Step 3: Temperature and Turning
The key to quickly achieving that nutrient-dense, dark, and pleasant-smelling final product is the proper amount of turning and temperature. Aerobic organisms need plenty of oxygen and moisture, but not too much moisture. Too much water will “drown” the organisms.
When we turn our piles, we are infusing our pile with oxygen and allowing the microorganisms to thrive and do their jobs. Make sure you are mixing the ingredients thoroughly and evenly, completely turning the pile each time.
Completely turning the pile is important. Make sure the outer layer of the pile becomes the center of the new pile when turning and the previous center becomes the outside. This allows all of the ingredients to spend the appropriate amount of time in the hot center.
For thermophilic, fast-decomposing piles, the recommended threshold is between 131F and 160F. Temperatures lower than 131 degrees will not sterilize weed seeds and harmful pathogens. At temperatures higher than 160 degrees, we begin to kill our beneficial organisms and lose nutrients.
Use a compost thermometer that is designed to probe into the center of the pile to monitor temperatures. With the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio, our pile will heat to 131 degrees within two to three days. (Oftentimes, much faster.)
If it does not get that hot within four days, this means there is not enough nitrogen in the pile, and you will need to add more materials and reset the clocks again with this step.
Monitor the pile daily, and turn when the temperature drops below 131F, or at least every three days for the first two weeks. This will result in the pile heating up again.
During the hot summer months, it is often necessary to mist the outside of the pile every day or every other day to maintain appropriate moisture levels. Keep monitoring the temperature and turn it every time it drops below the minimum temperature threshold for about five to 10 rounds.