Are you ready to graduate from your countertop compost tumbler? Learning how to hot compost is an excellent way to become more self-reliant. When you compost, you reduce your waste and feed your garden naturally.
While composting isn't difficult, it's important to know a thing or two about how moisture levels, high temperatures, and green and brown materials could impact your home compost heap.
Why a hot compost pile?
A hot compost pile converts your household food waste and garden waste into high-quality compost for your garden faster than cold composting. When you cold compost (that's what most people do,) the pile doesn't get hot from microbial activity.
If you want to compost with a quick turnover that doesn't attract pests or cause unwanted odours, working to build a hot compost pile can make a world of difference.
What makes your compost pile hot
A hot compost pile is a compost pile that has perfectly balanced bacterial activity. This activity causes the temperature of your compost to rise drastically, making it hot enough to break down compost quickly.
The higher soil temperature means you can compost things that you can not typically compost in a regular compost pile because they will not properly break down like meat.
Hot composting takes more work and attention than other home composting methods. However, it's the best way to accelerate the composting process. It lets you increase the amount of usable compost your household produces in a shorter period of time than regular composting.
When the conditions such as the pile's temperature, moisture content, nitrogen ratio, etc., are just right, you could create crumbly compost in just a couple of weeks.
How to Get Started Hot Composting
For the best success, plan your composting activities with these tips.
How to hot compost
Start with the contents of your current compost bin. This is likely full of compostable material like your kitchen scraps.
Don't use diseased plants
Avoid tossing diseased plants into your compost. According to Iowa State University, most plant disease pathogens can survive warm temperatures of 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
And it isn't worth the risk of losing a good batch of compost because you couldn't maintain proper temperatures when learning how to hot compost.
Next, focus on adding green material. Take the time to rake up leaves and grass clippings from your yard. Ask friends and family to save compostable materials for you to help get the pile big enough to generate and trap heat.
Tips for creating a hot compost pile
Bigger is better
Your hot pile needs to be bigger than a regular compost pile. A small compost pile doesn't have enough room to produce and sustain the number of bacteria required to raise the temperature of your compost.
For a hot compost pile, build a compost bin that is at least 4 feet by 4 feet and 4 feet tall (that's 64 cubic feet.) This will allow for a larger compost pile that will trap heat at its center.
Use the sun
Place your compost in full sun. This allows you to use the power of the sun to heat your compost. And it helps encourage microbial activity at the center of the pile.
Avoid placing your compost pile in the shade. Instead, find a sunny spot to get a hotter compost pile.
Start with as much organic matter as possible
The first time you compost, start with food scraps, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and smaller pieces of brush or grass clippings.
Then add kitchen waste, more vegetable scraps, tea bags, and other small pieces of organic matter to the pile as you go. Remember, the first thing you need for a successful hot compost pile is volume.
That's right. It would be best if you had a lot of material to make a good large heap for a successful hot compost bin.
Hot composting chicken manure
According to the University of Nevada, one chicken produces one cubic foot of manure every six months. I believe it.
It was AWESOME for our compost. Before the chicken manure, we didn't have enough nitrogen in our pile to increase the temperature enough. And chicken manure is high in nitrogen.
However, like all animal manure, chicken manure contains disease pathogens that are dangerous to humans. So basically, we let our chicken manure age separately from our big pile. Then after about five or six weeks, we mixed it right into our compost pit.
Get the right ratio of carbon and nitrogen
For a thriving hot compost pile, you need to use various organic materials. But, at the same time, you must include the proper ratio of carbon-rich materials to nitrogen-rich materials. So you need to know how much carbon to nitrogen-rich materials to include in your active compost pile.
There are many options for ratios for your compost pile. However, for a hot compost pile, aim for a 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen-rich material. This will help keep the right balance of microbes.
Try adding dry materials like straw, shredded paper, or wood chips and dry leaves to increase the carbon portion. These act as a bulking agent for your compost. Remember that dried grass clippings are carbon.
On the other hand, green fresh grass clippings are a nitrogen source. So let fresh grass clippings dry before raking and adding to your compost to bulk it up.
Monitor the compost temperature
The ideal temperature for your hot compost pile is between 130 to 140 degrees.
Use a compost thermometer to ensure your compost is at the right temperature. This is the easiest way to know when something is going wrong with your compost pile.
This temperature is necessary for killing off weed seeds and most of the harmful bacteria in your soil. And it lets you safely compost things that would otherwise be questionable.
If your compost begins to cool down, then it's time to turn it to get oxygen back down deep into the pile to jumpstart the microbe activity. Do this by turning it over with a shovel.
Control the moisture
It's essential to monitor your compost moisture.
If your compost pile gets too dry, it will stop the essential microbe activity.
Yet if there's too much water, you'll have a wet compost pile that can lead to unpleasant and unwanted odors.
Your compost pile should feel like a wet sponge that has been wrong out. If your compost pile is too dry, water it when you water your plants.
If it is too wet, mix in more high-carbon material like shredded paper and cardboard or dry straw to absorb the excess moisture and help dry out your compost pile.
Try succession composting
Succession composting works just like succession gardening. First, plan your compost the way you plan your garden.
Start a batch today. Then start another next week. That way, you'll have a constant supply of rich compost for your vegetable garden.
This composting method is the fastest option to get a deep brown, rich compost for your backyard garden bed in a hurry. But if you don't have enough space for multiple compost piles, try this.
Start one. Then, after three to four weeks, your compost should be ready to use. After using it in your low-maintenance garden, start another batch of compost in the same spot.
Starting your piles in succession like you plant your vegetables is a great way to ensure you have what you need to feed your garden all season long.
The Berkeley Method
Now, if you're impatient and don't enjoy the slow process required by hot composters, it might be a good idea to look up the Berkeley Method. Developed at the University of California, Berkeley, it's a fast version of hot composting.
The Berkeley Composting Method offers an easier way to hot compost in a small space. Plus, it doesn't take such a long time to produce good quality compost. In fact, done correctly, you could make good compost in under three weeks.
The key to successfully using the Berkeley Method is carefully following a step-by-step, day-by-day schedule. I'm working on a printable Berkeley Method for our subscribers right now. It will be available on June 1, 2023.
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