Questions And Answers On Southern Homes And Gardens

Alana asks…

What would you like to ask? When you compost horse manure, how do you do it to make sure it is done properly?

My horses and our family live in Southern California and would like to recycle our horse manure as part of our home gardening system. I would like to make sure that the following pests are taken care of:

1. bermuda grass seed from hay 2. e. coli and other bacteria are managed 3. ph level correct 4. do I need to worry about horse intestinal worms when composting? You never see this topic in gardening books

Home Gardener answers:

You need to start off with a compost bin that is the proper size to enable the compost to reach the optimal temperature.
In a good working compost pile, the temperature can reach 150F +. This is good because this temperature will kill the weed seeds and any pathogens in the manure, as long as it isn’t carnivore (cats and dogs) or omnivore (pigs and humans). Carnivores and omnivores carry bacteria in their guts that are zoonotic (transmissible to humans). It takes even higher temperatures to kill these bacteria, and even then it is not recommended to use on food gardens.

I have built a 2 bin system, 4′x4′x’4′. This size allows the compost to build enough heat to do the job properly. You can make it bigger, but you must make sure you turn every part of it over so that it gets heated thoroughly.
The pile should be turned over every couple of weeks. To tell when to turn your pile you need to watch your temperature. They actually make compost thermometers. They look like oversized turkey thermometers.

If your manure is in wood shavings, you will want to add some blood meal to the compost. Blood meal will add the nitrogen that is needed to break down woody material. You don’t have to add any kind of compost starter because the manure itself will have enough bacteria in it by itself. There are three stages to compost breakdown. The first stage the compost is heating up. This all works through bacterial action. Then another sort of bacteria begins its stage and heats the compost even higher. It will reach a peak after about 2 weeks and the temperature will start to drop. Then a third type of bacteria takes over and completes the process.
Turning your compost is an important part of the process. It allows the compost to heat back up again and the decomposition goes much faster. When the temperature drops, it is time to turn your compost over. This is why I have 2 bins – I can turn the compost into the empty one to start the process over again. If you have the room, I would build a third bin to store the finished compost. To check the pH, you need a pH test kit.

So, all your questions are answered because of the heat the pile generates. I am including a link to the compost thermometer.


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