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Aerating the Compost
The microbes that break down your compost pile need oxygen. Provide oxygen to the pile by turning it at least once a week. If the pile is not turned and no oxygen is present, it ferments—and stinks. In addition, fermenting compost piles don’t generate enough heat to kill pathogens, creating a potential food-safety issue.
Hot, Hot, Hot!
Because the process of decomposition naturally creates heat, properly constructed compost piles will be hot to the touch. The compost pile must reach between 120 and 160 degrees F for a minimum of 15 days to kill human and plant pathogens, as well as weed seeds. You can check the temperature with a compost thermometer found at a garden-supply store.
Alternately, “cold” or “slow” composting methods are valid techniques for urban gardeners. Take caution when animal manures are used in these methods.
Your Compost Locale
You can choose between commercial and homemade bins for your composting site.
If you decide to use a commercial bin, consider its size, ease of use, number of aeration holes and appearance. If the bin will be prominently located, it may be worth spending a little extra money for an attractive model.
Commercial bins are available in plastic, wood or recycled materials and in many shapes and sizes. Freestanding composters—including plastic, oblong tumblers and spinning cylinders—make turning the compost pile easier. Many of these models come with handles or cranks that rotate the whole container along with the compost. It’s more difficult to stir compost in rectangular, ground-level bins, but the finished compost is easy to empty out through bottom doors. These types are usually cheaper to purchase.
Compost kits for do-it-yourselfers are another option. Containing metal corner pieces and a lid, these kits are installed by sliding appropriately sized lumber (purchased separately) into the metal pieces to construct a square bin.
Construct homemade compost bins from pallets, wood slats, hay bales, perforated plastic trash cans or wire cages. Avoid using wood that once stored chemicals or was chemically treated.
The Compost Timeline
Your compost can cook in as little as four weeks or as long as six months. The finish time depends on the ingredients used, the C:N ratio, the frequency of aeration, the moisture content and the size of the ingredients when the composting process began.
For record-fast compost, begin with two to three times more “browns” than “greens,” finely shred or chop all ingredients, add a few shovelfuls of finished compost to the new pile, aerate at least once a week, maintain moderate moisture levels and actively monitor temperatures.
About the Author: Jessica Walliser is the author of Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do and How to Manage Them Organically. She lives and gardens with her husband and son, two dogs, six chickens, two fish, and millions of good bugs on 2 acres just outside the city.
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