Explain like I'm five

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Jennifer
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Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer » 07 May 2019, 17:35

Reddit has a cool (IMO) subforum called "Explain like I'm five," where people can ask questions and request simple, easy-to-understand answers. Here's something I've been wondering about, and maybe someone here can explain it: I remember reading about compost heaps and mulch piles -- things were you pile stuff like raked leaves, grass clippings, apple cores and other unwanted plant matter, so that it rots and becomes rich soil or whatever. ALL such articles will tell you: you must ONLY ever put plant-based waste in a mulch pile, no animal-based waste: no leftover meat, bones, fat/gristle, milk, eggs or anything.

So I wonder: what is it that ALL "animal waste" has that "plant waste" lacks, so that you CAN put "plant waste" on a mulch pile, but CANNOT put "animal waste" there?
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Ellie
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Ellie » 07 May 2019, 17:55

You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
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Highway
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Highway » 07 May 2019, 17:59

It can smell bad (nobody wants to smell rotting meat).

It can attract unwanted animals and pests, like flies.

It can create higher heat, making the compost pile less hospitable to helpful bacteria, consequently slowing down your compost action.

It can throw the balance of nitrogen off, requiring other steps to counteract the excess nitrogen (adding carbon).

It's less of a "can't ever do it" and more of a "it makes it a lot more complicated and stinky".
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer » 07 May 2019, 18:13

Highway wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:59
It can smell bad (nobody wants to smell rotting meat). It can attract unwanted animals and pests, like flies.
Right, but what is it specifically that MAKES it smell bad, that you won't find in plants? What attracts the flies, that plants don't have? Etc.
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer » 07 May 2019, 18:24

Ellie wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:55
You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
Now that you mention it, I do recall reading something about eggshells being good for gardeners. So, okay, subtract all mention of "eggs" from my first post. Regarding bones -- well, if nothing else, I know they might not break down because some can actually be fossilized, so presumably, if I wanted to add bones to my hypothetical compost heap, I'd at least want to first pulverize it into bone meal -- similar to how, if you want to eat and get nutrients and calories out of corn, you're better off crushing it into cornmeal first, rather than eat corn on the cob where you end up pooping out undigested corn-kernels later.

But that still leaves meat: what specifically is it about rotting meat -- or "all muscle fibers and internal organs from all animals" -- that attracts scavengers and maggots, whereas equally rotting plant stuff does not? Or, perhaps: what is it about dead plants that does NOT attract those scavengers and maggots, or REPELS scavengers and maggots, compared to dead animals?
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lunchstealer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by lunchstealer » 07 May 2019, 19:33

Jennifer wrote:
07 May 2019, 18:24
Ellie wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:55
You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
Now that you mention it, I do recall reading something about eggshells being good for gardeners. So, okay, subtract all mention of "eggs" from my first post. Regarding bones -- well, if nothing else, I know they might not break down because some can actually be fossilized, so presumably, if I wanted to add bones to my hypothetical compost heap, I'd at least want to first pulverize it into bone meal -- similar to how, if you want to eat and get nutrients and calories out of corn, you're better off crushing it into cornmeal first, rather than eat corn on the cob where you end up pooping out undigested corn-kernels later.

But that still leaves meat: what specifically is it about rotting meat -- or "all muscle fibers and internal organs from all animals" -- that attracts scavengers and maggots, whereas equally rotting plant stuff does not? Or, perhaps: what is it about dead plants that does NOT attract those scavengers and maggots, or REPELS scavengers and maggots, compared to dead animals?
IANAEAHOTHSLBBIDAPA so take this with a grain of salt, but I expect that the biggest difference is the ratio of lipids, proteins, easily digestible simple carbs, and very long chain carbohydrates, especially cellulose. It's the high amount of cellulose that slows down anything trying to go nutso on the lipids and proteins. In the animal products, especially non-bone trimmings but also in bone marrow, there's a shitton of lipids and proteins that can cause a very different flora to grow, and they tend to digest quickly and produce a lot of volatile and aromatic compounds - things that smell.

This is an educated WAG.
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer » 07 May 2019, 19:47

lunchstealer wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:33

-snip-

This is an educated WAG.
But one that makes sense to me: 'tis the cellulose in plants and absent from animal meat-parts that makes the difference. Thanks!
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thoreau
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by thoreau » 07 May 2019, 19:47

I'm not an expert on this either, but my understanding is that efficiently digesting cellulose requires specialists, and gut bacteria often help.

Also, the rate of nitrogen fixation is a key limiting factor in many ecosystems, so it's no surprise that when you dump protein-rich animal flesh into an ecosystem everyone's like "Party-time! Woo!" while polysaccharides just don't get most organisms nearly as excited. Plants can fix carbon all day and grow giant structures that most other organisms won't bother chomping on (seriously, hardly any animals eat wood) but ecosystems have whole tiers of animals that specialize in chasing after moving clumps of protein (i.e. predators chasing animal prey).

And if you look at the grazing animals that do eat nothing but leaves, they can still be picky about which types of plants they want, and they have to eat all the damn time, while carnivores can hunt more sporadically. Meat is just so nutritional that a whole bunch of animals and micro-organisms will converge on it, while complex carbs are much less appetizing. They are dense in energy but not much else.

Yeah, human civilizations are built on complex carbs (grain harvests), but peasants who couldn't get enough protein (whether from meat, dairy, legumes, or some other appropriate plant product) always wound up sickly. Even today, we have tons of obese people who eat too many carbs but have nutritional problems that go way beyond obesity, because carbs just don't give you much else. Protein is essential for survival, and lipids can give you so much beyond energy.
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D.A. Ridgely
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 07 May 2019, 19:54

thoreau wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:47
I'm not an expert on this either, but my understanding is that efficiently digesting cellulose requires specialists, and gut bacteria often help.

Also, the rate of nitrogen fixation is a key limiting factor in many ecosystems, so it's no surprise that when you dump protein-rich animal flesh into an ecosystem everyone's like "Party-time! Woo!" while polysaccharides just don't get most organisms nearly as excited. Plants can fix carbon all day and grow giant structures that most other organisms won't bother chomping on (seriously, hardly any animals eat wood) but ecosystems have whole tiers of animals that specialize in chasing after moving clumps of protein (i.e. predators chasing animal prey).

And if you look at the grazing animals that do eat nothing but leaves, they can still be picky about which types of plants they want, and they have to eat all the damn time, while carnivores can hunt more sporadically. Meat is just so nutritional that a whole bunch of animals and micro-organisms will converge on it, while complex carbs are much less appetizing. They are dense in energy but not much else.

Yeah, human civilizations are built on complex carbs (grain harvests), but peasants who couldn't get enough protein (whether from meat, dairy, legumes, or some other appropriate plant product) always wound up sickly. Even today, we have tons of obese people who eat too many carbs but have nutritional problems that go way beyond obesity, because carbs just don't give you much else. Protein is essential for survival, and lipids can give you so much beyond energy.
I'm going to run this past a five year old and see what he thinks.

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JD
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by JD » 08 May 2019, 10:31

thoreau wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:47
(seriously, hardly any animals eat wood)
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