The Q&A Archives: Compost

Question: I've used nitrogen based fertilizer, turned every so often, kept it moist, but still can't get it warm enough to compost. Why?

Answer: Composting is not as complicated as some people make it out to be. You need a mixture of material, some green and some brown, a bit of soil to provide the microbes that will decompose things, a little moisture, and some air. Mix it all together and it will cook. You've either gotten the pile too wet, haven't turned it often enough to incorporate air, added too much nitrogen to get it started, or don't have a mixture of materials in it. You can fix things by moving your compost to an adjacent area, a little at a time. Start by taking several shovelfuls of your un-composted organic matter and putting them in a pile. Add a shovelful of soil, then add more organic material. Sprinkle it lightly and add some green material (like grass clippings). Then put more of your un-composted material on top, add some more soil, and sprinkle it with water. After you've layered everything nicely, step back and admire your compost pile. Wait 3 or 4 days and dig your hand, all the way up to your elbow, in the pile. It should feel nice and warm. Mix everything around, moving the center to the edges and the edges to the center. Wait a few days and repeat the process. Now that your compost is cooking, you can add organic matter as it's collected from your yard. Just try to keep a balance of brown stuff (branches, dried leaves, even torn up newpapers) and green stuff (grass clippings, leaves, vegetable parings). You'll have terrific compost in a matter of a few short months.

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