How often do you turn your compost pile?

timshawDecember 30, 2006

I was wondering how often people turn their pile. Should you wait till it cools or more frequently

Tim

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justaguy2(5)

Turning is to increase oxygen which speeds the breakdown. When the interior heats up, oxygen it consumed faster than before it heated up. Once temps begin dropping in the center it means the amount of oxygen entering the pile is less than the amount required to sustain the current decomposition rate.

So, turn.

Alternately some folks use PVC or similar with holes drilled into it and insert it into the center of the pile to increase the ease which oxygen can enter and then don't turn the pile.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2006 at 3:54PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Turning is to get the undigested material on the outside of the pile into the inside of the pile where the bacteria are most active. A properly constructed pile should never need to be turned just to get air inside.
If you want to be really affressive about turning you need a compost thermometer to monitor the internal temperature and you turn your pile just as the temperature starts to fall from the peak. However, some assumptions can be made about that and some people just plant on turning their compost every 3 to 5 days until all the material in the pile is digested. I may turn my 4 x 4 piles once or twice as I am building them up, mixing the bottom stuff up a lot but once they are over 2 or 3 feet high there is simply too much material to easily turn so I don't, anymore. When lots younger with much more energy turning was not as much of a problem, but today I need to conserve energy for other things.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 7:40AM
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sandylighthouse(7)

I've got a lot of space, and I find waiting easier than turning.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 8:28PM
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peter_6

Never! But I'm enamoured of the benefits of "cold" compost. If you need comost in a hurry, then turning weekly is the best compromise. Regards,. Peter.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2007 at 6:25PM
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pnbrown

I'm solidly cold, too. I never turn, except incidentally when I harvest the 'post. I think the end product of cold-composting is better. Worms, in particular, are benefited.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 6:27AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

There's evidence that cold-produced compost is better nutrient wise.

A pile doesn't cool down merely because of lack of oxygen. That's only when it goes anaerobic, as evidenced by a nasty smell. It cools down when the microbe-chow gets digested down to a point where there's less available food. You're headed towards humus- which is not very digestable at all for microbes (and hard to define, as well). The air that's introduced during turning gets used up in a few minutes.

Turning puts undigested stuff in the pile which gives microbes a food source- thus extending the heat cycle or starting a new one. If it was just lack of oxygen then we could keep pipes in the pile and it would stay very hot indefinitely which it clearly doesn't.

I turn to break up mats of material, which do hurt air flow (I compost unshredded hay and leaves), to keep the pile hot for digesting bones/meat/fat/cheese, to get the outside turned in to cook seeds, and because it's fun on occasion to see what's happening.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 8:26AM
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patty4150(SoCal)

I turn for the therapeutic value. So, depending on what's going on in my life this could be every day or once a month.

Turning definitely helps speed the process, and keep things hot (bringing stuff into the center that hasn't been decomposed yet, providing more raw material for the decomposers) and I've never compared cold methods to hot methods so can't speak to any benefits of that, in terms of nutritional value.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 11:28AM
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veggiecanner(Id 5/6)

not at all,

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 2:54PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

I turn to break up mats of material, which do hurt air flow (I compost unshredded hay and leaves), to keep the pile hot for digesting bones/meat/fat/cheese, to get the outside turned in to cook seeds, and because it's fun on occasion to see what's happening.

I don't put and meats, oil, cheese or bones in my compost. I have too many critters around that might dig this stuff up.
I have a 2 step composting thing these days since my back and neck will not let me do any physical stuff:(
I have a tumbler that I try to put the most recent stuff in, and am able to turn that weekly. When that stuff really starts to break down, I have the DH help me dump it in the bin.
There it sits til spring when it's time to put it in the garden.
I'm also trying some lasagne gardening with some new beds I'm starting. The less work the better for me! Nasty back + a car wreck that sprained my neck! Yuk! Nancy

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 8:46PM
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rcgsltx

Never-I put the compost in my flower beds in the spring and the fall. Other than that, I add to the compost pile, but I never touch it otherwise.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 8:48PM
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blackmountain6_hotmail_com

It all depends on how you have constructed your compost pile. At the moment I have two compost piles; one that is in a commercial compost bin (cold composting), and the other that has been raked into a 1m x 1m heap (hot composting) - approx 3 feet square and 3 feet tall. Everything in the bin has been mixed together (1 part green to 1 part dry) and is turned almost daily. This is because less air is accessible in a compost bin and it tends to compact quickly.

For the heap, I have used the layering method - alternating dry material with fresh green material. Naturally, the heap gets much hotter because I am not restricted to size. A good way to tell if your little critters are working is to breakaway some of the heap at night (say 9pm) and feel for heat. Then you know for sure that the heap is composting, and if it is cold or slightly warm - turn the heap the next day.

Can you turn the pile too often?

I'd say yes, if the centre of your pile has just reached a nice heat, then you bring it to the outside straight away, essentially you've just stopped it from decomposing quicker.

Hope this helps. Cheers.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 12:52AM
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emyers(8 SC)

Just a general question...
If any type of fresh animal manure is added to the equation, would this change anyones attitude about whether or not turning(hot) vs not turning (cold) composting is required?

What I'm getting at, is if it isn't important to turn compost, then why are all the organic certifying agencies so "hung up" on the proper manufacture of compost?

Is it because of the scale and the real exaggerated potential of anerobic conditions that could lead to pathogens?

If not, why is there the turning requirement? Why Couldn't they just say let a pile sit there for six months and it's OK to use for organic production (similar to the way they say you can put straight manure on a field if you leave it there long enough before planting.

I'm not passing judgement here just interested in how everyone has come to terms with their composting processses.

I'm in the process of starting my first compost so I'm interested.

Another question would be that if you don't turn your compost pile, why would you keep one in the first place? Why not just dump everything in the garden, add a nitrogen source (like alfalfa meal) then till it all in the spring or fall. What's the difference?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 12:02PM
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brissy18

Hi emyers,

With cold composting, you want to turn the material mainly to allow air flow and ensure material that's on top will get a chance to be in the centre too - that's where the most activity occurs.

In regards to hot composting, most people do it because its quicker, but also because it kills plant diseases and seeds (not all, but most). So that's probably why organic certifying agencies prefer hot composting. Its more efficient and safe. Btw, you don't have to make layers to get it hot, people just do that because they can measure out the carbon and nitrogen materials easier.

Ultimately, I like turning my compost because it feels right to do so. Haha. In the end, it comes down to you and your yard.

Cheers.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 10:51PM
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discocarp(z9b FL)

Maybe once to get the outer layer to the center. Maybe. Mostly I just let it sit.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2008 at 9:36AM
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organicguy(7)

I don't turn mine at all! In the Fall, I turn all the partically composted organic matter into the soil, and by Spring, it all decayed into humus. It's a lot less work with the same end result!

Ron
The Garden Guy
http://www.TheGardenGuy.org
Check Out My Forum!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 5:07PM
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slacker

I turn mine about twice a week, I have a rather large pile, and use a johnny bucket on my garden tractor to turn it. Without the bucket I dont think I would be turning quite as much. Turning it that often it is hot compost for sure

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 1:59PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

"Another question would be that if you don't turn your compost pile, why would you keep one in the first place? Why not just dump everything in the garden, add a nitrogen source (like alfalfa meal) then till it all in the spring or fall. What's the difference?"

Answer: because I don't want my garden covered in the decaying kitchen waste, vacuumings, paper, weeds and other putrescible things which go into my compost heaps. It only goes onto the garden after it is nice crumbly brown compost. In my climate I grow all year round and there is no off season when I could put stuff on the soil and forget about it. Also I have neighbours who don't really want to view my 'rubbish' all over the garden. You don't need to turn a compost heap, it just speeds things up. But even if you don't turn, a heap will rot down quicker than a thin layer. Mine gets turned once or twice just through the action of putting it into the next bin along to keep the sequence going.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 4:26PM
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organicguy(7)

I do keep a thick layer of organic mulch on my garden all season, but if I put all my lawn clipping, yard waste, etc. right on my garden, it would be a foot over most of my plants. That's why I keep a compost pile I choose not to turn.

Ron
The Garden Guy
http://www.TheGardenGuy.org
Check Out My Forum!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 9:17PM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

It's possible to get hot, aerated compost without turning, by stockpiling ingredients and then making the pile all at once, covering each layer of nitrogen material with a double layer of carbons. It will cook for a few days, up to a couple weeks, then cool down. I leave such piles for a few months, or over winter. I used to turn every pile at least once, to get the outer layer on the inside, but with a good cover of browns this isn't necessary. Besides it was hard on the back. Turning is overrated.

We also have a pile that is added to gradually: the contents of the kitchen scrap bucket, always covered by some brown/coarse/dry material like leaves, straw or eelgrass. This sort of pile needs to be turned even less, ie never, because the cover prevents weeds growing on the outside. Given enough 'browns', aeration is built in. Although cool it breaks down fine, with help from worms and microfauna, and time.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2008 at 4:44PM
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greenm_sia

I built my pile all at once and get hot almost the next day which can feel by standing next to it. If I keep it for a week, there are white layers of ????? on the whole leaves (I don't shred). So I choose to turn new pile in 2 or 3 days until it doesn't get too hot.

Cheers! Engy

    Bookmark   October 4, 2008 at 7:22PM
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emyers(8 SC)

FloraUK/OrganicGuy-

OK. I see your points. Guess that's why people kind of do both (mulch and compost in a separate pile).

    Bookmark   October 4, 2008 at 9:04PM
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takadi(7)

The below is an interesting take on turning compost.

As for me, I try not to turn the compost unless I need a pile to get hot enough to cook weed seeds or sterilze. Other than that, I feel that turning causes the compost to lose nutrients, despite having it ready more quickly.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2008 at 11:55PM
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takadi(7)

Whoops here's the link

Here is a link that might be useful: To turn or not to turn

    Bookmark   October 5, 2008 at 11:56PM
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organicguy(7)

I just turned 1 heaping wheelbarrow full of partially decayed compost into each of my 4' x 10' beds and turned it under. Than I applies another wheelbarrow full on top of each bed along with some granualted limestone, and my beds are ready for Winter.

By Spring, ALL of the partially decayed compost has been turned into humus, as was about 80% of the top layer as well. Come Spring, I add a little bonemeal and bloodmeal, and I'm am ready to plant . . . with never having to turn my compost pile.

Ron
The Garden Guy
http://www.TheGardenGuy.org
New Article & Journal Entry On My Blog!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 2:53PM
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Lloyd

Sometimes lots, sometimes not so much. Depends on my work schedule, weather, other stuff going on, type and or stage of composting and temperature of compost.

If it was solely based on the amount of work I wanted/not wanted to do, I'd carry the golf ball to the hole and drop it in. :)

Lloyd

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 5:28PM
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kathyp(z9 CA)

I turn mine when I add stuff, which is about every 3 days or so. It gets hot when I add large amounts, otherwise, it just hums along with all the insect life doing the digesting for me. The larger the pile, the hotter it gets. I currently have 3 piles, the smallest one is for kitchen waste. When I need to use that one, I usually dig it in deep, so as to let things break down a bit more before they are usable by the plants.

Just my 2¢.

Kathy

    Bookmark   October 20, 2008 at 1:10AM
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qarl(zone 5)

once every 2 years :P

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 12:54AM
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dirtyboots_aselfsufficientlife_com

I would much rather use the saved energy for one of the myriad of other jobs that needs to be done about the land.

I prefer to wait a little longer for the Compost Heap and save the energy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Turning The Compost Heap

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 6:39AM
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aimee_fla_usa

I found earthworms in my compost pile..but I am afraid to disturb the vermiculture by turning the pile.

Should I be concerned?

What about when I spread the compost? What should I do with the worms?

    Bookmark   August 10, 2009 at 5:01PM
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lazy_gardens

Aimee -
Don't worry about the worms ... they will migrate back to where they want to be.

And when you spread the compost, the worms can go with it.

*********
And I turn compost only when I break down a bin, because I'm lazy.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 9:47AM
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NicoleRivera

I literally started my compost on Sunday. This is my first time doing this. In the link I added I show how I layered my compost. Is turning something I should worry about? Is that only relevant in piles?

I am seeing the hot vs. cold debate here - am I supposed to have a thermometer? (Is this a ridiculous question??) Or is the heat evident without one?

Also, it snowed last night out of NO WHERE - should that affect my treatment of my compost (I was trying to deal with it AFTER winter weather, so I could be a little more well-versed in composting before my first snow!)

Thanks!
~Nicole :)

Here is a link that might be useful: My Composting Adventure Begins!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 12:46PM
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jolj(7b/8a)

I do mine as needed, sometime every other day. I depends on how hot it is.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 10:19PM
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pjewles30305(4)

I have had my compost bin for 3 yrs outdoors 3X3x3 made of chicken wire and have turned it a few times a yr and never used it. I found large masses of roots in my compost. I think I needed to turn it more often, like once a week I was thinking. Let me know if you know of any other reason for this. I wrote a post on my blog about it that is linked below

Here is a link that might be useful: what happens if you don't touck your compost bin for 3 yrs

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 1:36PM
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h_idt73_gmail_com

When we moved there was a rather large (6ft x 6ft) pile of sheep manure. We have lived here 4 yrs and just turned it into the garden for this year. We never turned it in that time, not sure how old it was before. Is this a problem for consumption/and or general growing?
New to all this!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 6:50PM
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grant_zz(USDA 10a / Sunset 17 / AHS 2)

Checking in from a coastal micro-climate... we run two piles. One semi-hot and the other cold.

The semi-hot pile gets all the weeds and grass clippings; we're trying to kill the seeds. So this gets turned.

The cold pile gets all the garden and kitchen waste (or most of it; some goes to a tiered worm silo). We don't have a lot of access to browns so we just let the garden waste cold-compost. And wait. And wait.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 8:43PM
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mike_jw(London. UK)

As I try to shred as much as my raw materials as possible, so my bin heats up within 24 hours. In a weeks' time, the whole pile has dried out considerably - almost crisp - so it has to be turned and re-watered. After another week the process has to be repeated.

The heap is covered with dry coffee sacks which, after a week are several times heavier owing to all the water which has risen up and condensed on them. I wouldn't like to trap the water in by using plastic for fear that the heap would retain too much moisture. After all, moisture is easier to add that take away.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 2:16PM
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jolj(7b/8a)

I have grass clipping from last year/summer, in black trash bags. I never moved them until I opened them this week & they are composted & one has earth worms in it.
My coffee waste is finely shredded & needs no turning, some of it is from 2010 & waiting on me. I should get to it this year or next Spring.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 1:16PM
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mtretter(5)

I turn my 3 GEO BINS, a bit over a cubic yard each, once a week depending on temps, moisture, and how it smells. They are mostly oak leaves from my yard and rabbit manure from a friends rabbitry with additions of vegetable wastes/coffee grounds from our household and trips to local coffee houses, plus some "recycled coffee" from yours truly to get things going! They heat up quickly and the frequent tuning helps to break up the un-shredded oak leaves and keeps them from matting. Rabbit manure has little smell itself but combined with the oak leaves has a tendency to compact and go anaerobic and can start to smell. Since I'm retired it gives me a good source of exercise as well as compost!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 11:39AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

According to Steve Solomon you should only turn the pile when it begins to cool down. If it is hot it doesn't need turning.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 8:07PM
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peter_6

How about never? I go in for cold composting, so it takes 2 years, so I have two bins. Advantage: it doesn't kill off fungi, which I regard as a scarce part of the ag. soil biota. The basic reason is that I'm too old for the effort. In earlier times I turned every week, which is the only sane way to handle the different levels of oxygen depletion at the different stages in the process. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 3:00PM
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