Your compost pile is filled with bugs and tiny organisms that do all the hard work for you in speeding up the natural decomposition cycle. Help those organisms out by turning your pile once and awhile.
Oxygen must be available for those microorganisms to go to work on the material you put in your compost pile. It’s important that the container you house the material in has air flow to increase oxygen availability but that will not be enough if you want to create rich material fairly quickly to put into your yard. Turning compost material also helps distribute nitrogen among carbon material which is necessary to keep the compost process active.
Turning a compost pile doesn’t have to take long or much time. A potato fork, pitch fork or silage fork is necessary as you will struggle using a shovel, especially when there is a lot of new material in your pile. I use 2 strategies for turning my pile. In the Spring through early Fall I turn a portion of my pile about once a week. This exposes extra material to oxygen and jump starts the process but doesn’t make the whole pile hot. In the Winter, I turn the whole pile when we have a weekend thaw. This way there is moisture and the temperature of the pile is up a little bit to give the pile a base for the 1st round of bacteria.
Turning the pile also discourages rodents from making a next in your pile. Plus it gives you a chance to monitor your material. When the pile omits a ammonia type smell, there is too much nitrogen. Turning the pile helps this as it uncovers the surface of more carbon but you can also add dry carbon rich materials like leaves or straw to combat the high levels of nitrogen.
It’s easy to set up a system to sift compost material so that you can use soil like material in your yard and garden and leave behind the material that needs to decompose more. Sifting and removing ready material will help aerate the material that is left and expose more surface area to oxygen. This ensures the bacteria and organisms needed will stay present in the pile. When material is not moved it compacts and does not allow oxygen to reach material.
It doesn’t take much to create a simple system that allows you to turn and sift the compost material without much time committed. I use a piece of hardware fabric over my wheel barrow when I want to move material right to my yard. When my kids help it takes about 30 minutes to fill the wheel barrow. Imagine the time it would take you to go to the store to buy 2 bags of material. Even faster, I have a piece of hardware fabric attached over the top of my compost bin. 10 minutes a week and I have a significant amount of compost material to move to my garden beds in the fall. I even grow potatoes in that half of my compost bin as you can see below. Help the organisms out in your compost pile. You will save money, know your material better and put in a simple workout. Want to know more about the science behind your compost pile? Check out this article from the University of Illinois to discover all the fascinating things happening in your compost pile.