21 Aug SOIL SAVVY: WARM WEATHER COMPOSTING
While gardeners can compost at any time of year, it’s arguably quicker and easier in the warmer months. Lucky for us, we’re in the thick of warm weather right now! So, how can you keep your compost pile humming along so that you have plenty of nutrient-rich amendments for your garden? The trick is to give the microorganisms in the pile what they need to do their work — here are the highlights!
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6 Steps to Warm Weather Composting
Balance carbon to nitrogen. For your compost pile to break down and decompose into a sweet-smelling soil amendment, the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio needs to be about 25-30:1. So, aim for 25-30 parts carbon or brown matter (dried leaves, twigs) to 1 part nitrogen or green matter (grass clippings, kitchen waste). Too much carbon leads to a pile that doesn’t heat up, and too much nitrogen creates a foul-smelling, too-hot pile.
Reduce the size of your organic matter. Microorganisms multiply faster with smaller pieces of material, so before adding yard or kitchen waste, chop, shred, cut, or split it into smaller pieces.
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Maintain proper pile size. You want a pile that is large enough to create heat but small enough to physically manage, so aim for a 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 pile.
Regulate the pile temperature. As microorganisms begin to activate in the pile, they give off heat, which in turn raises the internal temperature of the pile. For the quickest decomposition, piles should be between 90 – 140 degrees. Lower temps will slow the rate of decomposition, while higher ones reduce the activity of the microorganisms. Because it’s summer, you won’t likely have a problem with too little heat. As for too much heat? That’s not usually a common problem, but if you use a compost thermometer and you see that the temp is way too high (200 degrees, for example), stop turning your pile. This will decrease oxygen which will, in turn, decrease the temperature.
Maintain adequate moisture. Microorganisms need water to live, and thereby, to do their magic in the compost pile. Moisture content in a pile should range from 40%-60%, but since most of us don’t operate on a percentage basis, aim for the pile materials to be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Water the pile as you’re turning it, being careful to not soak it down.
Allow for air circulation. The microorganisms that consume the compost ingredients to aid in decomposition need oxygen. Lots of things impact the air circulation in a pile, including wind and moisture content, but an easy way to increase air movement is to turn it regularly with a pitchfork or shovel.