Compost is a mixture of organic matter that is decomposed using a special process. It often recycles a variety of organic materials that have been deemed as waste products, and ultimately results in the creation of a soil conditioner.
This soil conditioner is quite rich in nutrients and used by plant growers to improve the health of their plants.
Many homeowners refer to compost in their garden as black gold. There’s quite a bit of logic attached to that. Compost adds a considerable amount of nutrients to the soil, and also introduces helpful microbes into the soil as well.
Naturally, it makes sense that you introduce as much compost as you can into the soil. Turning the heap is usually a helpful solution in this regard.
Why Is Turning Compost Helpful?
There are quite a few reasons why turning compost is a good choice. At the very basic level, the benefits associated with turning compost are related to aeration.
Decomposition usually takes place due to the microbes found in the soil, and these microbes need space so that they can breathe.
If the soil is quite compacted, this is not going to be easy. If you have pets and children running all over your garden, the soil is going to get incredibly compacted within a short amount of time, and this is going to restrict the amount of space available for the roots and the microbes to breathe properly.
The lack of oxygen ultimately causes these microbes to die. There are a number of reasons why an anaerobic environment might exist within the pile of compost.
Ultimately, you can reduce all of these problems by turning the compost regularly. Some of the problems are discussed below.
Excessive amount of moisture: If the pile of compost is excessively wet, the pockets in between the small particles won’t have enough air. That is because they will be filled with water droplets instead.
To prevent this from happening, turning the compost is the best idea. It’s going to open up new air pockets and allow the water to drain freely.
Compaction: As mentioned above, the primary reason why you need to turn compost on a regular basis is due to compaction. Compaction occurs when the particles get too close to each other, which ultimately takes up the room reserved for air in between.
Aeration is necessary to ensure the survival of microbes. Turning the compost heap is going to help with the aeration and will fluff up the pile, thus creating pockets of oxygen within the pile.
Overconsumption: One of the reasons why you need to turn compost is due to the overconsumption caused by the microbes. When the microbes found in the compost pile are satisfied, they will work really well. In some cases, they often become over-efficient.
The microbes found in the center of the pile are going to use up all of the oxygen and the nutrients that they need to survive, and will eventually die out. When you turn the compost, you are simply mixing the pile up.
The healthy microbes as well as the sufficient material found in the other parts of the compost heap will keep the process going smoothly.
Overheating: This is very closely related to the point mentioned above. If the microbes do their job good enough, they will also produce heat. The heat produced by certain microbes can eventually be harmful for the others, and can even kill them.
If the temperature turns quite hot, the microbes will start to die inside. As you mix up the compost, you are simply redistributing the hot compost into the cooler areas, and mixing the whole thing up so that the heat is not fixed to one point.
Now that you know the reasons why turning compost is essential, let’s talk about how often you should do it.
When and How Often?
Simply put, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to aerating the compost pile. Primarily, it depends on how wet the pile was in the beginning, and how quickly it tends to dry out.
The humidity conditions in your backyard also play an important role. Here are a few things that you can do to check and determine whether to aerate or not.
Ideally, the rule of thumb is that for a hot pile that is also active, you should turn it in every three days until the pile stops heating up. There are a number of factors that you need to consider in this regard, such as the green to brown ratio, the amount of moisture, and the size of the pile itself.
As the compost matures, you can choose to turn it much less frequently. There are a few composters who tend to get over-enthusiastic, and often turn it much more quickly, like in a day.
Again, too much of a good thing can be harmful, as we have talked about. Turning the compost heap too often disrupts the formation of the actinomycetes, as well as the fungi, which is responsible for the vast majority of the compost work.
If you turn the compost too often for a considerable period of time, you will notice that it stops heating up altogether. The most efficient decomposition method that you can use is to allow the pile to “cook” on its own.
Eventually, it will begin to cool off. Then, you need to aerate it once and leave it be for a while.
You should wait at least two days after assembling the pile to get a reading of how it is doing. After giving it a couple of days, just try to move a bit of the surface material to one side, and then check it. It should be a little warm, if not properly hot, at least six inches from the top.
You need to make sure that you cover the hole properly after each test. When you notice the lack of heat and realize that the material is now clearly cooling down, you can then turn it again. One of the best tools available to you in this regard is a compost thermometer.
A compost thermometer can be thrust into the center of the pile directly, and it will give you a very accurate reading. This will allow you to figure out exactly what’s going on in the center of the pile and will also give you evidence of just how hot the pile can get.
A proper, hot pile can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and will remain that way until at least four days. As the temperature drops down, you can then aerate it again, and within a day or two, you will notice the temperature rising again. You can make use of a compost tumbler to properly turn your compost.
It’s a very efficient device that was designed to help gardeners with turning their tumbles without much of an effort. You need to keep a close check on your compost heap and make sure you keep it turning on a regular basis to ensure its effectiveness in the long run.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.