Aerobic Composting in a Bin or Pile is simple and effective. The key to this method is the size of the pile. You’ll want a heap about 3’x3’x3’ or one square yard. This gives you a volume of material that creates the proper environment for maximum production in the pile. If the pile is too small, the material won’t breakdown. If the pile is too large, it will be difficult to manage and it will be slow to compost.
Assemble the pile using green and brown material. Start with equal parts, an easy way to mix and measure at the same time is to layer the organics in 1" to 2" alternating layers adding water in between. After assembling, water well and cover the pile with a tarp, carpet, or an opaque plastic sheet. This will help hold heat and moisture. If you have selected to use a compost bin, you will need to build these layers in the bin.
Keep adding materials to the pile, it can be a slow process. Most composters don’t have enough material available at one time so might take a few weeks to gather the materials together. The center of the pile will reach temperatures of 120 to 160 degrees when the micro organisms are working. These temperatures do the ‘cooking’ to kill bacteria that are harmful and prevent the germination of seeds when the compost is used. The temperature will stay up as long as there is material to be broken down and you are actively mixing the material. You will notice that the pile is hot for a few days; then it will begin to cool. This means it is time to turn and mix the pile to add oxygen and water if needed.
Turn the pile weekly. Frequent turning will help speed-up the break-down of the material. Continue composting until the pile has a dark rich look like chocolate cake and the things you put in don’t look like their original form.
Completing the compost process. After it appears that the compost is done, water well, cover, and let it rest for one to two weeks to make sure it is completely done and the nitrogen has a chance to stabilize. If the compost is used too soon it could rob nutrients from the surrounding plants. After resting, it is ready to sift through a ½" hardware cloth strainer to remove the large chunks or simply rake through and pick out the big pieces that need more time to break down (use these in the next pile for a quick start because they already have the bacteria and fungi on them). Larvae, insects, and grubs should also be removed before you incorporate the compost into your soil.
Start to finish, you can have completed compost in 6 weeks to 2 years. It all depends on the material, method, and the effort you put into it. The more actively you maintain the pile the faster you will receive your reward.
Anaerobic composting in a bin or pile is using the same materials as above, but you are not actively turning and mixing the materials. It is slower to make compost and could take a year or two. Since the pile doesn’t heat-up, seeds would not be killed. It’s real easy, just pile the stuff, water, cover, and wait. The compost is still beneficial to your soil and you will have kept it out of the landfill.
Visit our vermicomposting page to learn more.