When to turn your compost heap

Q. How do I know when to turn my compost heap?  - Justin, MA 

A. Ever notice, when you add a bucketful of kitchen scraps to your compost heap, that, in the immortal words of Nelly, it’s getting hot in therre?

No need to take off all your clothes. That heat is a million happy micro-organisms running around like backup dancers (who knew compost heaps and MTV music videos had so very much in common?), turning your grass clippings and egg shells into lush soil for your gardenias. The reason people tell you to turn your compost heap is so that it stays heated up. A warm compost heap produces beautiful new soil much faster than one that’s left alone.  

So how do you know when to turn? Just check for cooling and shrinkage [teehee]. If you’ve got a manual-turn compost bin, just give it a few cranks. If you’ve got an open heap in the corner of your yard, just take a pitchfork to it and stir things up a bit. Try to get the materials that haven’t started decomposing to the center of the heap. All that turning will kickstart another heating cycle, which means more nutrient-rich soil for your parched petunias.  

For more composting tips (did you know you can throw in your own hair clippings?), check out How to Cook Compost: A Gardening Guide to Making and Using Compost, out this year from Anova Books.

-         Tobin Hack 

Eco-inquiries, conundrums, snafus? Write to askplenty@plentymag.com.


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