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Avatar for dfg138
May 16, 2020 7:27 AM CST
Thread OP

Hello all!

I decided to try to build a compost pile two weeks ago without a lot of research. It didn't heat up at all, so I started watching videos and reading more articles. I realized I didn't have enough nitrogen and the pile was too small. Moisture was good. I turned it, added in more leaves to build volume and much more green (grass clippings and rabbit maneur) layered with the existing material. Got it to about a cubic yard heap. Temp was about 60 degrees at that time. It rose to 85 overnight and has been going up about 5 degrees a day since. Sitting about 115 now after 6 days. Although I got excited to see heat, I know that still wasn't the 140 in a few days I've heard described.

My question is two fold: First, do I wait for temp to rise to the 140 area since it is technically still increasing, or do I turn since I'm past the 4 day mark?

Second, since my pile was the 3x3x3 minimum size when I started and it obviously shrinks, do I add carbon and nitrogen materials when turning to keep it that minimum size?

Sorry if these are really basic questions.

Avatar for thommesM
May 18, 2020 9:20 AM CST
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
You ask good questions. I will ask you good questions.

How moist is the pile? Did you water in between layers as you built the pile? When you squeeze a handful of the compost a few drops of water should come out. If it's a stream of water, too much.

What were the raw materials in the original pile?

3x3x3 is a good size. Larger is a better. As far as adding more material when turning... all depends. If there's something wrong with the pile, then maybe. If the pile heated up to 140 or more, I'll typically just turn it. But I also will add air to my pile simply by stirring up the top portion of the pile some. Once the temp reaches 140 and then starts dropping, I'll play in the pile with a pitchfork... stir it up some, typically that's all it needs to heat back up. Unless the pile has gotten too hot for too long. I know you aren't having that problem, but when you do get your pile heating up, temps above 150-160 for too long will dry out the center of the pile and turn it an ashy gray color. If I suspect it's been too hot for too long, compost thermometer helps a lot with that, then I'll just stir the pile some. Basically insert the pitchfork and lift. Let out some water vapor. If the top of the pile hasn't composted much, I might at the time also just turn the top into the middle without turning the entire pile. Only after the pile looks like it's composted a good amount, things turning dark brown, uniform in color, and the pile starts to cool, will I actually turn the pile. At that stage its the last time I'm going to mess with that pile, as I likely already have another pile in the works. I know that the pile might heat up once more, before cooling and then I'll let it cool compost for a while.

If my pile isn't heating or it's having problems composting, I rebuild the pile. First I try to determine why the pile isn't heating. For me usually not enough nitrogen. If the pile is slimy, smells like pond scum, mostly grass clippings then it probably has too much nitrogen and I'll add carbon materials, like leaves. I'll only use one new raw material and the pile that's having problems. For pile that isn't wet and slimy, I'll only use fresh grass clippings and the contents of the pile to rebuild. For a wet slimy pile, I'll only use leaves and the contents of the pile. I'll pick an empty bin, or new location for the pile and then start with a layer of new material followed by a layer of the material in the pile. If the pile is dry, I might water every couple of layers. Rinse, repeat. I do not water if the pile is too wet already.

So as the pile composts it reduces in size and you can keep adding material. The question then becomes when is the pile done? Well if you keep adding material to it, the pile isn't going to get done. I typically will build a pile and not have enough material to finish it in one go, so the pile will reduce as I wait on materials. I'll fill the bin to the top (mine are 4x4x4) and let is reduce. It'll typically reduce by half in a few days to a week. I'll top the pile off once or twice keeping an eye on the temp, and stirring on occasion. Maybe after adding material for a month, I'll say it's time to let this pile be, and start a fresh new pile. It could be less than a month, depending on how quickly you build the pile, but I typically will top off a couple times. For me, I have to move at least two piles every time I want to let a pile start to age, as I have a four bin system.

Hope this info helps and doesn't confuse you. I've suggested to others, this is how I compost. It's not the only way. You can just dump stuff in a pile and it's going to decompose. Most people's goal though is to provide a good environment to promote faster decomposition of the materials by all the beneficial organisms that are doing all the work.

One last note, you might want to take a look at the carbon to nitrogen ratios of materials. If you are using wood chips or something like that, you'll need a lot more nitrogen than most people think.
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Last edited by thommesM May 18, 2020 12:13 PM Icon for preview
May 18, 2020 11:24 AM CST
Name: Sally
central Maryland (Zone 7b)
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All good info of course.

On moisture, keep an eye on it, I often have a 'dampish' pile but have learned damp isn't wet enough. And when it heats, it cooks out.

Bigger definitely better- fresh big mounds of wood chips will heat up despite what should be a terrible C:N ratio.
Plant it and they will come.
May 18, 2020 2:10 PM CST
Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
Region: Belgium Composter Region: Europe Ferns Hostas Irises
Lilies Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
I've long since come around on hot composting after several disappointing attempts myself....too much hassle for me. I just dump materials on as they come and eventually I end up with compost (cold composting). It only takes longer:

Thumb of 2020-05-18/Arico/baafee
May 22, 2020 11:23 AM CST
Name: Christie
Central Ohio 43016 (Zone 6a)
Plays on the water.
Amaryllis Permaculture Sempervivums Roses Bookworm Annuals
Composter Hybridizer Cat Lover Garden Ideas: Master Level
Arico said:I've long since come around on hot composting after several disappointing attempts myself....too much hassle for me. I just dump materials on as they come and eventually I end up with compost (cold composting). It only takes longer:
Thumb of 2020-05-18/Arico/baafee

That is pretty much what I do too. My roses (and the earthworms) seem to like whatever it is I am doing.
Plant Dreams. Pull Weeds. Grow A Happy Life.
May 3, 2023 10:19 AM CST
Connecticut (Zone 6b)
Hey there. Obviously coming at this 2 years too late, but wondering if you have made any progress on your composting technique. I am new to this world, and and really enjoying the process. I am, however, antsy to get things heated up even more. I also want to know if I should be turning the pile before I reach the super hot levels. Currently I am at about 115 degrees after 4 days. its been raising about 5 degrees a day for the past 2 days. Do I just wait it out, or will it be helpful to give it a good stir?
May 4, 2023 6:31 AM CST
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL @--`--,----- 🌹 (Zone 8b)
Region: United States of America Houseplants Overwinters Tender Plants Indoors Garden Sages Plant Identifier Garden Ideas: Level 2
Organic Gardener Composter Miniature Gardening Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Tender Perennials Butterflies
Hi & welcome! I've never been concerned with heat or turning or taking the temp of compost. It all decomposes without any of that. You could turn if you need some exercise, or just want to. Or don't turn. Unless you're trying to produce on a schedule for commerce, hot compost is interesting, but it's not at all important for gardening.
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