Compost Piles

It is certainly not a new process. Composting been going on since time began in one form or another under the careful tutelage of good old Mother Nature. We have however, taken things to a new level with the need to break things down a little faster than the millennia that Mom nature had to work with.

Compost serves a few purposes. It”s recycling at its best. Instead of going to the landfill most organic refuse is utilized in a far more efficient manner. Compost in the garden is a great soil conditioner, adds nutrients, and balances the PH level of the soil.

Simply by turning the compost heap every few days the speed of decay is greatly increased and if we care to add material to the heap that will serve a particular function it is increased even further. Heat, a by product of the breaking down process, is produced rather quickly and can reach temperatures of 140 degrees or more if things are going right. This is  aerobic composting. Anaerobic composting on the other hand is done in the absence of oxygen and will eventually result in its contents breaking down as well. Aerobic composting is more efficient as far as the quality of the finished product goes. Left to its own without additional turning, the pile will break down quit nicely but probably will take a longer time to do so than if it were constantly turned. If within the pile, larger pieces of organic matter are incorporated in the mix, they will allow air pockets to form about them and naturally aerate the pile allowing the bacteria a supply of oxygen. Allowing the pile to work on its own without having to turn has numerous benefits…less work, greater retention of nitrogen and mass, less work, longer heat retention, less work…….no need to turn!

Compost thermometer

The content of the pile is important as is the moisture level. The required level of moisture is simple enough……it should remain the consistency of a wet sponge that has just been squeezed out. Too wet and the pile will putrefy and smell allowing no oxygen transfer to take place because it has been choked out by the water. Too dry and it will just stop working……it will however start up again with the addition of sufficient water.

The content of the pile is the other part of the equation necessary to ensure a good finished product. The goal is to add organic material in layers in such a fashion as to do a layer of carbon rich stuff and then a smaller layer of nitrogen rich stuff. Carbon rich stuff is anything like wood chips, cardboard, sticks, dried leaves etc. The nitrogen comes from most things “green” like grass trimmings or seaweed or discarded garden greens etc. Better yet is the addition of animal manures if they are available as they are unusually high in nitrogen and will add a real “kick” to your compost. Microorganisms in the compost that are doing the breaking down of your organic matter depend on carbon as their basic building block and it is a  source of energy but nitrogen is also necessary for such things as proteins, genetic material and cell structure. Ideally these microorganisms need about 30 parts of carbon for every part of nitrogen they consume. Too much nitrogen  and it can’t all be used up and the smell of ammonia clues one into the fact that nitrogen is being wasted. Ergo if you can manage to incorporate a mixture of about 30 to 1 for a carbon to nitrogen ration when adding stuff to your compost you will almost certainly guaranteed to have success with the whole process.


We compost everything we possibly can from kitchen waste to grass clippings and sawdust, newspapers, coffee grounds(good nitrogen) fallen leaves etc. There is really very little that can not be composted if one keeps  a   well maintained compost. The size of the pile will dictate to a degree just how hot the internal temperature will get. One should not expect to achieve anything much in the way of heat if the pile is less than at least three cubic feet…better would be around five and with a compost thermometer it quite normal to discover temperatures of 120 degrees and above. That degree of heat will not remain static however but should remain elevated for a long time as long as the atmospheric temperature is not too close to freezing.


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