4. Turn intentionally
Turning your compost pile sounds pretty basic, right? But for Singh, every aspect of the composting process should be done with intention to yield the best results. And after seeing his compost, we’re inclined to agree.
So, why turn your compost piles in the first place? As your food waste breaks down, microorganisms begin generating heat. If you cook a batch of compost for six months without turning or aerating it, the inside of your pile will become too hot – killing microorganisms and causing gross rotting food smells, slow decomposition and even fires.
To avoid an icky situation, Singh turns his piles regularly based on temperature reading. Typically, he allows his compost piles reach about 136 degrees Fahrenheit before turning them. After turning, the pile’s temperature will drop down to about 132 degrees. He turns again at about 144 degrees, which will decrease the piles temperature by 6 to 8 degrees.
Ideally, you should turn your pile every time it heats up by about 8 degrees until you reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal thermal range, Singh suggests.
Another turning trick Singh learned over the years is to invert the piles with each turn, meaning he takes the compost and microbes from the outside of the pile and puts them in the middle and vice versa.
“I put the microbes in the middle, and they have to fight like dogs to get to the outside,” Singh explains, saying inverting the pile makes microbes stronger and more resilient composters.
“These guys are the toughest microbes in this pile,” Singh says, holding a handful of microbe-laden compost from the outer edges of his pile. “Because they start from the middle, and they have to eat everything on the way out.”
5. Monitor moisture
“Do you smell anything here?” Singh asks Earth911 as we wander through his compost yard. Our staffers look at each other, take a deep breath and shake our heads.
“[If it stinks], you’re not composting,” he says. “You’ve got rotted material. It’s not cooking. The microbes aren’t there. So, yeah it’s going to stink…and it’s going to rot. And that will never grow a vegetable.”
A stinky pile could be caused by an imbalanced carbon-nitrogen ratio. But usually, excessive moisture is to blame. Moisture should be between 25 and 30 percent so microbes can travel freely, Singh suggests.
If moisture levels are at 40 percent or more, your composting microbes will drown and die – leaving food scraps to rot away. If moisture is 20 percent or less, microbes can’t travel through the pile, causing slow decomposition, Singh explains.
Monitor moisture content over time to make sure it stays within the ideal range, and add water only as needed. If your pile becomes too moist and you start to notice odors, act quickly or your compost can be ruined, Singh says.
Stop adding water to your pile and allow it to dry out. If you notice puddles or mud forming on the outskirts of your pile, scoop the water and mud up with a shovel and mix it into the top of your pile. By the next day, moisture will trickle down inside the pile and begin to distribute evenly.
6. Feel the rhythm
Singh’s composting methods may sound complex, but he says replenishing the soil and cultivating healthy crops is well worth the effort.
“It’s a theory that we’ve taken, now we should put back,” he says. “It’s the theory of nature. If you build healthy soil, you don’t need much of anything. It’s creating the energy…All for free.”
After laboring away on his farm every day for 10 years, Singh looks out at his field, smiles and says, “Look at what nature did all by itself, because I fed the Earth. I feed the Earth and let [the plants] come get what they want…That rhythm of nature is what you’re looking for.”
Want more of Singh’s uncommon gardening and composting know-how? Check out his simple yet scientific gardening tips for top-quality compost and top-quality crops.
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