I have always been fascinated by the fact that a lot of bacteria eating away at organic matter can generate heat. In some cases, dangerous amounts of heat. I don’t know if its true or not, but I have heard stories of barns burning down because hay wasn’t dry enough when it was stored and the bacteria made so much heat eating the moist hay, that a fire resulted. The fact scared me enough so that I always made sure my hay was good and dry before I put it in the barn.
Of course, the heat is one of the main ideas behind compost piles. In a successful compost pile the heat that is generated by the bacteria, as it breaks down the organic matter, is hot enough to kill any weed seeds that are in the pile.
When I got my willow trees trimmed, all of the branches were run through a chipper and I ended up with a big pile of wood chips. I have recently been surprised to discover that all those chips are now composting and generating enough heat to melt the snow on top of the pile. I didn’t expect the hard chips of wood could break down so quickly. I figured that maybe in a few years of sitting in the weather, some of the chips would start to decompose, but I guess bacteria doesn’t like to sit around with nothing to do.
By contrast our regular compost pile, where we daily dump all of our food scraps, doesn’t generate any heat at all during the winter. As soon as I dump the food scraps on the compost pile and go back into the house, the deer come around and eat everything just dumped there. During the winter, our compost “pile” is just a big empty hole in the snow.
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