Pure Wood Chip Composting

Wood Chip Compost Heating Up

While we were working on putting up ribs on the greenhouse in the south field I noticed a black hole. Then another. And another…

Turns out that the two foot layer of wood chips we had laid down inside the foot print of the greenhouse back in the fall while big delivery trucks still had access has started to compost and was melting the foot and a half of hard pack snow above it creating steaming vent holes.

A quick probe with the thermometer revealed a toasty warm 82°F eighteen inches down in the deep bedding pack. The pigs will be pleased.

An interesting point is that this bedding is just wood chips. The pigs have not yet added their secret recipe of nitrogen to the bedding which heats up the composting action. There is no hay in this bedding to add its nitrogen which also heats up the bedding pack. It is cold out which sometimes freezes compost piles, especially those that have not yet come to heat by fall. Lastly the bedding matierial is only two feet deep which is half the recommended depth for starting up a compost pile. Yet, even with these short comings it is approaching the prime composting temperature zone and generating a lot of heat. Multiply that out over 38’x96′ for a big hot bed and warm bellies for the livestock during the winter.

We find that compost heat is a lot cheaper than the impossibility of a heated barn, puts the heat right where it is most needed at toes and bellies, allows – in fact encourages – the circulation of fresh air, generates food and produces a rich soil amendment for our land using local organic resources. It’s all around a total win that mimics the natural bedding pack on the forest floor.

Currently the pigs are using their other open sheds and groves in winter paddocks which all have deep bedding packs that they’re heating and eating. The composting bedding material gets cooked through decomposition and becomes more digestible – one of their secret tricks that they use here, and in the wild, for eating tougher fiber materials. By the time we get the greenhouse covered the bedding pack there will be up to temperature and the late gestation sows as well as younger pigs will hopefully appreciate the switch into their new winter space.

One thing I can say about putting up a greenhouse in January is at least we have avoided working in the heat of summer! Brr…

Outdoors: 7°F/-4°F 3″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/59°F

Daily Spark: I fundamentally have a hard time trusting someone who starts out by stating they’re honest. Honesty should be a basic assumption. If it has to be marketed I get suspicious.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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4 Responses to Pure Wood Chip Composting

  1. am in the pm says:

    Nice start to New Year as your question has already been answered on warmth & without roof put up yet !

  2. Terry Lund says:

    Truly AMAZING! I know our composted pile or hog, chicken,horse and goose manure is heating nicely for us in Wisconsin because the steam is just a rolling off of the top on mornings of -11 like we had today. Keep up the work on that greenhouse! Can’t wait to see it done and all of the pigs enjoying it.

  3. Farmerbob1 says:


    I was thinking again while driving the other day…

    There has been mention in your blog about valve freezing and pipe freezing issues for your whey tank. I thought of a potential solution, if you have not yet considered it yourself.

    Use some of those granite slabs and local stone to build an enclosure for the whey tank, but have it be double-walled on three sides, with holes arranged between the three closed sides, and a space under the whey tank.

    Imagine a central roofed structure, shaped like a capital ‘H’ when viewed from the front. Then an outer wall on three sides.

    Now, use the tractor to pour wood chips between the inner and outer walls.

    You end up with a compost pile surrounding the whey tank on 4 sides, a roof on top, and an open front. You could, perhaps, close up the front with something man-portable to allow the whey tank to be easily accessed. Or cover it more permanently with something tractor-movable, and just run a fill pipe out the top of the center roof.

    Viola! no more frozen whey in winter!

    You could also do the same to preheat water for the house or the butcher shop.

    Whenever the compost gets too old, scoop out the bottom section with the tractor, and the sides would drain down into the bottom section, so more could be added to the sides.

    • We have a similar idea but simply using thermal mass. This year we’re planning to build a tank shed, much like our cottage and butcher shop in construction, which will shelter the tanks and provide room for several other functions. This will bring the valves indoors. The problem is only when it gets extremely cold. We have heat tape and insulation on the valves which helps most of the time. The compost could be a problem with rodents and cleaning out. Interesting thought.

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