Is it getting warm in here....
If bacteria could talk (most likely in high squeaky cartoon voices I would imagine) that is the question you would want to hear coming from the pile. That means that you are on your way to becoming a more succesful and efficient composter.
For the active composter there are a few key parts of the composting process that they will need to keep an eye on in order to help the compost along in the most efficient way. What exactly those keys are can be a subject of much heated discussion but in general most people that deal with compost agree on the following four.
The first key I want to touch on is temperature. How hot or cold your pile is determines how quickly the compost will decompose to the useful black gold that you want. Most of the time you are looking to maintain a pile temperature of between 135 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimum temperature range for thermophilic microorganisms which are the important microorganisms in the process of composting. Maintaining a temperature between 135 and 160 also has beneficial side effects of killing weed seeds and reducing potential pathogens. According to the USDA it will take around three days at 135 degrees and above to safely kill the seeds and pathogens The longer and hotter you can maintain the pile the greater the removal of weeds and pathogens from your compost.
Building a Hot Compost Pile
The best way to build a hot compost pile is to build it all in one shot. As in create a batch pile of compost rather than an add as you go. This will help create a hot pile because all of the material needed by the microorganisms is present in the pile when you are finished building it. Another key factor is the C:N ratio of materials in the pile. You want to maintain a 30:1 ratio for optimum microorganism activity which is what generates the heat in the pile.
Maintaining a Hot Compost Pile
You will run into one of two difficulties in maintaining the right temperature in the pile for the required number of days. Either it will be to cold or it will be to hot.
Fixing to Cold....
Turn the pile over using a pitchfork, shovel or compost aerator.
See if C:N ratio is wrong and adjust accordingly
Add water if dry
Apply a compost starter add more microorganisms to the pile.
Fixing to Hot...
Most composters agree that turning the pile will reduce temperature. However studies done by the Cornell University have shown that is will do it only temporarily.
It will go down by itself after the microorganisms have died off or run out of things to compost.
You really only need one thing to check compost pile temperature and that is a thermometer with a long enough sensor to reach all the way into your compost pile. They can be found in many different models and types and the best place to begin looking for them would be online.