I decided to put some of my straw bales to good use. We used 16 bales to build a temporary compost bin. Then we took a trip to the horse boarding stable where our helpful horse folks kindly used their tractor to load the trailer for us. He topped it off with a scoop from the spoiled hay pile, just for good measure. We brought it home and built a pile. My intent was to build a pile ala Soilguy's methods (for those who follow the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum on Gardenweb.com) but because of timing and weather (when hubby offers to help you go get a load of horse manure, you go whether you're quite ready for it or not) I didn't really get all of the information I needed beforehand and I wasn't able to water the pile because the weather turned too cold. So, here's what we did...
Then, I "capped" the pile with another thick layer of hay. This was to serve two purposes, as some added insulation (we built this pile December 30) and to keep the odor down since we do have neighbors.
(check out that nice, lush backyard I've got... yep, another project!)
If I had followed Soilguy's methods a bit closer (it would have still been a modified version of his methods) here's what I would have done. First, lay down a layer of plastic to keep liquids from leaching out (ideally using a trench to collect the liquid to add back into the pile). Then I would have watered the pile really really well (wet is ok) and tamped down the edges to "seal" the pile. I should have closely monitored the temperature, and not allowed the pile to get above 150 degrees, and turned it when it cooled to 105-110 degrees. That's the short version.
What I actually ended up doing was adding some water when the weather warmed in a couple days (but I don't believe it was watered deeply enough) and then I let it sit and cook for about 3 weeks. When the weather turned nice again, I decided to turn and water the pile. What I found was it was quite dry throughout (not a real surprise) and I probably didn't need to add the hay when I built it. I saw quite a lot of paper bedding and not many horse apples. I added the bag of bunny cage cleanings I had picked up the day before and about 15 various sized bags of Starbucks coffee grounds I'd been stockpiling and I watered it in hoping to get it "cooking" again. I have also been dumping a couple gallons of dishwater on the pile most days. I have gotten the pile heated again, but since I've been a bit of a slacker, and have not actually purchased the compost thermometer I should have, I don't know the actual temps. I do know it was hot before since I had a meat thermometer I tried to use (we never use that one in the kitchen) but then it quit working. I had a reading around 140. I figure, it no longer smells like manure and it has several weeks to sit before I'm going to use it so I'm not too worried. Most likely, this is going to be used on ornamentals rather than edibles, so I'm even less worried about the time & temp.
Just a note to fellow dog owners: If you have a large dog who finds horse manure and similar items to be a tasty snack, they will find a way into this bin eventually. After I turned the pile, my two lovely lab mixes decided to take a bit more of an interest. I never caught them in the act, but they started flipping the top bale off the pile and onto the ground, making the goodies accessible to them. As I was trying to dog proof the pile, my young one decided to show me his jumping skills and hopped up on top of the stacked bales where he stood trying to lick my face as I worked. Lovely children...
Veronica & Wilson, my charming companions in one of their favorite places.