Monday, November 21, 2011

Cooking Eggs in a Compost Pile

Courtney to egg: "Are you in there?"
Photo courtesy of

Visions of hard boiled eggs cooked in a compost pile have been haunting me for the last week or so.  At recent gardening classes at Hali'imaile Community Garden that YES, I learned it is possible to hard boil an egg in a compost pile. If one gets the compost pile hot enough, using the right combination of nitrogen and carbon, one can hard boil an egg in an hour.

About a week ago, a fellow gardener was making compost. As we finished talking, he said that the compost would get really hot on Friday and I could try the egg experiment. He suggested putting the egg in a hole towards the center of the compost, about 3/4 of the way up from the ground.  He emphasized that I should wear a glove when putting the egg in, because it can get really hot. I wasn't sure I could get there on Friday, and he said it should be hot on Saturday too. Ok!  The experiment was on.

Scaling Mt. Compost, photo courtesy of

Armed with a big glove, a raw egg straight from the refrigerator, and a video camera, I headed for the compost pile on a Saturday morning. My husband shaked his head with disbelief as I left the house.

Here is my first attempt on a bright Saturday morning to cook an egg in a compost pile (click on this link if the video doesn't show up):

Ah, yes... well, technology can be imperfect... as imperfect as human error! 

All night Saturday, I was thinking, ah, if only I had taken a couple of photos too... Instead, the evidence was gone. The egg was mighty good eating, all warm from the heat. All I had left was the aluminum foil with the heat marks. 

There was a hard boiled egg in here, but I ate it. 
The aluminum has heat marks.

I was elated, thinking about how the compost pile could be used as an alternative cooking method, like special stoves at Aprovecho and passive straw bed cooking.  My mind developed scenarios about how people would cook food at the end of the world, making huge cooking compost piles and letting them heat up.

Sunday morning came, and I woke up early, without an alarm clock. It was 6:30 am, and I couldn't sleep. Hmmm.... I pondered the pros and cons of going to the garden and repeating the egg experiement, this time getting footage of the opened egg, versus doing some housework.  Playing around with raw eggs and the compost pile or dusting and sweeping and tidying up? If I didn't go on Sunday, it would wait till Wednesday or who knows when? Well, I was a pushover and the garden won.

This time, I brought two raw eggs in case I screwed up with the first one, and a small, raw sweet potato. I did learn from last time.  I ended up digging three separate holes and putting each item inside.  This proved trickier than the day before, since the holes kept collapsing on my glove, and I ran into a couple of branches or twigs. But I managed to get them inside. Click on this link if the video doesn't show below.

About an hour or so later, Lehuahana Vander Velde showed up at the garden.  I told her about my egg experiments and invited her to participate. Operating a video camera with one hand and dealing with eggs and manure with the other hand is quite tricky, so four hands are better than two.

We discovered that, "Hey do you want to check out the compost pile?" would be a great pick-up line for single gardeners. 

In the next video, Lehua is filming as I dig out the first egg. Click on this link if the video doesn't show below.

We did find the second egg, on the other side of the compost pile, but the camera wasn't on. I saw it, and as I tried to pry it out between some branches in the compost, saw it go splat into the compost. One egg down. The outside was hard, but the yolk was most definitely soft. 

I dug out the sweet potato from the center hole and it was definitely softer and cooked on the outside, but still raw.

The sweet potato, slightly cooked but still hard inside.

Maybe the egg hadn't cooked that well because it was not as close to the center.  The hole that I had used yesterday had worked pretty well. So after finding the first egg - finally, I shook it and it felt a little wobbly in the center, so I moved it to the center compost hole.

Anything in there?
Photo courtesy of Lehuahana Vandervelde. 

Lehua speculated that the compost pile had reached its hottest temperature on Friday or Saturday and had started cooling by Sunday.  WHAAT?? You mean, compost piles don't stay hot all the time?  No, she said, "They definitely have a heat cycle and then cool down."  So using compost piles is not the most efficient way of cooking food, even if there's an extended power outage. So much for my Mayan calendar 2012 compost pile cooking scenarios.

Nothing like playing with horse manure and raw eggs on a Sunday morning.
Photo courtesy of

At that point, I needed to go, and left the video camera and the manure glove in Lehua's hands. "Your mission if you choose to accept it, is to film the egg while opening it."

Here is Lehua's video. I can't believe she was able to film all of that while still holding the egg. (If the video doesn't show on this screen, click here: Hard Boiling Eggs in a Compost Pile - The Last Egg!)

So is it possible to hard boil an egg in a compost pile? Yes, my first egg cooked in 1 1/2 hours, but I don't have any photos or videos of it after it cooked. That's why I went back to the garden the next morning. Of the two eggs that I used the next day, one was partially cooked and got damaged when I tried to remove it after 1 1/2 hours and the other egg was relocated to a hotter hole. It was soft-boiled after about 3 hours. It's an experiment worth repeating, when the compost pile is hot enough. It's also easier when more people can help!  Many thanks to Lehua for volunteering!


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