Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Gary Stephen
Composting is a natural method of recycling different organic matter collectively. This can typically include wastes like food scraps, vegetable and fruit peels, finely chopped barks, wood chips leaves, and a whole bunch more. The goal of this process is to basically decompose these organic materials altogether. As a result, it produces a nutrient-rich mixture that can be well used to fertilize the soil. When composting is done correctly, you can surely get the most benefit out of your compost. Turning is one essential step to make this process work to your best advantage. So, in this article, we will discuss how to turn compost properly, its importance, and how often you should do it too.
Why Is It Necessary To Turn Your Compost Pile?
Before anything else, we must first understand why it is important anyway to turn your compost pile. Can’t it just sit and decompose on its own? Is it really necessary to dig in the dirt and do some flipping?
I know it sounds gross. The stench and the not-so-pleasant sight of rotting stuff can easily put you off. But, trust me, this step is important on so many levels. Here are a few of the major reasons why:
Reason #1: To provide good aeration.
Giving the compost the right amount of aeration is one of the key factors to help hasten the decomposition process. Just like human beings, the microbes that break down the organic waste also need air to survive. So by providing them some air to breathe, you are allowing them to thrive as well.
The lack of air within the compost can initiate a process called anaerobic decomposition. When this occurs, anaerobic bacteria start to take over instead. And when they do, ohhh boy you better put some nose clips on as this is going to produce a stinky mess. This usually happens when the pile is too dense or soggy hence leaving no room for air to circulate.
By turning the compost, it helps to loosen up an otherwise compacted pile. Hence, encouraging good aeration throughout the compost. And, of course, allowing the soil-friendly bacterias to live and grow.
Reason #2: To distribute moisture evenly.
Water is another vital component of the process. Same as air, water is necessary as well for the survival of the microbes. Ideally, there should be about 40% to 60% water in the compose.
Having too little moisture can dry out the pile. Without enough water, the microbes will not thrive at all. In effect, decomposition will not instate and the process will fail.
Too much water, on the other hand, is no good at all too. It can consequently drown out and suffocate the good bacteria. A pile that is way too wet will leave little to no air for aeration. As we know, these microbes need air to breathe and live. Without them, the progress of decomposition once again becomes disturbed.
So, the act of turning the compost helps to distribute the water evenly across the pile. Giving each area the chance to be soaked with just the right amount of moisture it needs. Not too dry nor too wet to alter the process of degradation.
Reason #3: To regulate the temperature.
The process itself of aerobic decomposition naturally produces heat. In composting, the most optimal temperature is between the range of 135°F up to 160°F. This provides a suitable environment to encourage biological activities. Moreover, the high temperature also helps to inhibit the growth of unwanted weeds and pathogens within the pile.
Nevertheless, too much heat can also adversely affect the process. A temperature of more than 160°F can potentially kill the beneficial bacterias. Hence, literally preventing the decomposition of the organic compost from progressing.
Unfortunately, organic materials are good insulators too. Hence, they have the tendency to rather trap the heat within the pile. So, turning the compost is one effective way to ease and regulate the temperature. As the action promotes good air circulation and moisture distribution, it also aids to dissipate the excess heat too.
How To Turn Your Compost Pile?
When trying to turn your compost, the main target here is to take the top and outer layers mixed towards the center of the pile. And, vise versa, topple the bottom and inside layers out. That way, each of these sides will get an equal opportunity to degrade. Here’s how you can do it:
Method #1: Manual turning using shovel or hayfork.
This method is as basic as it can be. All you need is to use a shovel or a hayfork to literally toss and turn your compost pile. Think of it much like tossing a garden salad. Only, it is decomposing, not fresh!
This method is great if you happen to use a single compost bin only. So, you get to make use of the same container for storing and mixing your organic materials. It is very cost-efficient yet it would tend to require you to exert a bit more physical effort.
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Method #2: Use a multi-bin composting system.
In this method, you are actually using at least three or more bins to move around your compost. The gist here is to transfer the pile batch by batch. The movement itself of the organic material from one bin to another helps it to get mixed up.
This particular method enables you to separate composts at different stages of degradation. Thus, allowing you to have a more consistent supply of compost as needed.
For example, your first batch of compost is placed in the first bin. When it’s time to turn, you can transfer this first batch right to the second bin. Then, fill the first bin again with a new batch (second batch) of organic compost. Just follow the same routine for the succeeding batches until such time you have come up with a pile that is ready for use.
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Method #3: Use a compost tumbler
A compost tumbler is basically a container with a lever you can use to churn up the compost. No need to get dirty and dig around the pile. The tumbling of the container takes charge of all the mixing. It is very effortless and convenient to use. However, it may cost you a bit more extra.
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How Often Should You Turn Your Compost Pile?
Now you already know the importance and the methods of turning, you might be asking how often should you do it then. Well, here’s the rule of thumb – It is best to turn your compost pile every 3 to 7 days. As the compost matures, the frequency can be gradually decreased.
Generally, it takes about 90 to 120 days to complete a good decomposition process of organic materials. Nevertheless, the duration would still vary depending on certain factors. This can well include the size of the compost pile and the level of moisture within.
The ideal size for a good compost pile should be at least 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet. Or, equivalent to 1 cubic yard. This is said to be the optimal size for generating efficient temperature levels. With this size, decomposition can suitably take place. At the same time, the heat it produces is high enough to inhibit weed and pathogen growth.
Smaller or bigger-sized compost piles can still work too. However, they may not be as effective. Hence, the actual pile size can directly impact the duration of the process. Thereby, you might need to turn your compost more or less often than usual.
A wet compost pile may need to be turned more often to squeeze out the excess moisture. Thus, the turning motion allows you to even out the water across the pile. On the other hand, if you find the compost a bit too dry, it would be a great time to add water while you are flipping the pile over. That way, the moisture can be well distributed as you mix the compost.
Compositing is without a shadow of a doubt an excellent means of recycling. Who would have thought you can still benefit more from these organic waste materials. And with just a few simple turns of the pile, you are a step closer to keeping your soil and your garden happy.