Compost microbes kept happy with regular turning and watering

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I put shredded leaves, paper, chicken manure, kitchen scraps, etc., in my compost bin and keep it covered. After three to four days, it heats up. Then I take the contents out and put it back about every three to five days -- trying to add air. But after I do that, the pile "dies." There's no more heat. Should I not turn it out? Do I need to add water?

"Turning" compost is done to accelerate the process. Aerating the pile with a fork, or actually moving it as you do, brings more oxygen to the microbes that do the hard work of decomposition. (Unturned piles take longer to decompose.) The first turning usually is done once the pile cools down a bit from its maximum temperature. However, turning also may dry the pile, stopping the composting process. Each time you turn, add water until the compost is the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. As composting continues, less water will be needed to achieve the wrung-out-sponge effect. Covering the pile has the benefit of reducing evaporation during warm weather but also prevents rain from wetting the pile, so it's up to you to provide the moisture that keeps microorganisms happy.

CHECKLIST

1. Pick a mild day to cut ornamental grasses down to the ground with hedge clippers.

2. Order mail-order fruit plants and be sure to specify cultivar name, type of rootstock desired and desired delivery date.

3. Check downspouts and splash guards to make sure water is directed away from your home.

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