Turn the Compost Pile

Turn over a new leaf.  One good turn deserves another.  A turn for the worse.  Turn the page.  Turn the beat around.  Turn to stone.  Wait your turn.  All common phrases or songs that have found their way into our vernacular.  Turning applies to gardening too.  About once a month you should turn the compost pile.  Once a week would be better, but let’s be realistic.

The turning process moves air to the center of the pile, keeping the microorganism population teeming.  These tiny animals do the work of changing leafy material to the very ingredient that gardens and lawns benefit from so much – especially new ones growing on clay subsoil.  Turning is very timely in August and September, as it sets the pile up for new additions.

Ok, so what are some “new additions”?  As vegetable plants fade, pull them and throw them on top of the pile.  Raking leaves?  Throw them on the pile!  Cleaning out the refrigerator and find some nasty carrots and lettuce?  Toss it on the pile.  Have lots of grass clippings after that long vacation?  Toss them on the pile.  Used coffee grounds?  You bet, toss them on.

A second pile will be a great convenience to the garden.  It’s best to set it up so that one pile is “cooking” and the other is finished, so that you have a pile for adding and one for using.  If you have a medium to large garden, three or more piles may be necessary.

Even though turning seems like work, it pays off.  On average, a compost pile can produce the finished product – aka “Black Gold” – in about a third of the time it would take to let it decompose on its own.  So, turn, turn, turn.  It just makes good sense.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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