For those of you interested in the recipe for making a hot compost pile, this post should help.
Hot compost piles require more effort, but it’s the quickest way to make compost. This is the method to use if you have a whole bunch of stuff to compost at once, and are willing to put in a little effort to get compost made quickly. It requires more attention to detail and more maintenance while composting is in process.
Ideally, all the ingredients in a compost pile should be mixed together, but layering will also work fine, as long as the layers aren’t too thick. Layering a compost pile is similar to making lasagna.
Looser materials can be piled thicker without risking compaction and loss of air, but be careful of grass clippings and kitchen scraps which will mat together and keep air out if they are piled more than an inch or so deep. The key is to leave room for air to circulate throughout the pile.
Here’s an example of a well-built pile:
Start with a 3 inch layer of straw, and add 1-6 inches of green material (ex: 1 inch of grass clippings, or 3 inches of mown hay, or 6 inches of pea or bean vines).
On top of the green layer, add about ½ inch of soil, mixed with 1 inch of manure from plant-eating animals. The soil serves as the bio-activator for the pile.
Add another straw layer and keep building “lasagna” style until the pile is about 4 feet deep. The pile will settle and will need to be at least 3 feet high after settling to heat up properly. As you add each layer, fluff them to allow space for air to circulate throughout the pile.
Your compost pile will also need moisture. You’re trying for something that feels like a squeezed-out sponge – damp to the touch but not soggy. Add water to each brown layer as you build the pile.
When you’ve finished making the pile, cover it to reduce evaporation from the top of the pile. Covering it will also prevent rain from overwatering it. If you use black plastic to cover the pile, the plastic will absorb the sunlight and add additional warmth. Don’t use white plastic which will reflect the sunlight and may keep the pile too cool.
For best results, check the temperature of your pile regularly. Use a compost thermometer with a long probe and take the temperature daily. If all is going well, the pile should reach 140° to 160° F within a few days. Whenever the temperature starts to drop steadily, turn the pile.
Each time you turn the pile, moisten the pile if necessary, fluff it to aerate it, and move the material from the outside into the center.