QUESTION: Can compost dry out? It’s supposed to be kind of moist, right? My pile right now just looks like dried leaves pretty much. -Earl J
ANSWER: Yes, your compost can dry out. Keeping a steady moisture level in your compost is one of the most important factors in keeping your compost healthy and active. The ideal moisture content for your compost pile is 40 to 60 percent by weight.
When the moisture level drops below 35 to 40 percent and your materials dry out, most of the creatures that aid in decomposition either die or become dormant.
To check the moisture content of your compost just squeeze a couple of handfuls of material from different areas of your compost. If it feels damp, like a wrung out sponge, the moisture levels are good. If it doesn’t feel damp, it’s time to add water to your compost.
When the compost is too dry, that often can also mean that you have too many carbon rich materials like leaves, as you have described. Adding more green, nitrogen rich materials like fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps can help even out the mix of materials and add moisture. Take note that if you add too many nitrogen rich materials, you can have the opposite problem and end up with a mushy, stinky mess. It’s all about balance.