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wellington womble

Acidic compost

If I have a compost heap just for acidic kitchen waste (coffee grounds, tea bags, citrus etc) will it make acidic compost? Or is that too basic (no pun intended!)
Hairyloon

At a guess, I would think it would not break down as quickly as normal compost.

Why would you want to?
Falstaff

All compost heaps end up acidic whether you use ammonium Nitrate or urine as an activator, or indeed you don't know any better and just let them go smelly and foul ! The generally accepted rule is that you alternate applications of activator with applications of lime. However Gardeners question time today recommended the use of wood ash on the compost heap as it apparently contains much lime !

Good old Flowerdew - you learn something new every day !
Tavascarow

Composting goes through many stages & the earlier ones are acidic.
As Falstaff says if too acidic it will encourage anaerobic bacteria instead of aerobic & you will have putrid compost.
If left to mature completely & fully digested by earthworms regardless of the starting pH the resulting vermi-compost will be neutral to mildly alkaline.
There's something in the digestive enzymes of earth worms that neutralises.
Mistress Rose

I wouldn't waste wood ash on a compost heap, and have never heard of it containing lime. It does contain potassium (potash) and dry wood ash can be used as a top dressing for tomatoes or other fruiting plants. Potassium hydroxide, which can be formed from wood ash, is alkaline, but very soluble and it will wash through the compost very fast.
Andrea

Unless you've vast quantities of coffee grounds and orange peels, why do you compost them separately?
Hairyloon

Unless you've vast quantities of coffee grounds... why do you compost them separately?

If you do, I hear they are good for growing mushrooms on...
Treacodactyl

I wouldn't waste wood ash on a compost heap, and have never heard of it containing lime. It does contain potassium (potash) and dry wood ash can be used as a top dressing for tomatoes or other fruiting plants. Potassium hydroxide, which can be formed from wood ash, is alkaline, but very soluble and it will wash through the compost very fast.


Wood ash is alkaline though, so don't use it on lime hating / acidic loving plants such as blueberries. It can also be harsh so care is needed when top dressing.

I gather though that components of wood ash will react with nitrogen, tying up potash and nitrogen into less soluble minerals so it may be sensible to use it on some heaps.
Hairyloon

I gather though that components of wood ash will react with nitrogen, tying up potash and nitrogen into less soluble minerals so it may be sensible to use it on some heaps.
If it reacts with nitrogen then that is probably great, because that would be making fertiliser out of the atmosphere, but I think that unlikely so perhaps you have it wrong?
You probably mean that it reacts with nitrates, but I am led to wonder what it is that is reacting and to form what...
dpack

wood ash is better than lime imho
a bit of old tarp or plastic as a loose lid stops most leaching(if the heap drys out water it or use extra urine)

for stuff like coffee grounds ,wood chips etc etc mixing green and leafy in with the more solid stuff helps create a good general purpose compost.

the other thing to remember is that much like a fire a compost heap needs air so packing loosely adding a few twiggy branches etc helps speep things along and prevents smelly anaerobic bacteria being the prime decomposers.
Slim

I gather though that components of wood ash will react with nitrogen, tying up potash and nitrogen into less soluble minerals so it may be sensible to use it on some heaps.
If it reacts with nitrogen then that is probably great, because that would be making fertiliser out of the atmosphere, but I think that unlikely so perhaps you have it wrong?
You probably mean that it reacts with nitrates, but I am led to wonder what it is that is reacting and to form what...

Maybe this is being confused with the reason you're better off liming a field in the fall, before you spread your spring fertilizer. The breakdown of lime in the soil can change ammonium into ammonia, which is volatile and can leave the soil environment.
Slim

Composting goes through many stages & the earlier ones are acidic.
As Falstaff says if too acidic it will encourage anaerobic bacteria instead of aerobic & you will have putrid compost.


I can't imagine anaerobic bacteria ever gaining a competitive advantage over aerobic bacteria when there is an adequate supply of oxygen. Is this possibly a conflation of acidic type materials matting down and not staying as well aerated?
vegplot

However Gardeners question time today recommended the use of wood ash on the compost heap as it apparently contains much lime !

Are you sure it was lime they were talking about? I heard the word lye.
tahir

Are you sure it was lime they were talking about? I heard the word lye.

I think you're right, woodash contains potash
john of wessex

I just give mine a sprinkling of wood ash every time I have added a few inches of material, with a bit of B&Q Rockdust Jam Lady

Pine needles break down to duff. Certainly not smelly anaerobic decay. But my understanding is that the end product of composting is somewhat neutral rather than noticeably alkaline or acid.

Blend stuff up, not lasagna layers. A blend of greens and browns breaks down best - wood chips from leafy branches will heat up too hot to put your hand on. Greens - nitrogen sources such as urine, blood, leather tankage, green weeds. Browns - carbon sources such as cardboard, newspaper, woody materials. Softer material - as expected - decays more rapidly than harder things.

Smaller pieces decay more rapidly than large ones (wood chips vs branches or logs.) Those teensy microorganisms don't have large mouths able to take a bite out of "chunky" stuff.
Hairyloon

Smaller pieces decay more rapidly than large ones (wood chips vs branches or logs.) Those teensy microorganisms don't have large mouths able to take a bite out of "chunky" stuff.
I think it more down to the surface area:volume ratio, and/or depth of penetration.
Falstaff

Are you sure it was lime they were talking about? I heard the word lye.

I think you're right, woodash contains potash

No it was LIME the context was in relation to brasssicas - use woodash and improve the yield of cabbages, brussels and cauli's - How does that relate to LYE ?

The potash content was said to be small - but ok if you had some fruit trees needing encouragement - GOOSEBERRIES were Said to be especially encouraged by ash ! Cool
GrahamH

When it comes to compost I refer to Steve Solomon.
Most famous for 'Growing When It Counts, Growing Food In Hard Times' he also wrote....'Organic Gardener's Composting'....available for free here, no need to download just read......

http://soilandhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/0302hsted/030202/03010200.html

There is a section (chapter two, Nutrients in the Compost Pile) where he quotes Justus von Liebig....

Although Liebig's name is not popular with organic gardeners and farmers because misconceptions of his ideas have led to the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, Liebig's theory of limits is still good science.

Liebig suggested imagining a barrel being filled with water as a metaphor for plant growth: the amount of water held in the barrel being the amount of growth. Each stave represents one of the factors or requirements plants need in order to grow such as light, water, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, copper, boron, etc. Lowering any one stave of the barrel, no matter which one, lessens the amount of water that can be held and thus growth is reduced to the level of the most limited growth factor.....

The book includes wood-ash and the variances of the different woods.

Steve had a large seed firm in Oregon USA but relocated to Tasmania.
A good read and best of all it's free.....
Mistress Rose

Lime is calcium oxide turning to calcium hydroxide. It is alkaline but will react with nitrates to make a less soluble compound. Quite a lot of calcium salts are 'sparingly soluble'; that is, they don't dissolve very much in water. Lye is another name for potassium hydroxide, and woodash contains potassium oxide which will turn to hydroxide. Virtually all salts of potassium are quite soluble.

Brassicas like maritime conditions. They will in fact grow in soil that has been contaminated by sea water, so more potash, or even sodium salts may well make them grow better, but it has nothing to do with the amount of potash as a nutrients.

Graham, I haven't read that link, but sounds interesting. Liebig did a great deal more than just chemical fertilizers. He also for instance made an extract of beef that was very popular at the time.
GrahamH

Hi MR. I thought with you being a chemist you would know of Liebig. He's going back a few years but very knowledgeable and interesting.

The link takes you straight to Steve Solomon's book index page, click to go to the chapter. Can read direct or download.
Lots of useful information in his books.
He is now living in Tasmania.
Mistress Rose

Liebig was around during the Victorian period. While I don't use chemical fertilisers, it was a stage we had to go through, and some farmers still use it. Before that apparently the UK was importing thousands of tons of guano completely digging out some islands for it. GrahamH

His is a very interesting life, his company trademarked Oxo, a branch operated from Fray Bentos. His work on cooking food to retain the 'goodness' resulted in Eliza Acton changing her cook book for the third edition.
Lots of work on plant nutrients and soil composition.....I have his biography. Good reading.
Tavascarow

Lime is calcium oxide turning to calcium hydroxide. It is alkaline but will react with nitrates to make a less soluble compound. Quite a lot of calcium salts are 'sparingly soluble'; that is, they don't dissolve very much in water. Lye is another name for potassium hydroxide, and woodash contains potassium oxide which will turn to hydroxide. Virtually all salts of potassium are quite soluble.

Brassicas like maritime conditions. They will in fact grow in soil that has been contaminated by sea water, so more potash, or even sodium salts may well make them grow better, but it has nothing to do with the amount of potash as a nutrients.

Graham, I haven't read that link, but sounds interesting. Liebig did a great deal more than just chemical fertilizers. He also for instance made an extract of beef that was very popular at the time. Garden lime is calcium carbonate, calcium oxide is builders lime & calcium hydroxide is slaked lime.Are you sure it was lime they were talking about? I heard the word lye.

I think you're right, woodash contains potash

No it was LIME the context was in relation to brasssicas - use woodash and improve the yield of cabbages, brussels and cauli's - How does that relate to LYE ?

The potash content was said to be small - but ok if you had some fruit trees needing encouragement - GOOSEBERRIES were Said to be especially encouraged by ash ! Cool There is little calcium in wood ash unless the combustibles where high calcium in the first place.
Wood ash is very rich in potassium oxide which as MR says will turn to lye when mixed with water (potassium hydroxide).
It also is a strong alkali so will neutralise an acidic compost heap & raise the pH for brassicas.
Treacodactyl

There is little calcium in wood ash unless the combustibles where high calcium in the first place.

Wood ash is generally regarded as having high amounts of calcium, calcium carbonate and/or calcium oxide and is often referred to as having a liming effect. (See RHS or Wiki).

Its composition does seem to vary a great deal.

Having re-read the bit about mixing manure (chicken droppings) and wood ash it says potassium carbonates can react with the uric acid and form more stable potassium nitrates.
Tavascarow

There is little calcium in wood ash unless the combustibles where high calcium in the first place.

Wood ash is generally regarded as having high amounts of calcium, calcium carbonate and/or calcium oxide and is often referred to as having a liming effect. (See RHS or Wiki).

'Having a liming effect' can be achieved by any alkali.
Sodium hydroxide will have a liming effect but I wouldn't recommend using it in the garden.
Great for unblocking drains though.
Yes wood ash contains calcium, different woods will contain varying amounts, but the more soluble sodium & potassium salts have a stronger neutralising (liming) effect until they leach away.
dpack

There is little calcium in wood ash unless the combustibles where high calcium in the first place.

Wood ash is generally regarded as having high amounts of calcium, calcium carbonate and/or calcium oxide and is often referred to as having a liming effect. (See RHS or Wiki).

Its composition does seem to vary a great deal.

Having re-read the bit about mixing manure (chicken droppings) and wood ash it says potassium carbonates can react with the uric acid and form more stable potassium nitrates.

that last reaction chain is the one the saltpeter men were looking for and the one i use in my compost bags/mixture tubs are a similar chain but done in a liquid rather than liquid on particles but tubs are only ok if well away from people as they really stink at most stages.
vegplot



No it was LIME the context was in relation to brasssicas - use woodash and improve the yield of cabbages, brussels and cauli's - How does that relate to LYE ?

The potash content was said to be small - but ok if you had some fruit trees needing encouragement - GOOSEBERRIES were Said to be especially encouraged by ash ! Cool

Wood ash contains around 3% potassium (a plant nutrient). Leaching woodash produces lye - an alkali.
dpack

iirc pig stye muck is a very good p source as pigs pass p through better than most critters.

although the petermen used to favour the earth under the ladies' pews in church as well as the contents of the pig stye and mix both(+ wood ash and black earth as a culture starter) for a good "ferment" before doing the extraction.
wellington womble

I thought it might be mor complicated! Mistress Rose

I am sorry, but potassium nitrate is not stable with water. Both potassium and nitrates are the among the most soluble of salts. Potassium carbonate will be less water soluble as carbonates (e. g. calcium carbonate) are less soluble or even sparingly soluble.

These days calcium carbonate may be used for 'liming', and although it is not that soluble it is a safe, although limited use method. Calcium carbonate can also cause 'chlorosis' where the plant doesn't produce chlorophyll. We live on chalk, and so can't grow some things, and have to be aware others may need something like sequestrine to grow well.

The urine used would depend upon the use to which it was to be put. Saltpetre may have been preferred from women, but for dyeing the urine from boys was the best. The worst was from men who had been to the pub for some reason.
Treacodactyl

To be honest while looking up details of wood ash use the main thing I learnt was not to trust what's said as it often seemed contradictory or wrong.

I listened to the Gardener's Question Time on iPlayer and they did say several times wood ash contained lime. (It wasn't Bob though).

As I'm on acidic soil now and tend to have my compost heap on the ground I'll be growing on I just add everything to it to balance things out.

Going back to the original post, if you don't need huge amounts I'd just buy a bag of peat and compost the other items in the one big heap. After all, peat is still used for burning and in many potting composts so if you're raising fruit and veg in it I wouldn't worry too much.
dpack

I am sorry, but potassium nitrate is not stable with water. Both potassium and nitrates are the among the most soluble of salts. Potassium carbonate will be less water soluble as carbonates (e. g. calcium carbonate) are less soluble or even sparingly soluble.

These days calcium carbonate may be used for 'liming', and although it is not that soluble it is a safe, although limited use method. Calcium carbonate can also cause 'chlorosis' where the plant doesn't produce chlorophyll. We live on chalk, and so can't grow some things, and have to be aware others may need something like sequestrine to grow well.

The urine used would depend upon the use to which it was to be put. Saltpetre may have been preferred from women, but for dyeing the urine from boys was the best. The worst was from men who had been to the pub for some reason.

it wasnt they were women it was that they sneakily went in church during prayers and the earth floor did not get leached by rain chaps went outside and the salts/urea was lost.

pig pens were still on the top of the list but folk hid the best manure if the knew the king's petermen were collecting in their area.

as a slight aside the petermen were less popular than tax collectors with folk who grew their food but had little cash and were protected with some very draconian penalties for obstructing their work.

ed re the dye trades the best urine was from the chamber pots of posh houses where folk ate meat and drank wine ,stong ale and spirits ie plenty of urea and low volume,the poor ate turnips and drank weak beer ie low urea /high volume.
there was quite a well developed trade from rich areas to the places where folk had woad houses etc and the servants could earn a few extra pence a month selling the masters wee to the chaps with barrels.
Tavascarow

Good to know that even in the good old days defence spending was more important than feeding the poor.
Shows nothing much has changed.
wellington womble

It wasn't even really a practical question. I was just idly wondering whether it would work. I have lots of other Practical Things to be getting on with. Jam Lady

Umbellicaria lichens, those black flappy things that grow on rocks, give a nice purple dye when, according to one of my books, they are soaked with "urine from a male child, preferably collected upon first arising."

Passed some lichens on to a friend. Who simply used ammonia as the extracting liquidt.
dpack

i forgot to mention that for dye stuffs "stale"is the correct state ie the urea has converted back to ammonia

i can understand why dyers were often banned from towns Laughing
Mistress Rose

Yes, stale urine is used in a woad or indigo dye bath. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I wouldn't go to a town where they had woad dyers, but she was rather 'nice' in her tastes.

I have used a woad bath with ammonia, and even that stinks. In that case it is the ammonia that is important. In general it is the urea that acts a mordant I think.

Urine in general can be used to soften and finish cloth. I understand that this was used on Harris tweed in the past. Not sure about now.
alison

I believe urine was also used to bleach linens, and keep them nice and white. Mistress Rose

In the past urine was used quite frequently in dyeing, washing and other things. If you were lucky it was used in the last but one rinse I suppose. dan1

Re: Acidic compost

If I have a compost heap just for acidic kitchen waste (coffee grounds, tea bags, citrus etc) will it make acidic compost? Or is that too basic (no pun intended!)

Are you looking for advice on what to do about too acid compost and how to alkalise it, or exploring whether you can manufacture your own acid (ericaceous) compost?

I've been composting my tea-leaves (i'm a loose leaf snob) for years in a separate container and putting them on my blueberries. They're alive but I've never checked to see if the resulting mulch is acidic.
wellington womble

It was merely idle wondering. I do have some blueberries, so I wondered if maintaining separate compost for them would be worthwhile, but it isn't a huge problem.

My main problem with compost is I simply can't get enough of it. There is no way I can make enough for the garden, and I have totally failed to find a suitable animal to graze or someone to deliver piles of manure. Must have another think about that.
Slim


My main problem with compost is I simply can't get enough of it. There is no way I can make enough for the garden, and I have totally failed to find a suitable animal to graze or someone to deliver piles of manure. Must have another think about that.

How strict are UK laws when it comes to something like this?
http://humanurehandbook.com/
Mistress Rose

You can buy manure from some sewage farms; the best I think is sterilised, which smells less, but not sure if it is sold for gardens. I think they mainly sell to farmers, and only to ones that aren't in sensitive areas for water supplies. Tavascarow

You can buy manure from some sewage farms; the best I think is sterilised, which smells less, but not sure if it is sold for gardens. I think they mainly sell to farmers, and only to ones that aren't in sensitive areas for water supplies. Municipal Sewerage sludge has a lot of other contaminants like heavy metals that I wouldn't want on my land.
In answer to slims question I don't think there's anything stopping individuals or households composting their own & using it in their garden but problems arise when it's used on crops that might be eaten by others.
A bit like home slaughter (AFAIA).
You can kill your own pig (humanely) & feed it to your kids but if you invite your next door neighbour around for a roast it has to be killed in a licensed abattoir.
Slim

Interesting. Here the only problem comes when money changes hands, so you can't sell your pork to your neighbor. It's often been gotten around by selling shares of ownership to your neighbors, and then they come by to collect their share after slaughter (as that part was there's from the get go to do with what they pleased - we just ignore the part that it was still attached to the rest of the pig while being raised!).
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