tell the truth: did you turn your compost?

TELL THE TRUTH: Did you turn your heap before you piled on the fall’s bountiful offerings–before you cleaned up the tomato vines and the hostas, and raked all those precious leaves? Did you extract what was “finished” from down below, or–in a hurry–just cover it all up with incoming goodies? That’s my heap–30-plus feet long and about 6 wide right now and waist-high–and I confess, I was daunted. Next spring’s task will be even more heroic! A review of composting 101, with all your questions answered.

  1. Chris says:

    We live on a standard .5 acre suburban lot. Piles of compost are rather unsightly to the neighbors so we take a different approach. Kitchen waste goes in one of three plastic bins that are located in the veggie garden; one active and two cooking. After one is emptied I move it to a new spot in the garden. The old site is now super rich and whatever is planted there jumps out of he ground. Fall and spring border clean-up is shredded and immediately goes back on the borders as mulch; we just exclude ripe seed heads and anything diseased.

  2. Brenda says:

    No, have been a neglectful gardener this year. I will get motivated now. I have had good success in the past with starting a trench in raised beds and burying a rows of compost. Black gold in the Spring.

  3. Tuckshop Gardener says:

    Am I the only weirdo who finds turning compost therapeutically satisfying? I have only two ‘dalek’ bins though so it isn’t quite so daunting as the 30ft monster heap…

    At least having two small containers means that turning and emptying is a necessary task in order to be able to house the plant material generated by the great autumn cleanup.

    I know I’ve had a good day when my cheeks are glowing in the cold and my forehead is smeared with compost – by which yardstick, compost turning is very satisfying!

    1. margaret says:

      I love working with the compost too, Tuckshop Gardener, but sometimes the fall’s weather plans backfire and it gets to be all “hurry up!” before I get it done. Nice to see you.

      Hi, Mel. Me neither. :)

  4. rocky says:

    I did.
    When the decrepit but redwood back stairs were pulled my building I built a four section compost center from the still good steps.
    The last bin has become a stash area for bits of garden equipment that I have no where else to get out of view (city lot without a garage/shed).
    I am a bit obsessive over trying to get every leaf collected and shredded and all chicken bedding saved as I am always hungry for more compost.
    Can’t decide if running to mower to shred all the leaves is a carbon responsible act but the end product is as they say, garden gold.

  5. I confess, I never turn the compost. I have three big “stalls” for composting and added a fourth pile this year. I do try to rotate piles and I do practice “layering” meaning that when I dump the fresh compost pail filled with kitchen scraps, I am sure to cover it up with some older, brown material from another older pile. When I need compost I just dig in at the bottom. I sift it through a screen if I want it to be really fine for pots or new plantings, but mostly I just dump it on top of my beds.

  6. Denise says:

    Never turn it here either. It’s viewed more as a “garbage disposal” system than a steady source of refined compost. I stick a shovel under one of the walls at the base and pull out finished compost, as needed, but then my small town garden’s needs are small. My community garden absolutely forbids including anything tomato/solanaceae in their compost pile to keep disease in check.

  7. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I turn my many piles at least 3X per year. Right now I have 6 bins going and two others holding finished compost.

    I like to add fresh hot grass clippings (nitrogen) in April and May as I am turning a pile from the previous fall which was a bit too heavy with leaves (carbon). I turn a pile into an empty bin right beside it, adding grass layers between the half-cooked browns, and keep alternating until one or the other runs out. The pile reheats quickly this way, then sits a long time.

    My bins are made of several types of materials: hardware cloth, recycled black plastic, chain link fencing and rectangular-hole fencing. Very portable and easy to unwind and turn. I had a nice cedar slat model which rotted after about 18 years. It was easy on the eyes, but hard to open or reposition.

    I am never trying to get the fastest results. A recent book I read, THE COMPLETE COMPOST GARDENING GUIDE (Pleasant, Martin) says the stable, finished compost gains value if it sits awhile longer. This is a job that should not be rushed.

  8. Larry says:

    I have lost 30 lbs. by building compost piles and turning them (along with other gardening chores). I now have six compost piles. But I am running out of room and am now facing the need of a new exercise program! However, I am constantly amazed at the new needs for compost as it becomes available. Many times I have thought I had all the compost I would ever need then discovered in a short time that I never seem to have enough. We will see!

  9. I keep two to three, small, fast piles upon which I dote several times weekly with turning, watering, and adding comfrey leaves. In addition, there is a huge slow pile from which I scoop the goodness from below when needed as to fill out beds and low spots in the landscape as this pile contains mostly earth-coated root-balls.

  10. Catherine L. says:

    I have two 4′ X 4′ bins on the West side of my barn, and while we aim to turn, we never do. Our neighbor also contributes to our pile, and we’re both vegetarian, so we get quite a big pile. I wish I had room for a third – I would recommend three to anyone just starting out. My question: Is there a limit to how much of the soiless potting mix you compost? This is typically “filler” for the pile, because it is peat, perlite, and vermiculite. Not much to feed the microbes. But what else to do with it?

  11. Delores says:

    I compost in three bins made of shipping pallets and they work great. They were free so that is even better. I have chickens so I use the bedding from their house, along with garden scraps including the vines and stems I shred with the mower (idea from you Margaret) and kitchen scraps. I have some grass clippings during the summer but usually let the clippings on the lawn when mowing unless the grass is extra thick. I do turn the compost especially now that it has been so dry. I want to ensure it is ‘hot’ and cooking with all the chicken manure in it and if I don’t turn it then it smells. I love making dirt so I don’t mind the turning at all.

  12. Jim says:

    This is the first year I’ve tried composting, I have three experiments. One is a typical three bin system, two bins are cooking and one is still taking on kitchen scraps. I turned the two bins on Saturday. Immediately the temperature dropped and I was worried I’d lost all the heat. By Monday, it was up to 140, with the outside temp at 26. The second experiment is my no work pile of leaves, about 6×6 at the base and 3 ft at the peak. I threw some greens in and just let it set. It’s at 120 though I expect it to collapse and not do much through winter. If so, the leaves go in the bins after I use the finished product in the spring. The third experiment is my vegetable garden, currently covered with about two inches of shredded leaves. The plan is to cover that with coffee grounds and see what happens.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jim. I need to get a thermometer again. Used to have one. Thanks for the inspiration!

      Nice to see you, Mary Jo. Sounds like you are quite the enterprising composter, too. :) See you both soon again, I hope.

  13. Mary Jo Bragg says:

    I just love compost. I have three of them. One is finished and waiting . two others will be ready in spring hopefully I use my old mulcher lawn mower to shred it. I don’t put and veg plants as one year I had tomatoes and potatoes, water mellon you name it everywhere….
    Mary Jo-

  14. Sandie Anne says:

    I don’t turn my compost. I did some in a wire bin this summer and it composted so fast I didn’t need to turn it. I also use a Compostumbler which makes it easy to turn. That is where I put all my kitchen scraps.

  15. Gayanne says:

    I was so glad to read all of these posts. I was just talking with my husband about my compost. He didn’t think it was good to leave it and not turn it. I have just learned that I am allergic to all types of mold and have asthma, so I am a bit fearful of the compost now. My husband said when he was looking at it most of it just looked like black moldy type mess underneath, but I am thinking my garden dirt would love it. He is suggesting to tear it down and get rid of it. I wanna use it but not sure it is okay.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Gayenne. I have asthma, too, and am able to work in the garden — but have to be careful of dusty materials, in particular (as anyone even without asthma really should be, and use a proper mask when working around them). With your doctor’s advice, you can probably figure out how to do things safely.

      Good soil in humus-rich — humus being the decayed formerly living material such as rotted leaves and so on, that end up in the soil thanks to microorganisms breaking it all down. We get it to add to our soil by composting (or buying bulk compost and spreading that on the beds). And there are fungi (including molds) everywhere outdoors — the decomposing business that they perform makes the world go round. They’re probably not the same species as the ones in, say, a damp house or cellar, however — so again, your doctor can probably help you with more information so you can make a sensible plan.

      I agree with you that you want to manage a successful heap and use its contents, but ask your doctor for some advice if you are concerned about what part of it all you can do yourself, and whether you should use a particular kind of mask, etc., or get someone else to do the turning.

  16. Lynn says:

    We’ve been lucky. We have chickens who do all the work. I was impressed with how fast they were able to turn piles that sat for years doing nothing (composting is more difficult in cool, dry climates) into beautifully composted soil.

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