When posing the question to the composting community on whether or not turning your compost is a good thing I was met with varying responses.
The opinions varied from don't bother its a waste of time to why aren’t you turning your compost right now you dummy. Ok ok a bit of a exaggeration but it about sums up what I found. This disparity for me means it is time to go into hard core research mode on the subject and get right to the bottom of this.
Right away I was able to find some very good information in support of compost turning on university extension websites. Since university extensions are highly focused on providing accurate land management information I am going with the assumption that they know what they are talking about.
What I found on those sites tells me that turning benefits can be summed up into the following three,
• faster composting
• smell control
• insect control
Compost turning promotes faster decomposition because it ensures a steady supply of oxygen throughout the pile which can become depleted during the composting process. It also helps even out the temperature of the pile by helping heat up cold areas and cool down parts that are cooking too hot. It reduces smell by drying out the pile when it gets too saturated by rain
or by when you add to many moist scraps. By keeping the pile aerated and not saturated you prevent anaerobic bacteria from taking over the composting process which are the ones responsible for the odor that turns many people away from
compost. Finally turning the pile over prevents insects by causing the pile to reheat to temperatures where the eggs and
larvae cannot survive
Turning Compost Basics
Turning compost can be very easy if you have the right tools on hand to do it. Most of the time all you need for the pile is a shovel or a pitchfork. There are also specialized tools for turning compost which can be found at places like Amazon.
When to turn the pile is simply a matter of paying attention to the signals it is giving you.
The two most common signals that you will see is either a temperature change or a bad smell coming from the pile. Research done by the Oklahoma State University has shown
that turning the pile every 3-4 days will help maximize your
piles microbial activity. If you don't want to follow a schedule then temperature signals will tell you its time to turn the pile when they dip below a certain threshold. When the pile gets below 104 degrees it indicates that microbial activity is slowing down and this could be from lack of oxygen or to much water and turning the pile will alleviate both the problems.
A bad smell is indicative of anaerobic bacteria which are not the best microorganisms for composting. These type of organisms are not nearly as fast at getting you the compost you want and they produce hydrogen sulfide which is the rotten egg smell we all love to gag on.
Simply turning the pile everyday till the smell goes away is the best remedy for this problem. Despite all of the benefits of turning your compost you can still compost without ever turning your pile. It will most likely take longer and it might end up being smelly but if that is not a issue than you have no reason to turn your compost over.