Compost. We really should all be composting. It’s great for the environment. It’s great for your garden and there are so many different ways to go about it.
If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, then a compost pile is a pretty simple and easy way to go. My husband wrote a post over a year ago about our simple 3-bin composting system. He talks, in his post, about the importance of heat in a healthy composting system, but never get into the importance of actual, specific temperature.
Is your compost pile hot enough? What is your compost temperature? Do you know? Do you care? Should you care?
Compost Temperature: Why do we care?
To put it simply, yes, you should care about the temperature of your compost pile.
Checking and monitoring the temperature of your compost pile is important in order to ensure that enough heat builds up to kill off weeds, their seeds, disease, parasite and the like.
How does this happen?
When provided enough nitrogen, bacteria and fungi within in the compost pile will grow and reproduce rapidly – thus breaking down and decomposing the organic material and producing heat. You want this growth and reproduction because you want the material to break down and give you nutrient rich compost.
Compost Temperature: What should it be?
To ensure that your pile has composted properly, it needs to reach the desirable range of 140 degrees to 160 degrees for 10 to 15 days.
However, watch out. Some piles can get REALLY hot and reach temperatures at or above 180 degrees. When piles get this hot, they may spontaneously combust. In order to prevent this, monitor your piles temperature and aerate it when if it reaches 165 degrees. The simplest way to aerate the pile is to turn it. This also ensures that pile is getting hot evenly and all the material is being decomposed at the same rate.
In a perfect world, a pile would be aerated by turning it at least 5 times during the 10-15 day range.
How do know what the temperature is inside the pile?
The easiest way is by procuring a compost thermometer. (See the ones pictured below.)
Compost Temperature: What if mine never reaches the right temp?
On the opposite spectrum from combusting, some compost piles might never reach the desired range. If you’re pile never reaches 140-160 degrees, you cannot be sure that pathogens and weeds seeds have been destroyed. This can (and probably will be) bad news for next season’s garden when you spread this fresh compost on it.
In this case, your pile needs more nitrogen rich material. This includes things like fresh grass, plants in the legume family and fresh manure. (See!? Those chickens in your backyard are good for more than just eggs!)
What are your thoughts? Do you measure the temperature of your compost?
To be honest, I don’t own a compost thermometer but I DO check the temperature of my pile with my hand and we do regularly turn the pile. So far so good! However, if we ever start having problems, I will definitely invest in a thermometer.