Muck Pit Lifecycle

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SaltyStaves
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Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Wed Oct 03, 2018 6:12 pm

My pit has been through a season and now that Spring has arrived (down) here, I'm kicking it off again.
Hopefully I've learned a few lessons. This seems like a good time to document what worked and where it failed...

It began last year (summer) when a molasses ferment developed an acetic acid infection. I didn't want to throw it all out, as it was always destined to be fresh dunder, but it also created a storage problem. It is not the type of thing you want hanging around your future washes, so I needed it out of the way.

I had thought about making an outdoor pit and this was the perfect motivation.
Found a stainless steel wash basin (44L), capped the drain and insulated it with Rock wool.
MuckPit_top.jpg
The pit was then partially buried in an outdoor spot with good sun exposure.
I made a cover with some untreated timber and loosely covered with tempered glass which allows for some airflow.
The pit was filled with the acetic infected wash.

As this was already highly acidic, I wasn't concerned about keeping my eye on it.
It sat in the pit for 5 weeks and hardly changed. It lost some water through evaporation and the vinegar aroma slowly started changed back to molasses.
Muck Pit Slick.jpg
The pit was racked out and dried and the bottom lined with Marl clay.
Pit clay2.jpg
This holds lime for slow release and is a substrate layer which solids like Lees and plant matter etc can settle on. Without this, its easier to disturb these solids when removing or adding new liquid to the pit.

I installed a new cover made from rough sawn untreated and silvered pine. The timber extends into the liquid. Some bacteria need to colonize on solid matter like wood. A slickwalled stainless steel or plastic container doesn't facilitate this at all.

Once the clay had dried (several days), the pit was filled again but with a combination of fresh dunder and the acetic acid infected wash. This was then pH adjusted with hydrated lime.
While waiting to fill the pit, I had cultivating a butyric acid starter in a 4L jar. This was cultured with a dirty potato and developed in a sealed and dark room.
Potato Jar1.jpg
Once a decent pellicle had formed, this was pitched into the pit and left.
Potato Jar2.jpg
Potato Jar3.jpg

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Wed Oct 03, 2018 6:36 pm

A Lacto infection had got out in front of the clostridium, but that is perfectly natural and they happily co-developed.
LactoButyric.jpg
The aroma was unmistakeably bad. Sweaty putrid rotting hell. Once this was well developed, a 4L sample was drawn.
A smaller sample was added to low wines with a few drops of sulphuric acid for aroma analysis.
This gave me a very nice strawberry aroma.

The big sample was put towards a Prociclebacterium starter. A cheese with natural holes was added and left to develop in the dark.
This took much longer than the potato to show signs of it doing anything, but once it took off, it was potent!
Its aroma was so foul, I had to wear my full face respirator just to pitch it. Also the reason I didn't stop for photos!
It was left to develop and over time it created a noticeable change in the composition of the pit.
Swiss cheese pit.jpg
I left it alone through the peak of summer but my next inspection came with a big shock. The pit was overtaken by maggots and they were thriving.

This video is not pleasant. You have been warned!!
https://youtu.be/6lOHzyK5uDQ" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow

After my initial panic subsided, I got out the pH meter. The pit was up to around 5.9. Not a trend I'd like to see go further, but there was a benefit to this infestation. The thermal mass that was the party in my pit, was pushing the temperatures up into the tropics. I was now getting Carribean conditions thanks to these wriggly bastards.
I drew a sample for aroma analysis. Everything was still positive.
The pH was within a range I was comfortable with and the acids were clearly still there, so I made the decision to monitor it.
This is the point were I lost the pit. :cry:

When I checked on it next, the pH was 6.8! The aroma was now substantially different. It still smelt like hell, but it wasn't the good kind of hell.
I immediately acidified the pit with sulphuric acid and racked off the maggots.
Aroma analysis came back with very poor results.
Summer was gone and so too was the pit's potential. When I left it, a wax like coating formed on top.
wax pit.jpg
I did not disturb the pit over winter. When I finally inspected it, there was a glass like pellicle
Acid pit.jpg
Aroma analysis was unchanged.

The contents were dumped and another cycle started.
Starting with the all important acetic acid.
The viability of my stored vinegar mother, is questionable. So I'm hoping to help things out with some fresh banana palm leaves. There is also an old blackened banana for good measure.
Fresh dunder.jpg
The pit is filled with fresh dunder and rum feints and failed experiments. This makes it approximately 5% ABV, which should be perfect for infection to develop. Although in my experience, its easier to get an acetic acid infection by accident than on purpose.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Shine0n » Fri Oct 05, 2018 5:02 pm

Sorry for your loss!
It seemed you had a great thing going, now I must check my pit as well.
I have maggots too and after reading this I may have waited too long.
Shit man, I bet that would've made a fine rum.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Fri Oct 05, 2018 6:12 pm

Shine0n wrote:Sorry for your loss!
It seemed you had a great thing going, now I must check my pit as well.
I have maggots too and after reading this I may have waited too long.
Shit man, I bet that would've made a fine rum.
I won't completely freakout when I see maggots again, but I know now not to let them get too well established. I'll never forget the smell they created, so if I ever get a whiff of it again, I'll be acting quickly.

Because I took samples over the various stages, I was well aware of what I had lost (sadly). But those samples were only big enough for aroma analysis and little more.
Drawing off a 3rd of the pit at each stage, acidifying it then storing it, would have been a good option for rolling back the pit following the disaster.
Doing that just before introducing a new bacteria seems like good insurance. Then if something goes wrong, there is a good starter in stock and ready to go.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Yummyrum » Sat Oct 06, 2018 5:00 am

Excellent write-up SaltyStaves ..but Damn ...that's nasty :clap:...thanks for sharing :thumbup:

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Bushman » Sat Oct 06, 2018 5:45 am

Yummyrum wrote:Excellent write-up SaltyStaves ..but Damn ...that's nasty :clap:...thanks for sharing :thumbup:
+1, enjoyed the read. You had a coulee terms I am not familiar with so time for a Google search?

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Sat Oct 06, 2018 11:42 am

Bushman wrote:
Yummyrum wrote:Excellent write-up SaltyStaves ..but Damn ...that's nasty :clap:...thanks for sharing :thumbup:
+1, enjoyed the read. You had a coulee terms I am not familiar with so time for a Google search?
I'm guessing that 'Marl' was one of them? Its a natural clay rich in calcium. In theory it should release slowly and act like a buffer against the pit becoming too acidic. Marble would be a good choice too I think, but I like the clay for its ability to hold some of the solid matter that I don't want dissolved in the liquid. Like Maggots. :lol:

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by jonnys_spirit » Sat Oct 06, 2018 12:25 pm

So what happens if you strain out the maggots, add some sulphuric acid and low wines then distill? Eau de Asticot?

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Sat Oct 06, 2018 12:39 pm

jonnys_spirit wrote:So what happens if you strain out the maggots, add some sulphuric acid and low wines then distill? Eau de Asticot?

-jonny
Pretty much. Without acids, you don't get esters, you only get the flavouring of the donor liquid.
Once the maggots had their way with it, it essentially became Maggot water.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by fizzix » Sat Oct 06, 2018 2:52 pm

My wife saw the video and now I'm not allowed to have a pit.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Celis » Sat Oct 06, 2018 2:58 pm

Shit, those are a lot of maggots.
I have started my own pit a few months ago, after my first rum. After a few weeks I got some maggots too, but I removed them and closed the lid. This caused the pellicle to drop and I thought I had to toss it. But after reading this thread, I placed the bucked somewhere dry and opened the lid a bit to give it some air. Now the pellicle started growing again!

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Sat Oct 06, 2018 4:26 pm

The video shows when things were still ok. If I had scooped them out at that stage, it would have been fine. When things got out of control (few days later), there was a massive amount of grey foam practically bubbling out of the pit. I didn't stop to take a video of that.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by The Baker » Sat Oct 06, 2018 7:22 pm

Didn't look at the video (not making rum at the moment).

When I was young we had to dig a hole and empty the dunny bucket into it.
And after about a week filling up, there were a lot of maggots there.
Probably looked about the same...

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Mon Oct 08, 2018 1:46 am

The Baker wrote:Probably looked about the same...
Especially if they were doing the Backstroke. :lol:

Checked on the pit today and drew a sample.
dunder pH.jpg
There is a slight increase in acidity, but mostly it still smells like rotten fruit at this point. Once vinegar develops, there will be no mistaking the aroma and the pH will go down towards the low 3's. I will keep my eye on it.

For insurance, I have a low gravity wash fermenting in a half gallon mason jar, which I hope to infect with some old banana peels. It should allow me to grow a vinegar mother that can then be transferred to the pit.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by distiller_dresden » Mon Oct 08, 2018 11:25 am

Damn Salty! The photo right before the maggot change/video really looks quite similar to Hampden pits. You're doing God's work.

My pit is doing great after your advice RE moisture. I took the top off and covered instead with all cheesecloth, and tossed the very thick mold pellicle. Now I'm getting the proper pellicle forming and the smells are vinegar, 'off' soy sauce and cocoa, bananas and pineapples overrippened nearly to rotting, and whiffs of a shouldn't be pleasant but it is because it's exciting sweaty nasty foot between the toes right after the sock comes off. I just infected a 9.5 gal wash of 1.5 gallons molasses and 8lbs panela with a gallon of this dunder. I had also previously 'front-loaded' this wash at pitch with a capsule of butyric acid salts, octanoic (caprylic) acid salts, and heptanoic acid (liquid). It smells very rich and pungeantly rum washy, and I feel like this may be my best run yet. I waited 60 hours to pitch the dunder because my washes (no idea why) ALWAYS take 10-11 days to finish. It may be that up to now I've always done 5.5 gal washes, but no matter the temp or yeast pitch or gravity they just take that long. I suspect with no evidence it's because even when I copy someone's wash that takes 3-4 days, mine still take 10ish, that the gallon volume and increasing it somehow boosts yeast activity/action pace.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Mon Oct 08, 2018 3:08 pm

Good to hear your pit is doing well and starting to give out some (un)desirable aromas.

Don't forget to use your H2SO4 with some rum hearts or low wines to qualify your muck. I'd never introduce live muck into a wash (or any other process) without first testing it.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Thu Nov 15, 2018 8:55 pm

Spring has been cold and I've noticed a slight creep in pH (4.4 up from 4.1), which tells me that acetic acid is not in play yet.
I pitched my vinegar starter into the pit a week ago and today there is some indication of a pellicle forming.

When you have a soup of proteins, sugars, alcohol and bacteria, pH alone won't tell you everything. Aroma can also be inconclusive.
So to better determine what is going on, I drew a small sample and ran it with my mini worm tub, sand bath and modified electric hob. This sample being only 6 cl.
Mini Wormtub.jpg
The small sample collected, confirms that most of the alcohol is still there. Vinegar is barely detectable and what is detected, is probably from the starter.
I do not want any other bacteria getting out in front at this stage, so as the weather heats up, I'll be keeping my eye on things closely. Its likely that residual lime is responsible for the pH change, which means it should stop (seems to be the case, as it has been at 4.4 for a couple of weeks).

Summer is go-time for bacterial development, so I want the vinegar developed before the hotter weather arrives.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Fri Dec 07, 2018 1:45 pm

Some warmer weather starting to help things along.
new pellicle.jpg
The smells of alcohol, molasses, vinegar and rotten fruits which were singular and dominant, are now very much integrated. Its almost pleasant. The pH is also down again to 4.1.
I'll allow this pellicle to fully develop, as there is no point adding lime yet. The weather is not warm enough for putrefactive bacteria.
The fact it is more pleasant and less vinegary suggests a lacto. Time will tell. Something is consuming the alcohol and that is a good thing. It has to happen before the pit can develop.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:07 pm

Vinegar production hasn't come easy this year. I find it much easier to produce it accidentally, than on purpose... :crazy:

With sugar cane being available at my local farmers markets and some hot summer weather, I decided to try my hand at making some sugar cane vinegar.
Crushing the cane didn't go too well, so I abandoned the plan and peeled the hard exterior by hand.
Peeled Cane.jpg
I made up a small fermentation with a little of the cane juice and some Jaggery (to boost the gravity) and let it finish dry. This gave me an ABV of around 5%.
This (minus the trub) was then combined with the moist cane peels (straw) and left outside with a cover of geo-fabric.

Day2, a pellicle started to form.
Trash Cistern day2.jpg
Day 3, it had a thick pellicle that looked and smelled like a lacto. Day 4, the aroma is very vinegary.
Trash Cistern day4.jpg
Hopefully it will be able to consume any remaining alcohol that is currently in the pit and up the acetic acid stocks.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by distiller_dresden » Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:10 am

Man, I can't get past seeing the lacto pellicle ever; it looks like brain or ramen noodles, but when it's yours (mine) and you see it close up (in person) it never ceases to creep me the fuck out and almost gag me but on a level of those people who can't see a bunch of holes/cells in stuff.

Got a question Salty - I have a dunder pit in a 7gal custom bucket (added a spigot about 1/4th up the side from bottom) that I have drained off 2.5 gals and replenished with fresh dunder about every 2 mos. It's just dunder, and I've added a little chunk of parmesan and swiss cheeses, a bit of ripe strawberry, bit of ripe banana, a dollop of live active local yogurt. What else should I be doing to the pit for a more traditional/Hampdens approach to the pit? I keep it inside covered in cheesecloth in the backroom because it's cold as shit outside. In spring/summer I can move it outside. I regularly balance PH to 4.5-5 with lime when I do drain and top offs.
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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:45 am

distiller_dresden wrote: Got a question Salty - I have a dunder pit in a 7gal custom bucket (added a spigot about 1/4th up the side from bottom) that I have drained off 2.5 gals and replenished with fresh dunder about every 2 mos. It's just dunder, and I've added a little chunk of parmesan and swiss cheeses, a bit of ripe strawberry, bit of ripe banana, a dollop of live active local yogurt. What else should I be doing to the pit for a more traditional/Hampdens approach to the pit? I keep it inside covered in cheesecloth in the backroom because it's cold as shit outside. In spring/summer I can move it outside. I regularly balance PH to 4.5-5 with lime when I do drain and top offs.
Lots of dead yeast for food. You should also take some of this from the pit when you need it, so make sure if you have a spigot above the settled solids, to gently stir some up to collect it.
Nitrogen and potassium are two nutrients that putrefactive bacteria need, but are generally deficient in a pit, so you need to consider them.

One thing that most people do not consider is substrates. Unlike yeast that are happy to swim around in a sugary liquid, many bacteria like substrates and surfaces that they can form colonies on. The walls of your plastic container aren't much use to them. Solids like cane trash, wood, limestone etc can help.

The temperature plays a big part. If its only like Jamaica for 8 weeks of the year, then use that time wisely and don't bother trying to develop muck during the colder months. Make the pit dormant (acidified) and you'll keep its acid potential stable until you need to draw some.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Wed Feb 13, 2019 10:58 pm

Removed 3/4 of the liquid from the pit. Some went towards a stripping run for my latest rum and the rest was put it into cool storage. This is acetic muck that can be used to restart the pit. Its an insurance, but its also multi-generational, so it holds the dunder of more than one rum.
Pit draw.jpg
After my stripping runs and day of cooling, I topped the pit up with fresh dunder, which has a pH of around 4.4.
It is unlikely to develop anything, but there is a chance of a lacto forming, which I would be happy to allow. If nothing happens after a week, I'll be adding lime to the pit and then preparing a clostridium inoculation.

On a side note, I have a new infestation this year. They are tiny maggots that I suspect are from a moth. It is certainly not a horror show like the fly maggot infestation, but the aroma is not pleasant and not desirable either. So far they are only in the cool storage stock. The heat of the pit might be a bit much, or they have found something they like in my older stocks. Not sure what they're contribution is yet, but they managed to get through muslin cloth, so I've got no chance of keeping them out.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Fermentanator » Fri May 22, 2020 3:42 am

Hey team.

Wondering where you would suggest I start reading to learn about dunder/muck pits and Rum making for home distillers? I am curious as to the mechanism behind the H2S04 addition for testing aromas etc and how one can tell if a seasoned dunder might make a good rum....

A friend and I a working on it but progress is slow. I have barely started reading "Rum; A Distillers Guide" by Ian Smiley so I am sure some good info is within.

We made some seasoned dunder by taking dunder from a run post distilation, leaving exposed to open air for some time and adding old bananas and pineapple. Then I beleive I added the dunder to the next ferment which may have been a mistake, prob should have added just prior to the run(?).

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by LWTCS » Fri May 22, 2020 5:07 am

Trample the injured and hurdle the dead.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:42 pm

Although its winter down here and the pit has been dormant, I had to pull the whole lot out (land excavation work and no alternative location for it).
I drew off most of the liquid and keeping it aside under airlock. The real treasure is at the bottom and I won't be able to store that.
Pit bottoms.jpg
I wasn't surprised to see the passion fruit skins as they had only been added at the end of the summer just been. The small bunch of bananas were a surprise though. They were mostly untouched and skins that I added at the same time were completely gone. Next time, I'll break them up if I have some more whole ones (the banana palms have so far avoided the bulldozer). Much of the fibrous matter (sugar cane) had broken down too.

The substrate (Marl/dead yeast/vegetation) to liquid (dunder) ratio was starting to get out of balance and the liquid holding capacity of the pit was getting less and less over time. This meant I wasn't drawing as much as I was putting in. Not surprising really, but I could see that I'd need to redress this balance sooner or later.

Still a shame to have to start over. Some serious graft went into it. At least my estery rum stocks are decent.

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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by Beerswimmer » Mon Jun 08, 2020 2:40 pm

Maybe put some in buckets with lids, or big jars? What a shame :esad:
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Re: Muck Pit Lifecycle

Post by SaltyStaves » Mon Jun 08, 2020 3:29 pm

Beerswimmer wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 2:40 pm
Maybe put some in buckets with lids, or big jars? What a shame :esad:
Its a living colony and needs to be open to the atmosphere. It doesn't bother anyone at the end of the garden, but relocating it is a headache. Hopefully the future pit will be a lot more accessible, as I've had a few sketchy scrambles up and down the hill with gallons of skinny rum byproduct...

My compost pile was starting to look the part too, but its now 6 feet underground. Oh well, plenty more grains will be coming in future (if it ever rains again and the hose ban lifts).

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