Choose the Ideal Location
There are several key considerations in choosing a location for your hot compost pile:
Good Drainage. If water accumulates in the location that you choose, your pile will become anaerobic and stink. Aerobic bacteria (oxygen-breathing) will not have air to breathe in the water-logged portions of your pile, and the anaerobic bacteria (able to live without oxygen) will take over.
Adequate distance from wood structure. There should be at least 2 – 10 feet of open ground between your hot compost pile and any wooden structure such as a home, fence, storage shed, or garage. Never build your pile up against a wooden structure. If you do, decomposers will chew on the structure as well as your pile. This separation rule also applies to a garden, if you have one.
Water source in close proximity. A hot compost pile requires moisture, so make sure the pile is located within easy reach of your garden hose.
A bin is not required, but I advise that you use one. A compost bin prevents organic waste from blowing about on windy days. Kids and animals can also scatter contents far and wide while playing in an uncontained pile. Most importantly, the insulating mass will probably be better with a bin. A hot compost pile with consistent diameter, or width and breadth, is easier to build and maintain if you use a bin. If 2 piles of equal volumes are prepared as hot batches, the pile shaped as a cube or cyclinder (as in a bin) will likely have a larger “hot spot” in the center than the pile shaped as a wide, inverted cone (no-bin pile).
Build Your Pile in a Layered Batch
Collect 27 cubit feet (3’ x 3’ x 3’) of organic materials, or enough to fill your compost bin. Half of the total volume should be nitrogens and half should be carbons. If possible, use many different types of materials to create a mix of sizes and shapes in the pile. Chop or shred materials that are large, or have a tough or glossy coating.
Start by depositing a 4-6” layer of carbons in the bin. Water this layer thoroughly, until materials are about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Do not skip the watering step! Water each layer as it is deposited into the bin. Next, put in a 4-6” layer of nitrogens, and water again. Continue adding alternating 4 – 6” layers of carbons with 4 – 6” layers of nitrogens (watering each layer) until the compost bin is full. The layer that will be the top 4 – 6” of the pile should consist entirely of carbons to reduce the odor of the pile.
Turn Up the Heat!
The center of your hot compost pile should reach 140 – 170 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 – 48 hours. Either use a compost thermometer to check it, or cautiously pull back a few inches of material at a time, checking for heat as you go. To avoid injury, do NOT thrust your hand into the pile’s center.
Congratulations! You have a hot compost pile! Maintenance is required to prolong the heat in your pile and produce compost in as few as 8 weeks. Next see How to Maintain a HOT Compost Pile.
Mary Tynes, Master Composter, www.mastercomposter.com
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/2391663340/