Maintaining a Compost Pile by Kai Kunnapas.
So you started your compost pile and you are wondering what to do next?
The decomposition process is accomplished by micro and macro-organisms and they are sensitive to the levels of moisture, oxygen and temperature in the pile.
Of the microorganisms, aerobic bacteria are the most important decomposers. They oxidize organic material, excreting important plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium into the pile. Their rapid and efficient work will consume oxygen and heat up the pile.
To keep the beneficial aerobic bacteria at work, you must turn your compost pile to keep the heat below 160 degrees F and to make oxygen available to these industrious organisms. If the inside of the pile is way too hot to the touch, it is time to turn….move the pile out of its bin and reload it into the bin.
Ideally moisture is added thru rainfall but during extended dry periods, supplemental watering with a water hose is necessary. You want the pile to be moist to the touch, not wet; if you squeeze a handful of the material and water runs thru your fingers…it is too wet. This is important because too much water will displace oxygen! Turn the pile to allow it to dry out.
The moisture and oxygen availability is directly related to the particle sizes in the pile. If your pile has too many fine particles (grass clippings, pine needles, sawdust) the porosity of the pile is reduced, resulting in less water and oxygen. Your pile will be slimy and have an unpleasant odor due to anaerobic activity. Add some coarse material such as twigs as you turn the pile.
The size of your pile is also important in the decomposition process as it will help the pile heat up. A pile that is 3 CF (3’x3’x3”) is sufficient and will be easy to handle. Once the pile starts decomposing you may want to stop adding new material. This is the easiest way to be sure your compost will be fully finished at the end of 90-120 days. If you have more organic material…simply start another pile and let the process begin again!