked out (or maybe you are already...), I should say that the humanure compost doesn't go on the veggies. Once it's hot composted for ages, then left to settle for 12 months (during which time worms will work their wonder) it will be applied to the base of our fruit trees in the orchard, then mulched over. Perfectly safe, perfectly legal. And for us, perfectly sensible, given that it means we're now creating a closed loop of waste on our farm (produce no waste!), whereby 20L/week of nutrients are recycled back into the earth, rather than being flushed out to sea with drinking-quality water.

Some people who come to visit are grossed/freaked out by this situation. Fair enough, I suppose. There is a lot to be said for properly-managed disposal of human waste. But there's even more to be said, methinks, for properly-managed recycling of any and all waste.


  1. The compost bay looks great and good to hear you've goy the hang of it. Composting can be hard I know.
    Humanure, one of those things that many don't consider when trying to love more sustainably. I bet the fruit trees are very grateful for the extra fertiliser. x

  2. A co-op abattoir - That is unreal! What a great resource to have in your community :-)

  3. We've been following your blog for ages. It's my girlfriends favourite. She's always filling me in one what you're up to!
    Very excited to read this post as my dad, Alex is one of the founding members of the co-op. On my first shift at the abattoir I made the mistake of bringing chicken sandwiches. Slightly off putting after my first kill. If you make the same mistake Dad will be happy to take them off your hands!