Turning compost: How to do it and why it’s important

A compost pile
A compost pile

If compost is to become valuable humus particularly quickly, it must be turned regularly. This mixes the ingredients, prevents rotting and spurs the microorganisms in the compost to top performance. This is how it’s done.

There is no general rule about how often you should turn your compost. Whether once or twice a year depends solely on the mood of the gardener. However, once a year is mandatory, diligent gardeners even turn the compost every two months. And there is a good reason for this: the more often compost is turned, the faster the rotting process goes.

Why you should turn compost

The ideal time to turn compost for the first time is in early spring, as soon as the compost has thawed. This also creates a certain basic order and allows you to supply the garden with valuable permanent humus before the season starts.

It is the countless millions of microorganisms and the countless earthworms that turn garden waste into valuable compost. To do this, they need heat, moisture and air. Turning is so important because it provides the compost with oxygen, the ingredients remix and the volume is significantly reduced. Properly laid compost then produces the necessary heat itself, as a metabolic byproduct of the many helpers that process the organic substances in the compost. A place in full sun, however, is detrimental to the compost, it prefers to stand in the shade.

Turning compost: A how to step by step

To turn your compost, wait for a dry day so that the material does not clump or stick to the shovel. From a wooden frame covered with chicken wire, you can build a sieve yourself. In addition to the compost sieve, you will need a shovel, a digging fork or a pitchfork. This is the only way to move the undecomposed components in the compost at all. You place the sieve within shovel distance next to the compost.

Step 1

Turning compost means sifting! Remove the mature compost and put it through the compost sieve – the steeper the sieve, the finer-grained the humus will trickle through.

Step 2

Set aside mature, sifted compost – more on how to process it later.

Step 3

Undecomposed plant material goes back into the compost pile – sieve out foreign matter. Like stones, broken clay, plastic debris, and discard.

Step 4

Build up a new compost pile: Coarse material (branches, wood chips, …) to the bottom, on top the remains of the previous compost alternating with new green waste from the garden and kitchen.

Step 5

Ensure a good mixture of old and new material on the new compost – even during the course of the year as the compost pile continues to grow.

Step 6

To get the rotting going, add compost accelerator or starter; rock flour is to prevent fungal infestation.

When should I turn the compost?

For the first time in the annual calendar, you can turn the compost in late winter to early spring: Usually this time period is in February, when the compost pile is no longer frozen.

Turning compost in February

Now the compost pile needs your help to get the rotting going again that was interrupted over the winter. Turning garden and green waste loosens the compost pile and remixes the waste so compost worms, larvae and microorganisms can get back to work.

Turning compost in the fall

In the fall, it is also a good idea to turn the compost. This is a symbolic end to the garden year. All prunings that are not needed for layering in the raised bed go to the compost pile as shredded material. Leaves and grass clippings from the last mowing can be mixed in. This way, the garden looks neat and tidy, and the compost pile will produce plenty of valuable humus until frost.

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