Do you know how hot is hot?

by Teresa
(In CO)

Not if you can't find you compost thermometer! Yikes!


Last time I remember seeing the thermometer was when I was checking the pile last summer and fall. Here it is spring.

Hmmm Did I tie the orange plastic 3 ft long hay string on the candy thermometer? Wow there's lots of orange hay strings in the pile, just why can't I bend down and pick up my hay strings?

I live on 5 acres in the high mountain desert of Colorado Springs. I have one prolific horse who recycles hay and feed into huge piles of manure, along with her 4 babies ( 4 pygmy goats) We have a passive solar house that requires lots of human power to regulate the temp, not sure what is passive.




We have external PVC rolling shutter that we replaced with aluminum insulated exterior shutters. I propped the PVC cast offs against the house to shade the garden level windows. It's cooler, no view of the rockies though.

Four Serious Compost Piles

Well I decided to get serious about a compost pile as the heaps of manure where not composting in this arid area. I made beautiful 4'x4' boxes with 2x4 for corners and the PVC rolling shutters, 4 in a row. Wow they look good.

I undid the old pile of manure, some yard debris (not much grows here) and a neighbors grass and leaves. A did layers of old stuff, a bit of dirt from the prairie, a bit of newly processed animal feed( poop) and a mist of water, grass and leaves. All four compost bins filled up to 4 feet. Mission accomplished.

Is It Hot Yet? Ouch!

I sat back and checked the temp each day by digging down and sticking my hand in. I could feel the warmth grow each day till I put it in 12 inches. "Ouch!"

Yes it was so hot it burned my hand. Well in my very successful pile for building a heat source how was I to keep records of my experiment. HMMM...

I Do Have a Candy Thermometer...


Well I did have a glass candy thermometer I was going to make Martha Stewart home made marshmallows. I haven't cooked with a candy thermometer since home ec in 7th grade. Hmmm Could I use a kitchen utensil in the poop pile? Why not?

I learned from a vet never stick a glass rod into a dark thing without a string attached. Now I have a elephant size candy thermometer with a 3 ' string, orange.

I made a long 2 foot hole with my 100 year old pry bar and slipped the thermometer in and back filled the skinny hole. I walked away knowing I needed it to reach the max temp.

WOW 160 degrees, that sure was hot enough to burn my hand. My husband said I found a new passive heat source. Not, nothing passive about shoveling piles of manure. But it does create a huge heat source.

I have seen horses stand on top of the manure pile dumped out the barn door. It created so much warmth in the winter the horses used it to stay warm out side in the frigid New England winter. Warmed their tootsies. They found standing on the warm pile was preferable to the frozen ground.

So I was able to measure my grand experiment over the next days and weeks. BUT, the more I dug a hole and stuck it in, the more I forgot to come back and find the thermometer on a string.

Where is That Thermometer?

By fall I had forgotten to retrieve the thermometer. Here we are in spring and the neighbor would like to gather some compost.

Well It was a bit embarrassing to say we need to unearth the thermometer on an orange 3 ' string or we are going to have a toxic mess if we hit the glass thing with a shovel.

So we dug and dug with our hands and did find it. I wasn't sure the orange hay string was even on it but it was, whew! So I carefully hung the glass thermometer in the garage where all the poopey farm implements are.

The moral of the story is if you put your hand in and scream ouch chances are it's 160 degrees and the bio bugs are screaming too, it's a bit too hot.

All That Heat and Still Not Composted

So for all that heat and no re-turning or flipping the piles, didn't degrade much. Of the 4 piles only 1 has degraded 1/2 way. So back to flipping once more. The pile that composted 1/2 way is going on the perennial beds the way it is. I will just enjoy pulling more weeds.



If a mom can tell a fever by the back of her hand I sure can learn to read a poop pile. I still have no idea what the red stuff in the glass candy thermometer is but I bet it's not good. Maybe a digital real compost thermometer is really safer.

Have fun in the poo!

Comments for Do you know how hot is hot?

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Great Story
by: Leslie

Teresa this is a great story. We'll have to ask Martha what's in those Candy Thermometers. Mine is some sort of blue liquid but at least it's not mercury any more.

I think if your piles heated up as hot as they did there must have been a lot of breakdown. We live in similar climates - Rockie Mountains and dry dry dry. I'd start throwing any excess water you have on those piles.

I do have a friend with a great garden and ready or not she gets the compost out on the garden when it's time to start planting.

I'd spread those piles out on top of the soil. Let the worms dig it in - easier on the back plus they'll finish off any composting that's needed.

Thanks so much for sharing.

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