While anything of living origin can be composted, the following items should NEVER be added to a compost pile:
- Cat and dog manures
- Noxious perennial weeds
- Kitchen scraps containing meat, dairy products, or grease
- Any plants treated with pesticide or herbicide
For thorough decomposition to occur, an adequate supply of air must reach all parts of the pile. The most common aerating technique is to turn the compost pile about once or twice a month. The process of decay can generate a lot of heat, creating temperatures up to 150° F inside a well-aerated and well-constructed compost pile. This high heat is crucial for killing any weed seeds and pathogens (disease-causing organisms) and for accelerating the process of decay. Monitor the temperature of your compost pile with a compost thermometer. Turn the pile again after the temperature has peaked and the pile has begun to cool down.
You can also aerate your compost pile using the following methods:
Use a pallet or other structure to raise the pile to allow air to penetrate from the bottom. You can also put sticks into the pile as you are building it. After building, pull out the sticks and you have ready made air shafts! By poking holes into your pile with a crowbar or garden fork will also provide aeration.
- Shred materials like leaves, hay and grass prior to adding them to the pile. Use materials that can become matted (like paper and grass clippings) sparingly.
- Periodically poke holes in the pile with a garden fork or compost aerator.
- Locate your pile on a well-drained site. Construct a base of gravel, sand, or other coarse material, if necessary, to ensure the pile does not stand in water.
- Sprinkle each layer with water as you construct the pile.
- Check moisture levels every few days; if needed, add moisture whenever you turn the pile.
- Layer wet materials with dry, absorbent materials.
- Turn the pile periodically to release excess moisture.
- Protect your pile from excessively wet or dry weather by enclosing it in a covered bin or topping it with a layer of hay or straw.
- In humid climates, construct your pile so it has a rounded top to repel moisture. In dry climates, create a sunken top to collect water.
Building your compost pileThe simplest way to ensure the correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is to alternate layers of high-carbon material with layers of high-nitrogen material when constructing your compost pile. In general, a number of thin layers will allow for more efficient decomposition than a few thick layers.
Follow these simple steps to build an efficient, low-maintenance compost pile:
- Make a base of coarse material to facilitate aeration and drainage. Water this layer.
- Alternate 3 - 4" layers between Green (high Nitrogen) and Brown (high Carbon) materials. Water.
- Any materials that could mat or putrefy should be mixed with drier materials, like straw or sawdust, and kept in thin layers no more than 1 to 2 inches thick.
- Add a half-inch layer of soil on top of the high-nitrogen layer to inoculate the pile with the appropriate microorganisms. This soil layer will reduce the leaching of mineral nutrients and trap escaping nitrogen gas. Water.
- Continue to repeat the layering process in this fashion until the pile is about 3 feet high. Be sure to water each layer, except for those layers composed of wet materials like kitchen scraps.
- Cap the finished pile with 2-3 inches of soil.
- Turn the pile once or twice a month to aerate it and release excess moisture. Add Compost Bio-Activator before turning to introduce beneficial microorganisms that will keep the decomposition process active.
- Water the pile as needed to maintain appropriate moisture levels.
- Cover the pile with a thick layer of straw in winter to maintain proper moisture and temperature levels.