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Composting Wood Chips


May 21, 2019

We live part time on about 55 acres just west of Las Vegas in San Miguel county (87701).

We are aggressively thinning trees and creating fire breaks and need non-landfill solutions to deal with the debris (primarily wood chips). One idea is to create a large scale composting area about 20 feet wide by 50 feet long where we can compost wood chips.

We are worried however about creating a fire hazard during the summer as the pile could potentially heat up and spontaneously combust.

Would like to hear your thoughts on how to safely compost !


Answer by JZ: Other colleagues may respond to your question.  Here are my thoughts. You have a fine idea.  You have a few safe choices.

A pile of wood chips would be mostly carbon.  Moist wood chips alone, would decompose very slowly.  This would be a cold composting process.

The setup which you describe, up would, most likely not generate appreciable and sustainable heat  because it lacks a nitrogen source - greens. Spontaneous combustion may occur in a hot process composting set up if uniform moisture is not retained.  See an article about this via our website menu under Composting Info/Spontaneous Combustion.

Another possibility for you might be a Hugelkultur - type mound covered with soil or wood products buried in the soil. More info. on this method may be found with a google search. NMRC has training for large scale composters: Recycling and Composting Facility Operator Certification Courses - New Mexico Recycling Coalition

You are welcome to attend one of our basics classes.  See Activities/Classes on our website.

Hope that this is helpful.

Answer by RR: While I agree with John, one thing that might substantiate your fire concern is if a significant portion of your wood chips are from green trees (as opposed to dead trees).  There may be enough nitrogen in these green chips to mix with the dead chips and other debris to produce enough heat to be dangerous in as big an area as 20’ x 50’. If you don’t have training in large scale composting, as John referred to below, you could get into a dangerous situation.

I don’t know how much transportation you are willing to use, but the Soil Amendment Facility on Albuquerque’s west mesa, run by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, will take your material at no cost.  I’ve included Joe Bailey’s (facility manager) email address here for your reference. He may know of some place closer to you that would be more convenient. He has also got some experience using Hugelkultur-type composting.

Also, Genevieve Morgan (email address above) runs the state’s large scale composting certification course, and she may know of some place close to you that might be of use.

Best of luck.

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