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How To Make A Compost Pile Get Hot! The Secrets To Heat Your Pile Fast

Looking for a few secret tips on how to get your compost pile hot, steaming and cooking strong?

When it comes to home composting, one of the things gardeners struggle with the most is getting their pile to heat up and stay hot. Although all compost piles will eventually break down over time, getting a pile hot speeds up the process dramatically.

Not only will a hot pile create finished compost more quickly, it also creates a much healthier compost. When a compost pile reaches higher temperatures during decomposition, good things happen.

steaming compost pile - hot compost
When a compost pile starts to steam, it’s a good sign that your pile is starting to work its magic! A hot pile kills off weed seeds and pathogens, and creates compost fast.

Weed seeds within the pile become sterile. As do all of the volunteer vegetable seeds that come from the kitchen scrap pile. But the benefits of a hot pile don’t end there. Pathogens that can carry disease are also wiped out, and even better, unwanted bacteria are eliminated as well.

But in order to create compost with all of those benefits, you need to get your pile hot. How hot? An effective compost pile temperature needs to be in the range of 110 to 140 degrees.

Although it may seem tricky to get your pile to those temperatures, it’s easier than you might think. In fact, with just four simple tips, you can have your pile heating up in no time at all!

How To Make A Compost Pile Get Hot!

There are four major factors in helping to get a pile hot. And in order to truly get a pile hot, all four need to occur. The good news? Each of the four are quite easy to accomplish.

Before we get to the first of the four, there is one inexpensive tool that can be extremely helpful when it comes to managing your compost pile effectively – and that tool is a compost thermometer.

With its long probe, a compost thermometer allows you to instantly know the temperature at the core of your pile. That information can be vital for knowing if your pile is heating up, cooling down – or perfectly hot! Product Link : Compost Thermometer With Long Probe

With that said, here is a look at each of the four major factors to get your pile cooking!

1. Putting The Right Material In Your Pile

More than anything else, it is important to make sure your compost pile has the right materials in it to heat up properly. A pile has to have a good balance of carbon materials (brown) and green materials (Nitrogen) to heat up.

compost pile thermometer
One of the best ways to know if your pile is heating up is with an inexpensive compost thermometer.

Think of the browns as the more “lifeless” materials. Straw, leaves, twigs, wood chips and dead grass all fall in this category. The greens on the other hand are the hot or living materials. These include green grass clipping, vegetable scraps, manure and even coffee grounds.

In order to get a pile cooking, you need to have a good ratio between the browns and greens. A good rule of thumb is for every 4 parts of brown material, add in 1 part green.

As an example, if you put in 4 buckets of shredded leaves and straw, you need to then add a bucket of fresh vegetable peels, manure, or another similar green material.

It’s of course nearly impossible to ever get an exact ratio. But it is important to always attempt to keep a balance close to the four to one ratio. Too many browns will not allow a pile to heat up – and too many greens can leave a pile with too much nitrogen, stalling it as well.

2. Keep Your Ingredients Small – How To Get A Compost Pile Hot

One of the biggest reasons home piles never get hot is the size of the material in the pile. Large wood chips, sticks, and even large chunks of vegetables or scraps can take a long time to break down. A pile with large materials can never gain the mass or closeness between materials needed to generate and hold heat.

coffee grounds
Spent coffee grounds are one of the best green materials to add to a compost pile to help heat it up. The nitrogen in the grounds can help the decomposition process speed up.

By simply chopping up the ingredients prior to adding them to your pile, you can speed up the decomposition and the heat of your pile immensely. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will break down.

If you have a shredder / chipper, run your materials through it prior to adding. You can also use a push or riding mower to chop up yard waste ingredients. For kitchen scraps, cut them with an extra chop or two with a knife. But whatever you do – keep your materials as small as possible to help heat up your pile quickly.

3. Turn Your Pile Frequently – How To Get A Compost Pile Hot

Think of a compost pile as a living organism. Just like humans and animals, a compost pile needs oxygen to live and work. Oxygen is what fuels the heating process, Without it, a pile will slow its decomposition down to a mere trickle.

For starters, make sure you are creating a pile big enough to generate heat. Small compost piles simply don’t have enough mass to generate heat. A pile should be at least 3′ wide x 3′ deep x 3′ tall to really heat up. That size also makes it easy to maintain as it’s not too big to turn as you work it. (See: DIY Compost Bin Plans)

The best way to provide your pile with oxygen is by turning it. By using a pitchfork and flipping the materials on a regular basis, you re-introduce air into the core of pile. And that core is where all of the heat generates from!

How often should you turn your pile? Once a day is best to really generate heat, but even turning it every few days will help increase the heat and speed up the process greatly.

Here is another tip as well, when you add fresh materials – add them into the center of your pile. It is a win-win for the pile and the new materials. The hot core will heat them up fast, and the fresh materials will supply the pile with new energy.

4. Keep Your Pile Moist – How To Get A Compost Pile Hot

Finally, just as it requires oxygen, a compost pile needs water to survive too. Without moisture, the composting process will be slowed down significantly.

A compost pile should feel like a well wrung out sponge. Not dripping wet, but definitely with moisture still present. When you turn your pile, if it seems dry, don’t be afraid to add a few gallons of water. Lightly misting the exterior of the pile and then turning it is a great option as well.

On the other hand, keep your pile from becoming over-saturated with water. Cover your pile if you are getting excessive rainfall. Too much water will have the same effect as too little and slow down decomposition.

watering compost - creating a hot compost pile
Keeping your compost pile moist is a big key to success. Without moisture, a compost pile cannot heat up.

One final note, when your compost pile is finished, use a bit of it to start a new pile. The organisms and bacteria within the compost will help jump start the new pile quickly.

There you have it! The four simple keys to get your compost pile hot this summer – and keep it that way. Here is to getting your compost pile hot, and to making great compost! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.

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