It’s always best to keep in mind that the compost bin is alive. It takes food, water, and air for us to stay alive and that’s also what microorganisms in a compost bin need. So, we add the food it needs (the greens and the browns), and the water which comes from the water we add. Remember, for the fastest composting, it should feel similar to a wet sponge.
The third component is air. We’re talking about keeping microorganisms alive, so we don’t need large pore spaces or air pockets. We just need really small, little air spaces for these microorganisms to live and reproduce.
Another thing to consider about the compost pile is don’t be afraid to compact it. Remember, it just needs micro pore spaces. So, if you have a bunch of dry, fluffy leaves, and put those into a bin, they’ll fill it up in no time. One trick to get more leaves into your bin is to compact it.
You can get in the bin, or invite the grandkids over and have them jump up and down to stomp that material into the compost pile while adding water. You can take a bag of leaves and almost compact them into nothing. So, instead of filling up the bin with one bag, you may get twenty or thirty bags into a normal size compost pile. Remember, it needs just very small air pieces. Then, as you turn the bin from time to time, you’ll open up more air pockets to get the oxygen in there.
One problem that you may run into is that the compost pile may look done, but you have a lot of small branches, twigs, and other things that didn’t break down. What you can do is just go ahead and use the compost as is. Or, you can get some chicken wire or screen and screen the compost. So, the finished material drops to the bottom, and then you have all the sticks and the twigs on top that you can put back into your next composting process. So, it’s just a great way to get a better-finished product by screening or filtering the compost. You’ll have the nice fine material, and the course material goes back into your next batch.
This feature story prepared with Dennis Patton, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Johnson County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.