How to Turn Compost

Overview

Technically, you don't have to turn your compost to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your vegetable and flower gardens. However, turning and mixing your compost allows you to ensure that you're providing adequate fresh oxygen to the millions of decomposing bacteria hard at work in your compost pile. These bacteria need fresh oxygen to perform essential activities, such as energy production and growth, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. In fact, the more oxygen you provide for the bacteria, the more quickly they can convert your organic waste into "black gold" for your gardens. Proper compost turning techniques can help decrease your composting time from 12 months to as little as two or three weeks, depending upon the types of materials you're composting.

Step 1

Create a compost heap that is between 3 and 5 cubic feet in size to allow your compost to attain the high temperatures required for proper compost processing. Alternate 6-inch layers of carbon-rich materials with 3-inch layers of nitrogen-rich materials. Include coarse materials, such as straw or corn stalks, in each layer of carbon materials to increase the number of air pockets naturally present in your compost pile.

Step 2

Insert a metal rod straight down into the center of your compost heap for temperature monitoring. Allow your compost heap to sit undisturbed for four to five weeks to give the decomposing bacteria enough time to use up the oxygen already present in the pile of organic waste.

Step 3

Pull out the metal rod and feel the base of it. Warmth indicates that decomposing bacteria are still hard at work; cool metal indicates that oxygen levels have depleted, causing a significant decrease in bacterial activity. Aim to turn your compost layers for the first time when the metal rod is still slightly warm to the touch.

Step 4

Stab a manure fork straight into the center of the compost pile. Lift it up and dump the forkful of organic waste along the outside edge of your compost heap. Repeat this process until you've created a crater in the center of your compost pile.

Step 5

Scoop the organic waste from the edges of the pile in toward the center of the heap with your manure fork. Continue shifting the compost materials from the pile edges into the center of the heap until you have built the heap back up to its original height. Rake the loose compost along the outside edge of your heap back into the pile to allow it to continue composting. Repeat this entire turning process at least once per month to produce finished compost more quickly.

Things You'll Need

  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Course carbon-rich organic materials (such as corn cobs and straw)
  • Metal rod (4 to 5 feet long)
  • Manure fork
  • Garden rake

References

  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
Keywords: turning compost, mixing compost, compost maintenance

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.