May 032010
The speed of decomposition depends on air, moisture and ingredient content.

You need to turn the pile to add air, watering every layer to add water, to keep decomposers happy and effective.

A Nigerian proverb says “Going slowly does not prevent arriving.”  So take a deep breath, relax, and let’s figure out what you can do to speed things up.

Pile Should be about as Wet as a Wrung-Out Sponge

Solution:  Test pile to see if the moisture level meets this test.  If not, you will need to re-stack and add more water if pile is too dry.  Add more dry material if pile is too wet.  Either way, add more nitrogens if you have them.

The most common problem I find with new composters is that they don’t add enough water.  The pile won’t compost without it.  The decomposers are living creatures, they can’t live without water any more than you could.  Make sure the pile is wet enough.

Pile Should have a Mix of Carbons and Nitrogens

Solution:  Add more nitrogen.  At least half the pile by volume should be nitrogens.

Nitrogen generally decomposes very quickly.  The more of it you have in your pile, the faster the pile will decompose.  You can check the heat in your pile to see if you have the water, carbon, and nitrogen ratios right.  The pile will heat to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or more if the proportions are correct.

Pile is Not Being Turned, or is Not Being Turned at the Proper Time

Solution:  You could get a compost thermometer to track the heat and turn the pile at the exact moment it starts to drop.  But that’s really not necessary.  A hot batch pile needs to be turned every 4 or 5 days, for 4 or 5 cycles.

The reason that the pile heat is important is that as long as decomposers are well-fed in a healthy environment, they are going to reproduce (that’s a large part of the heat).  That means more decomposers in your pile.  So, if the temperature starts to drop, something is wrong.  There aren’t enough resources such as air, water, or food.  You need to turn the pile to add air, watering every layer to add water, to get those decomposers happy again.

Mary Tynes, Master Composter,

Image Credit (top left):

  3 Responses to “Compost Pile is Decomposing Too Slowly”

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