Everything You Need To Know About Turning The Compost

Turning is an essential part of composting. It makes the entire process faster and almost odourless. Most people are often confused about the various aspects of turning the compost pile, like when to do it? How much to do it etc. I have done extensive research on this topic, so you don’t have to spend hours going through “fun” research papers! Let’s address the common questions associated with composting.

How often should I turn my compost pile? It would be best if you turn your compost pile or tumbler once every three days. You should maintain this schedule until the pile starts to cool down or gets close to maturity. At that point, you can reduce the turning frequency. 

Turning frequency is just a small part of the part of the process. Once you actually start doing it, you will face many more questions. Keep reading, and by the end you will know everything about turning the compost pile 

Why should you turn the compost?

This is one of the first questions that people have, and it is valid doubt. Why not just let it be and let nature do the work.

Composting depends on three main factors; The makeup and surface area of the materials, temperature, and moisture. Without the proper balance of these three, you won’t get the desired result. Let’s see how turning affects these.

  • Aeration: Most microorganisms participating in composting are aerobic. In time all the oxygen in the center of the pile is used out. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, microbes can’t do their job, and decomposition slows down. When you turn the stack, you introduce fresh air into it.
  • Uniformity – The center of the pile experience more activity than the outer parts. This results in more heat in the center, so materials decompose faster in this part. Regular turning ensures that all materials are uniformly decomposed. This becomes especially important if you keep adding new materials to your pile.
  • Moisture Balancing: Water can block up the pockets of air between the particles restricting oxygen supply. Water is mostly unevenly spread across the pile, with some parts being very moist and others being relatively dry. Turning helps to spread out the moisture evenly, so each part has the required it needs.
  • Heat Balancing: When microbes work in compost, they produce heat. As we just discussed, that central part is hotter than the outer edges, which causes uneven distribution of heat. Some parts heat up too much, causing the death of some helpful microbes, while other sections which are cold containing unconsumed particles. Mixing helps in distributing the temperature throughout the pile, so all parts equally receive the heat.
  • Preventing Bad Odour: Unturned pile has an inadequate supply of oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, the mixture turns anaerobic. When that happens, there is an increased production of ammonia. And we all know how bad it smells!
  • Increasing The Speed: Several studies indicate the correlation between the duration of composting and turning frequency. Adequately turned piles decompose much faster than the non-turned ones.

The proper way of turning the compost

You should turn the compost like you are making the salad(I’m sorry if I ruined the salad for you!). Do it gently until the entire pile is mixed well. Make sure that the fresh material that you just added is not on the outer edges. The hot part at the center should be well distributed across the pile.

People with some space to spare can use two or three buckets to mix it even better.

The best way to ease the process of turning is to get a compost tumbler. It boils down the entire process to just turning a handle. Compost tubers do require an investment. Though if you compost regularly and hate the turning process, you know what to do!

Tools for turning compost

What tools you use for composting determines how much time and effort it is going to take. If your composting pile is relatively small, you can use anything readily available at your home. It can be a small shovel or a pitchfork. But if you are composting an enormous pile, investing in a tool may not be a bad idea. Let’s look at the various tools and their usability.

  • Shovel: A shovel is a low-cost solution to turn composting piles. These are readily available in most homes. If you have one already, there is no need to buy anything (If your pile is small)
  • Pitchfork: A pitchfork is one of the best tools for turning compost piles. The effort required is relatively low, and the job can be finished quickly.
  • Commercial Light Duty Turners: If you have 25-50$ to spare, you can get an excellent light duty turner. These are specifically designed to turn the compost, so they work a little better.
  • Bucket Loaders: This is for people who are into large-scale composting. When your composting pile is enormous, using simple tools will make it a long and tiring process. Bucket loaders can quickly do it for you. They are also helpful in carrying the compost once it is done.

If you are using a compost tumbler, you rarely need any additional tools. The process is much easier with compost tumbler. You rotate a handle and let the apparatus do its job. The turning frequency, however, remains the same in this case.

Some Special Instances and Turning

There are a few instances where you have to divert from your regular composting schedule.

  • When You Add New Materials– Adding new materials cools down the pile and slows down the decomposition. It’s essential to pushing the new materials towards the center where all the action is happening. Materials at the center soften faster, and leaving them on the top will simply make the composting longer. Also, materials with higher nitrogen content heat up and decompose faster.
  • During the Curing Process – The compost cannot be used immediately after it’s done. It would be best if you let it sit/cure for a few more weeks. This process ensured that compost is of higher quality and is free from harmful pathogens.

It would help if you kept turning the compost during the curing. You can do it less frequently though

How To Make a Low Tuning Frequency Compost

Sometimes it can be challenging for some people to find time to turn the compost. Does it mean they can’t compost? Absolutely not! Some methods reduce the turning frequency to almost zero.

  • Maintaining proper moisture levels at all times. The consistency of the compost should be of a wet sponge, and you shouldn’t be able to squeeze out water from it. Add water or browns to control the moisture.
  • Maintain the carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25-30:1. To ensure this, you need to adjust the volume of greens and browns you are adding to the mixture.
  • If you have a composting bin containing compartments for different composting phases, most of your turning effort is already saved.
  • You can add more coarse materials like the straw that traps air and maintain the supply of oxygen.
  • A composting pile with aeration tubes can save you the hassle of turning it.

These methods, however, require you to maintain precise conditions, or else the compost will get smelly, or the process will slow down considerably. So you have to decide which way is more preferable for you. Most people go with turning!

Final Thoughts

Turning the compost can be fun or not fun depending on how you do it. Regardless, it is an essential process in most composting piles. Once in 3 days is manageable for most people and shouldn’t be a problem. Some people, however, get overexcited and start doing it more frequently. That will not allow the pile to settle down and slows down microbial processes. It can seem a little tricky in the beginning, but once you get used to it, it will be routine and fun!

Sources

  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323561827_Compost_Turning_The_Key_to_Quick_Composting
  • P. Illmer, F. Schinner,
    Compost turning — A central factor for a rapid and high-quality degradation in household composting,
    Bioresource Technology,
    Volume 59, Issues 2–3,
    1997,
    Pages 157-162,
    ISSN 0960-8524,
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-8524(96)00156-3.
    (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960852496001563)
  • K. Stanford, X. Hao, S. Xu, T.A. McAllister, F. Larney, J.J. Leonard,
    Effects of age of cattle, turning technology and compost environment on disappearance of bone from mortality compost,
    Bioresource Technology,
    Volume 100, Issue 19,
    2009,
    Pages 4417-4422,
    ISSN 0960-8524,
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biortech.2008.11.061.
    (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960852409003848)
  • Ajay S. Kalamdhad, A.A. Kazmi,
    Effects of turning frequency on compost stability and some chemical characteristics in a rotary drum composter,
    Chemosphere,
    Volume 74, Issue 10,
    2009,
    Pages 1327-1334,
    ISSN 0045-6535,
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2008.11.058.
    (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653508014720)
  • https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8367.pdf

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