Maintaining your Compost Pile

Turning and mixing the pile with a pitchfork or shovel, or shifting it into another bin, provides the oxygen necessary for decomposition and compensates for excess moisture. A pile that is not mixed may take 3-4 times longer to decompose. Recommendations for mixing the pile vary from every 3 days to every 6 weeks. More frequent turning results in faster composting. Odors indicate that the pile is too damp or lacks oxygen, and that more frequent turning is necessary.

Occasional watering may be necessary to keep the pile damp, especially in dry weather. Covering the pile with black plastic reduces the need for watering; it also prevents rainwater from leaching out the nutrients.

A pile that is decomposing properly should generate temperatures of 140-160 degrees F at its center. The heat kills most weed seeds, insect eggs and diseases. The pile should be turned when the center begins to cool. Turning the pile maintains the temperature and ensures that all material is exposed to the center heat. When the compost is finished, the pile will no longer heat up.

Small amounts of fresh materials may be added but should be buried inside the pile to avoid pests and speed composting. It is better to add fresh materials to a new pile.

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