How Often Should I Turn The Compost?

How often should l turn the compost?
The opinions shared here are based upon my own experiences working with compost and may not be shared by all.

Open Air Conventional Compost Pile

A question l am often asked is how often should compost piles be turned?

Both composters and gardeners alike have differing opinions regarding this question, but l always counter with – when do you want it ready, and what heat is it?

I have worked with three compost styles – cold, warm and hot. I have also performed all the heats mentioned earlier in earth pile, pallet heap, and New Zealand closed box composters. I can’t comment upon tumblers as l have no experience with them.

There are benefits to each compost style which l shall address another time, however, for this question. It comes down to what you want the compost for and how quickly you need it.

Many people say they can’t compost as they don’t have the free time needed, and l always answer with, everyone has time to compost, but it all comes down to the method you adopt.

Hot composting strategies are fast, and cold composting methods are considerably slower, whilst warm is a comfortable position between the previous two. Heated piles can attain extremely high temperatures, whilst warm compost heaps don’t, and cold composts never do.

A cold heap will take the longest time to decompose and break down, and that could be anywhere between 9 to 12 months, whilst a warm pile could easily be ready for use in 3 to 4 months, and a hot compost can be prepared in as little as 60 days reflective of course on your dedicated time.

But when it comes to turning the heap over, l find that generally, the following works as the best guide.

Hot CompostWarm CompostCold Compost
Requires a good quantity and healthy balance of greens and brown materialRequires a healthy quantity of mixed materialsAdd materials as an when you have them
Fork over every 2 – 3 daysFork over once every 7 daysFork over once every 2-3 months
Can be ready in 25-60 daysCan be ready in 3 – 4 monthsCould be ready in 9 – 12+ months
Needs dedicated attentionNeeds to be maintained weeklyRequires very little attention.
The best size for the heap is a minimum 36″ x 36″ x 36″The best size for the heap is a minimum 30″ x 30″ x 30″A pile of any size is fine. Just keep dumping materials on top and keep covered.
Can attain incredibly high heats but ideal temperature is between 140 – 180 degrees.

Heats kill off pathogens, weeds and seeds.

Heat aids the decomposition
Hot Temperatures can be achieved pending the materials present but they are no where near those of the hot piles.Cold compost heaps create a fermentation process which causes the decomposition..

My ideal style is to have a pile start as hot, travel through to warm and then finish off as a cold and sievable mixture. I aim to take a fresh pile of basic green and brown mixed materials from nothing to high heat in the first three weeks when it has turned into a mixture l could easily use in any part of the garden.

But l leave it for another couple of weeks with a turn once every couple of days and then leave it to flatten out as a cold compost for a week or two when l sieve it to a more refined material level.

I tend to use the content from either warm composting [for part of my worm farms bedding] or finely sieved cold compost for adding to raised beds or potting plants.

I usually use bokashi for digging into the grounds of the raised beds.

Common Composting Questions Directory

Published by The Autistic Composter

Earthly Comforts is a wildlife journaling scrapbook focusing on the countryside, wildlife biodiversity and environmental conservation, flora and fauna volunteering projects, gardening, composting and vermiculture, inspiration, poetry and photography.

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