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"Hot mulch" and ammonia

>Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 14:19:53 -0800
>From: Neil Schneider <PacNeil at worldnet_att.net>
>Subject: RE: smelly soil substrates

>Although I agree with most of what Steve said, one small observation. In
>"hot" mulch pile the odor of ammonia will always be present, from my
>This doesn't always indicate a high level of manure. In my experience,
>bacteria, present in the mulch, produce large amounts of ammonia. When
>"digestion" is complete the ammonia production drops off. Maybe my only 
>disagreement is in what I think of as manure. Maybe the ammonia is just
>"manure". :-)

In a hot pile, you shouldn't get a detectable ammonia smell.  The
nitrogen-fixing bacteria establish before the thermophillic bacteria (the
ones that make it hot when they chew down.)  The thermophillic can
outcompete the nitrogen-fixers for O2, however.  A pile with ammonia or
other nasty smells needs only to be turned (over) to give it some air.
Regardless, I wouldn't use it for anything but an outdoor hot bed -- and
certainly not in an aquarium -- until it had cooled down, and was allowed to
sit for a while after another turning.  If it's hot, there's a lot of
decomposition going on, and that indicates there're a lot of undigested
organics which would pound the ammonia level and nitrate levels through the
roof in an aquarium.

And, for what it's worth, manure doesn't smell of ammonia, either.  Urine
does.  But when you pick up manure from, say, a horse farm, it's mixed with
straw bedding, which is often soaked with urine.  Again, though, a little
aging, with some water and some air, and the ammonia smell goes away. . .
and so does the manure smell.

Note, though, very rich materials like manure will always smell if they're
decomposed anaerobicly, which happens whenever an outdoor pile is too wet --
a soggy pile doesn't get good air circulation.  I imagine that if you mix a
lot of such a rich material into your substrate, it won't get nearly enough
oxygen there, either, and you will produce all sorts of nasty gasses.  In
short, I wouldn't try using any "fresh" organics in an aquarium.