How Often Should You Turn a Compost Pile?

Composting turns organic materials such as vegetables, leaves and grass clippings into a soil-like substance with the help of naturally occurring organisms. The living organisms that break down the raw materials need air and moisture to survive, so turning the compost pile and adding water keeps them healthy. The resulting organic matter, or compost, can be added to garden soil, where it feeds beneficial micro-organisms and slowly releases important nutrients for healthy plants.


Compost is created after organic materials decay.

A compost pile should be conveniently located near the garden or kitchen door so organic matter can be placed in it without the need to carry it a long way.  The location should be high enough so water does not pool around it and flat enough that water does not wash away the compost. Because you must add water to the compost pile to keep it healthy, it's helpful to have a water source nearby. 


A compost pile can be a simple pile located in a convenient location.  The ideal size for a compost pile is 5 feet wide by 3 feet high by as long as you like. It is easier to contain organic matter and more attractive to house the compost in an open bin.  The bin can be constructed of wire, cinder blocks, wood or any non-toxic material as long as the sides are not solid. This allows air to reach the compost and makes the compost easier to turn. 


Any organic material can be used to make compost.  For the average gardener, materials that come from plants make the best compost. The smaller the material is, such as shredded leaves, the faster compost is made.  Avoid the use of meat and manure from animals that eat meat, such as domestic pets. For best results, a ratio of 30 parts brown material, such as dead leaves, to one part green material, such as fresh vegetable scraps, will keep the organisms that make the compost healthy and active. 


The compost pile should have the consistency of a damp sponge at all times, so add water as needed.  Without air circulation within the pile, the composting organisms will suffocate and die, slowing the composting process. To avoid this, turn the compost with a composting fork, pitch fork, rake or shovel every five to 10 days.  Simply replace what was in the middle of the pile with what was on the outside edges. This will allow air circulation throughout the pile and keep the composting organisms healthy. 


Compost is ready when the organic material that was added to the compost is unrecognizable, does not smell and looks like spongy damp soil.  Compost can be used freely around plants as a mulch or spread over the garden and tilled into the top 6 inches of soil. Compost will not burn plants like chemical fertilizers so it can be used in conjunction with chemical and organic fertilizers.  Compost can be used on sandy soil to help it hold water and on clay soil to help water drain.

About the Author

Jay Golberg is a certified Texas nursery professional and professional project manager. He has 30 years of business and farming experience and holds bachelor's degrees in English writing from St. Edward's University and finance from Lamar University.

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