At the end of every fall season, we give our compost operation a total reboot. Once most of the leaves have fallen, the raking commences. While some of the leaves are raked around a couple large trees as part of their annual mulching, the rest of the leaves are used to create compost piles.
To start our compost piles, I fill the wheelbarrow with as many leaves as it will hold. Then, I dump them onto the same pile until I can’t lift the wheelbarrow to the height of the leaf pile anymore. At that point, a new pile is officially started.
It’s vital to get our leaf piles turning into compost as fast as possible so that we can use it to nurture our spring gardens. Compost can take several months to completely breakdown, so it is important to follow some key composting tips to get things moving faster.
6 Composting tips for keeping your compost up to speed
1. Build your compost on bare earth. Native soils are loaded with beneficial microorganisms and bacteria many of which help your compost thrive. Starting your compost on bare earth provides direct contact with the existing soil ecosystem allowing it to continuously inoculate your compost. Plus, organisms like worms and other beneficial insects will begin to make your compost pile home helping to aerate and break down your compost even further. If you can’t build on bare earth, the next best thing is to occasionally add native forest soils to your compost pile.
2. Add the right ingredients. Having the right mix of green and brown ingredients is important to keep your compost healthy and well balanced for adequate breakdown. (We have a list of ideal browns, greens, and materials to avoid here.) Too much brown matter like dry leaves will take a very long time to break down. Too much green matter create anaerobic conditions that harbor bad bacteria and can develop a stench. A proper mix will heat up with biologic activity and break down quickly into a rich organic hummus.
3. Go Big. Compost needs mass to breakdown properly. It’s very difficult to create the proper habitat for all the microorganisms and bacteria with a small amount of compost materials. Make the compost pile as large as you can physically handle to give all of the organisms enough food to prosper. Compost shrinks pretty drastically as it breaks down, so it gets easier to handle as it breaks down. Plus, you’ll have more to use in the end if you go big.
4. Keep it Moist. Water your compost frequently to keep the pile moist while making sure that it is not sopping wet. All those microorganisms breaking down organic matter use up a lot of water. As long as they have food and water, your compost will be breaking down much faster. As seasons transition and temperatures rise, you will need to adjust your watering to more frequently in drier seasons and less frequently during wetter seasons.
5. Turn Up the Heat. Locate your compost in sunnier spot and keep it covered. The sun will naturally heat your compost helping it to breakdown faster. Keeping your compost covered with a tarp will trap heat and moisture helping it breakdown even faster. It’s a greenhouse effect of sorts, but you have to be sure to allow some airflow into the pile.
6. Mix it up often. Last, but most certainly not least, turn your compost frequently. Use a pitchfork to open up the middle of the pile and mix the materials around well. The center of the compost pile will always break down faster than the outside, so keeping it rotated will allow for a more consistent and faster breakdown. Turning your compost is also important for getting oxygen to the organisms in the compost as well. We aim for turning it once a week more often during hotter weather. Turning regularly keeps your compost pile quickly breaking down and keeps beneficial organisms alive and healthy within the pile.
These are the six composting steps we follow to achieve our ‘farmer’s gold‘ in a timely manner. We tend to actively manage two piles at a time. Once one compost pile is complete, we use it up. Then, we turn our focus to the second pile and a start up a new one. It’s a rotating system that ensures that we always have finished compost coming in throughout the year.