Q: I put shredded leaves, paper, chicken manure, kitchen scraps, etc. in my compost bin, and keep it covered. After 3-4 days, it heats up. Then I take the contents out and put it back about every 3-5 days--trying to add air. But after I do that, the pile "dies." There’s no more heat. Should I not turn it out? Do I need to add water?
A: "Turning" compost is done to accelerate the decomposition process. Aerating the pile with a fork, or actually flipping it, brings more oxygen to the microbes that do the hard work of decomposition. (Unturned piles take longer to decompose.)
The first turning usually is done once the pile cools down a bit from its maximum temperature. However, turning also may dry the pile, stopping the composting process. Each time you turn, add water, until compost is the consistency of a wrung out sponge.
As composting continues, less water will be needed to achieve the wrung out sponge effect. Covering the pile has the benefit of reducing evaporation during warm weather but also prevents rain from wetting the pile, so it's critical for you to provide the moisture that keeps microorganisms happy.
When air temperatures go lower than 40 degrees in winter, decomposition is naturally going to shut down.
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