How to Speed Up a Compost Pile

How to Speed Up a Compost Pile

( – Compost, sometimes referred to as black gold, is a valuable addition to any garden. When added to the soil, compost replenishes nutrients and introduces beneficial microbes, which help plants grow. The better the soil, the faster and bigger plants grow — ultimately leading to more fruits and vegetables for the gardener to enjoy (or for the family to survive on).

Unfortunately, waiting on that black gold to decompose and become usable takes time. There is a way to speed the process up a bit, though…

Turning Compost

Compost occurs all the time in nature as dead leaves, branches, and animals decompose and create fertile soil. The difference between natural compost and a compost pile is the density. In nature, compost happens over large, spread-out areas. A compost pile, on the other hand, is dense and doesn’t allow sunlight and rain to reach the inner layers.

This is why “turning” the compost is important. Turning compost isn’t hard; it is simply mixing up or stirring the pile (generally with a pitchfork or shovel). Here is why turning compost helps:

  • Aeration – A dense compost pile won’t have air pockets that allow microbes to thrive. Stirring the pile fluffs it up, creating pockets of oxygen to keep the microbes alive.
  • Drainage – Water can become trapped inside a dense compost pile, which will take the area where oxygen should be. Mixing the pile will allow the water to drain out and, again, create those vital air pockets.
  • Hungry Microbes – The microbes that assist in the decomposition of materials in the compost pile can sometimes do their job too well by eating up the nutrients and oxygen required to keep them alive. Turning the compost introduces new materials to the center of the pile, giving them more to munch on.
  • Overheating – Those same hungry microbes who can eat themselves out of their house and home also produce heat while they work. If that heat rises too much, the microbes will die off. Stirring the compost will redistribute the hot compost from the center of the pile outward and ensure the microbes don’t cook themselves.

How Often Should Compost Be Turned?

The basic rule of thumb is to turn the compost pile every 3 to 7 days. This allows the microbes time to do their work, but not so much that they overheat or overeat.

If decomposition begins to slow down or the pile begins to attract pests, it’s time to turn it. Another sign that the pile needs mixing is if it develops a foul odor. Be aware that mixing smelly compost can make it smell even worse.

The importance of compost piles for survival gardening cannot be overstated. They will help get rid of food scraps and some types of garbage while creating fertile soil in which plants can grow. Compost piles may take a bit of work and some know-how, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

While a stinky compost pile can be a sign that it needs turning, it can also indicate a different kind of problem. To see what it is and how to fix it, check out our article on what it means when a compost pile stinks.

~Here’s to Your Survival!

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