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An Essex Wildlife Garden Update!

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AGILIS View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AGILIS Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 7:31am
Pond Looks well mature should attract a few nats Keith
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID
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Suzi View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 10:34am
Lucky you Gemma! Well it's more than luck to attract them I know, but what a great feeling after putting in the pond.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 1:06pm
I certainly feel lucky Suz Smile Fortunately grass snakes are still relatively common locally, so just add water as I heard you say before, nature does the rest.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 4:32pm
Interesting results from the compost heap! 

I checked the thermometer for accuracy (good across the dial to +/- 1 degree  and then recorded a shade temperature of 25 degrees C

I then took the readings in the full sun just now, I will try and get up early in the mornings and take future readings of the heap consistently before the sun gets on the heap, just to rule out any possible external heating and make sure I am seeing the lowest daily temperature.

Anyway some really interesting results that surprised me just a little. I measured at 3 positions as illustrated in my plan and here are the results:

Position 1: 37 C
Position 2: 31 C
Position 3: 28 C

So an early indication that my current invert heap already has a very good temperature gradient and includes an area in the range of the established optimum temperature.

Going to be really interesting to collect further readings over the next few weeks and see if this continues into September.

High reading:



Low reading



At £20 including delivery from Amazon, I think the gauges are great value and really interesting to start investigating the inner goings on of my compost heap!

Just to add that I was wondering if the readings might be skewed by an active and recently added top layer that is currently microbial and obviously warm to the touch. Investigation of the thermometer though confirms the reading is the temperature at the end of the 40 cm spike attached to it. So the recorded values are an accurate record of temperature deep at the core of the heap.

Who thought composting could be as interesting as nuclear physics LOL



Edited by GemmaJF - 17 Aug 2017 at 4:52pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Aug 2017 at 12:32pm
Day 2 of the experiment. An average drop of a couple of degrees across the heap, the hottest end down a full 3 degrees, the middle fairly stable with a 1 degree drop and cool end down 2 degrees. Shade temperature was 1 degree lower at the time I collected the data, but breezy and much cooler here today. 

Early days but it got me to thinking about cool wet summers. Anecdotally I remember discussions on cool wet summers being very poor in terms of grass snake hatching rates. There is an obvious logic to it, but I wonder just how much the compost temperatures will actually reflect ambient temperatures in an invert driven 'cold' heap? Which gets me back on the idea of a heap at least partially made up of a microbial 'hot' material which may counter daily and seasonal fluctuations in the poorest years.

It would be great if anyone else is able to collect data from their heaps also. More data collected over several years would be of great interest to me. I'm not too concerned if grass snakes use the heaps or not, be interested to compare data from heaps that are not regularly used for egg laying with those that are. If anyone wants to I can put together an Excel sheet to enter the data into.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 2:22pm
Day 3 of the experiment.

Overcast and noticeably cooler than the previous two days. Shade temperature 22 C

Noticing a strong correlation between a drop in ambient shade temperature and drop in temperature in the heap core.

This surprised me quite a bit as I think it could have been easy to assume the heap core temperatures would be a lot more stable and less affected by ambient temperatures on a daily basis. So perhaps an early indication that an invert 'cool' heap could be struggling in a cold wet summer to maintain the optimum stable temperature range for egg incubation. We will see!




Edited by GemmaJF - 19 Aug 2017 at 2:25pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 5:17pm
How does nature manage?! When you consider garden compost heaps tend to have side enclosures of some sort, that must help to keep the temperature up a bit, what happens to natural heaps that grass snakes lay eggs in? I'm thinking that generally these will not be huge, and thus tend to be cooler as no edges acting as buffers to keep the core warmer. 
We are always told that a compost heap must be as damp as a wrung out sponge to keep active. In the wild a heap can presumably become sodden with rain or very dry if hot and no rain. What materials would act best to build up some warmth? Heaps of dead reed stalks beside water, or going more man-made - piles of municipal grass cuttings, sawdust at a mill (if such exists now?). We are told to layer our garden heaps for best/quickest working, but does that happen much in the wild? Would a heap in full sun be better than in the shade? Or is it best to have some sun, but not all day? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 5:46pm
This is what I am hoping to investigate at some level. I could though see it as a wonderful project for some MSc students to be sent of to investigate compost heaps, manure heaps and natural 'incubators' such as rotting logs and heaps of reeds etc and collect a lot more data. Smile

I was wondering if my corrugated iron is responsible for dissipating and absorbing heat from the sides of the heap. So perhaps not the best design to keep the core temperature stable, though quite traditional.

It seems the 'key' to heat is C/N ratio. This is not quite as simple though of having some browns and greens. Each item, be it grass cuttings, weeds, sawdust has its own C/N ratio, so it takes a bit of maths to come up with the optimum ratio of each item in a 'mix' to generate a lot of heat. I hope to do this and get a good heat producing version next year to compare with this years data of an invert only 'cool' heap. At least initially cool heaps look a bit hit and miss and very much at the mercy of ambient temperatures. Though it is fair to say it does seem to stay a few degrees higher than ambient.

Though I am now also considering shelter from wind, position in terms of sun, construction etc as all factors that would need considering if building an optimum heap for grass snakes.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 7:09pm
Yes Gemma so many variables to consider. I would join in this experiment but my heaps are small. One has corrugated iron sides and the other is an ex concrete coal bunker apart from that I have four plastic daleks.
Suz
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote chubsta Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 8:26pm
Originally posted by Suzi Suzi wrote:

How does nature manage?! 

and isn't that the greatest thing - humans can analyse and perfect systems that we think will help, and all the time nature is just doing its own thing in the background, just like has been happening for hundreds of millions of years...

I have 8 absolutely perfectly positioned and built hedgehog houses in my garden, they offer all the shelter and protection a hog would ever need, but apparently they are only good for use as a toilet and a pile of leaves under a hedge is a much better design.
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