QUESTION: How do I heat up my compost pile? Nothing really seems to be happening and I’m getting impatient. – Stella R
ANSWER: A properly maintained compost pile will reach temperatures of 130 degrees F or hotter, effectively killing all weed seeds, insects and disease pathogens in the process. Making your compost hot requires a good balance of brown, carbon producing materials, and green, nitrogen producing materials.
Hot composting can break down compost in as little as two weeks, though most compost takes longer to fully decompose. Carefully monitored and frequently maintained compost piles tend to get hotter, and break down faster than usual. Here is a list of things that you can do to heat up your compost pile and speed up your composting system:
- When adding both green and brown materials, chop up your ingredients before adding them to the compost pile. Smaller pieces break down in your compost pile faster than larger pieces, no matter what is being composted.
- The combination of brown and green materials should be equally balanced in your pile. Alternate laying down four inch layers of green and brown compostable materials when adding to your pile. An equal balance of green and brown materials will result in even heat distribution throughout your pile.
- Lay out one inch of garden soil between layers in your pile. Use topsoil from outside, never potting mix, as you want to bring in microorganisms from the soil to help aid in the decomposition process. Adding in one cup of a high nitrogen fertilizer (36-0-0) between each eight inch layer will further assist in heating up and speeding up the composting process.
- Measure your pile so that it is between three and five square feet and no taller than three feet high. This is the ideal size of a compost pile, and compost will heat most evenly in a pile of this size
- Add water to your pile so that it stays evenly moist but never soggy. When you squeeze your compost, it should be slightly damp, like a wrung out sponge. Compost that is too dry will not heat up, and compost that is too wet will break down more slowly.
- Turn the pile once per week using a garden fork. Frequent turning of your pile in combination with good moisture management will result in good heating and even decomposition throughout the pile.