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A question on making compost under cover.

SkandiSkandi Northern DenmarkPosts: 939
I've made some compost before, I've even managed to get it to "cook" but I very often end up with a soggy anoxic mess, even if I started off with all "browns" rain and groundwater just get in no matter how I cover it and get it very very wet. I see that people like charles dowding have theirs under a pretty sturdy roof. We've just moved house and I was wondering where to build the new compost heaps. After thinking about roofing etc I suddenly thought, why not inside? I have a 870m2 barn with no use for 90% of it, one area is only 2m high and still filled with all the old dairy cow stuff. Would making compost in a (tiny) bit of it be madness or sense? Obviously I would have to water it on occasion but the rain wouldn't get to and make it into the normal swimming pool.


  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 26,165
    try it and see. 
  • Garden noobGarden noob Posts: 260
    I think compost heaps benefit from being on soil - partly for the drainage; partly for the microbes and worms that will find their way in. You can seed the heap with soil though to give it a kick-start.

    But let's not overthink this: Composting is a natural process that will happen in almost any conditions. All you're trying to do is make the conditions more favourable so you produce compost more quickly and/or in less space.

    My biggest concern is ventilation: Compost heaps give off a lot of carbon dioxide (or methane if anaerobic). If the barns are well ventilated (e.g. holes for windows/doors) this could/should be okay, otherwise I'd be worried about the build up of gases - both for your health, and also as a fire risk in the case of methane.
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen SpainPosts: 3,823
    Good points, garden noob, ventilation especially. 

    However, I think in your situation Skandi, I would lay a thick layer of gravel underneath the outdoor compost heap to aid ground drainage, top with a sturdy weed membrane to hold it in place and stop the gravel migrating into the compost, top that with a layer of soil then build your heap on top of that. Also cover it with a few of those ridged roofing panels used on garden sheds, etc., supported on a frame and on a slight pitch for rainwater to drain off and away from the heap. Leave yourself enough head height to get in to build and turn it.

    If you go ahead and experiment in the barn, let us know how it goes.
  • UpNorthUpNorth South Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK Posts: 373
    madness.  i wouldn't build indoors.  as pointed out above the soil contact is really important, lets the worms in that do a good proportion of the required job.   it does need rainwater to keep it going. 

    i agree not to overthink it.  

    Too wet?   i might suggest adding a lot of brown leaf matter. My leaf mould (uncovered) bins about 2mx2m are often found to be bone dry in the middle of winter and i pour over a bit of water to assist.  so from that i'm assuming the brown leafage really helps soak up any rainfall.

    still too wet....don't shred things too much, you need Air too.  i don't shred anything, if it fits in a 'trug' then it goes onto the pile, twigs the lot.  nothing too large diameter.  takes two years though and by then twigs have broken down enough.

    is there a concern that rainfall is helping leach out nutrients?   valid but i think if you're stacking high on your pile (starting five foot, ending with one foot of compost???) then rainfall isn't a concern, providing you use that compost within a year or two.  
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 7,189
    No need at all to have in contact with the ground or have lots of air holes. You do need to turn it. Hotbins work wonderfully well. I do mine in hotbins and regular rubbish bins with clipped lids to protect from rats. The bins are full of worms, and every kind of bug and work on a sixty day cycle - from garden waste to soil. In choosing to cover the bins, I would just make sure that you choose a design that is low enough for you to turn regularly and empty easily. A wheelie bin with drainage holes, for example, would be too high to mix, unless you turned the lot each time.  I keep bags of paper from the shredder to add with each load of kitchen waste. I also add a shovel full of the last load of compost and a shovel full of garden earth to boost local microbes.
  • cornellycornelly Posts: 902
    I have two pallet sized compost heaps, covered with polythene sheet and a few lumps of wood to hold in place works well, under tree cover.
  • I think your not understanding what the compost heap is about,
    For a start the verious composting materials your using should be high "yes" but if you've all this water gathering look at the  farmers cow sheds and think of the over wintering the cows, the farmers dont take the cows to the loo pre bed time do they?
    No the contruction of the cows gathered waste is piles high over a drainage grid system
    all the watery waste is collected in tanks and later sprayed onto the fields etc as liquid gold
    (fertilizer for the land) Now thats cow manure we're talking about "wet /cold manure,
    Now im not saying you should build a winter storage unit but i am saying you'll never see a farmer having this heap indoors,
    You need to do two things and the first you can do right now, google storage of compost heaps and see how its done and how to stop all this watery mess you have,
    you'll find both height and what your composting is your answer and the moving on a regular basis is also important,
    And the second point is the covering your using, use corrigated sheeting at an angle so the rain runs off it and is guided away from the heap, ie if needed dig a small trench around the base of your heap and use plastic guttering to stop water flooding the heap from off the land.
    Remember a lot of the goodness in the animal waste isnt the solid stuff but the watery stuff and you dont want to see this washed away,
    I had the same problems as you many many years ago and it was by reading how and why these problems we're happening that i got the answer's and boy was it worth finding out.
    Good luck, you'll get the best compost you ever had if you stick with it.
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