Building a Hot Compost Pile

Before you get started in building your hot compost pile you will want to make sure that you have the right tools to do the job properly.

The tools you will need are very simple and do not cost very much.

If you do not already have the following you can often find good used tools at garage sales for “dirt” cheap prices. And keep in mind, composting takes time, even the quickest way, so you won’t need to get all the tools right away.

Some of the “Essential” tools needed for good composting are…

  • Garden fork to turn the pile.
  • Shovel to remove the finished compost.
  • Wheel barrel to transport the finished compost.
  • A sifting screen to screen out all the materials that haven’t broken down.
  • aeration tool to ensure that the pile is getting enough oxygen through-out.
  • thermometer to check the temperature in the center of the pile.

When starting your hot compost pile you will first have to find a location that would best suit your needs. Some books will tell you that the best way to create a hot compost pile would be to use three separate bins or piles. One for stockpiling materials, another for the actual composting of debris and then another yet to switch over the compost to allow it to finish breaking down.

If you have the room to do this than it would be the way to go in order to keep things as neat as possible but it isn’t necessary to do if you live in an average neighborhood where, every week, you might get some kitchen scraps and a couple of garbage bags worth of grass clippings. (Although you really should try to mulch most of the grass clippings back into the lawn.)

The average home owner can do all of his or her composting using one bin. The bin itself should be as large enough to handle a few weeks worth of household waste, at least 3 feet by 3 feet and not much taller than 2 1/2 feet.

First though we will have to find the right place to put it. The best location is one that is easy to access at all times of the year, you will have to be able to reach it with the garden hose, and you will want to keep it away from any buildings to avoid having insects invade them. The area should be level and have enough space to support a compost bin. Avoid putting the compost pile under any large trees as the roots will slowly make their way up into the compost making it very difficult to dig it out latter. (This is really only a problem if you leave the pile un attended for long periods of time. A hot compost pile will be mixed fairly often and will not allow the roots to grow.)

Building the compost bin
When building the bin you are only limited by the space you have and the money you want to spend.
The basics are that you will need three sides with the front left open to allow easy access and as much air to the pile as possible. The sides do not need to be any higher than 2 and a half feet to allow you to reach over if needed.

You can build the compost bin out of pretty much anything, cinder blocks, wire mesh, pallets, snow fence, anything that will hold up the sides of the compost pile can be used to construct it.
Do not use an existing fence or building as one of the sides to your compost bin because it will rot very quickly. Even treated wood will start to discolor and begin rotting in no time.

Build the three sides of the composter so that the opening will be facing the best direction for you to access it. Make sure that the structure is strong and won’t break with the pressure of the compost pushing on it.
You will also need a water proof tarp that is large enough to cover the pile and overlap on all sides so that you can secure so wind will not blow it away.The tarp is good for keeping the heat in and breaking down the compost while preventing the rain from making the pile to wet to work properly.

One thing to consider when building the bin is that you may want to leave room behind it or near by where you can store the various “ingredients” needed to produce the compost while you have a batch being made in the bin.

Some gardeners store all their leaves from the fall in garbage bags so that they can use them all up during the year.Your kitchen scraps can be kept in a water proof container until you are ready to use them. Usually you will be making a new batch of compost every three to four week so there won’t be allot of matrials to worry about.

Making the compost
When mixing the materials together, there is a specific “recipe” to follow in order to bring the temperature to a steamy 140 degrees F. This is the optimal temperature for a hot compost pile because it will kill any unwanted weed seeds, harmful bacteria and disease.

The proper way to get these results will be to create what is known as the compost “lasagna.”
This method involves stacking 2 to 3 inches of nitrogen rich materials such as fresh cut grass, garden greens like flowers and weeds, kitchen scraps such as unused vegetables and even manure on top of a 4 to 6 inch layer of carbon rich materials such as dried leaves, branches, saw dust, and straw.

Before putting all of your materials into the composter, make sure to chop-up all the larger pieces so that nothing is larger than 2 inches. This will help them break down faster. A good way to do this is to rent or buy a small house hold wood chipper. Some people use there lawn mower to chop the ingredients but this isn’t good for the blade and you have to be careful of flying debris when doing that.

Between each layer you should add a 2 inch layer of soil which already contain the microbes ready to work away at the new materials.

After each nitrogen, carbon and soil stack you should moisten it with the hose. Don’t turn it into mud, you just want to give it enough water to help start the decaying process.

Continue this process until you have made several layers reaching about 2 to 3 feet in height.
Once finished, cover the pile with the tarp and secure it so that it can’t blow away.

Compost maintenance
After about two weeks the pile is generally starting to cool down in the center and is ready to be turned. All you have to do is mix it over really well to allow the materials that were on the inside to move to the outside and all that materials on the outside to the inside. Moisten again with the hose and cover.

Some gardeners purchase a thermometer that is long enough to reach the center of the pile. This will allow them to see when the pile is starting to cool down and will tell them when it should be turned again.

One to two weeks later your compost should be ready. You can now spread the finished compost throughout the garden or make a greatcompost tea that your plants will enjoy.

Any un composted material in the pile can be put into the next batch to break down further.
Once you get the hang of it and find a good combination of materials that break down quickly you will most likely start to add fresh ingredients to your pile every week and taking away the finished compost every time you stir the pile.
This method will help keep the build up of materials down.