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How to Build a Hot Compost Pile

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

Discover how to use free organic material to make a compost heap from food waste and yard waste

Hot Compost Pile
Compost is a dark, nutrient-rich organic material that is the result of decomposed garden and kitchen waste. The two main benefits of composting are responsibly disposing of your kitchen scraps and using free materials to create “black gold” to improve the quality of your soil and help you grow healthy plants. This article will teach you how to build a hot compost pile so that you can make your own compost at home.

Compost Happens!
The most important thing to remember is that composting is a natural process. It is going to happen anyway, we are just trying to speed it up a little and control the end product (compost). Don’t worry, compost happens!

Many Composting Methods
There are a variety ways to compost and the composting method you choose depends largely on what type of organic material you are putting in your compost and on what style of composting fits your lifestyle best. In this article you will learn how to make a compost pile or compost heap. Another term for this is Hot Composting or Hot Compost Pile referring to the heat that is released when the organic material breaks down.

How to Build A Hot Compost Pile
What you need to get started

A bin: While not absolutely necessary, compost piles in bins have a neater appearance and heat up faster, speeding up the composting process. You can buy a bin, or build one inexpensively from simple materials. Here’s one example that works well and is cheap: Take 10-12 feet of 2”x4” welded wire fencing 36 inches high. Leave o
Compost Bin(49233)
ne inch lengths of horizontal wire sticking out on one side. Form a cylinder and use the one inch lengths of wire to hook around the other end to hold the fencing together. You should now have a cylinder of wire that stands on its own and has no top or bottom. This will be you hot compost bin. To turn the pile, simply unhook the wire and lift the fencing away from the pile. Set the bin up again right next to the pile and use a pitch fork to move the hot compost pile into the new bin.

A Space: Place your bin anywhere that is convenient. A sunny location will help speed up the “cooking” (hot compost piles need to heat up) and will require more water than a shady location.

Tools: A shovel, garden hose, wheelbarrow (for transporting), rake (for keeping the area tidy), pitchfork or similar tool (optional, but useful for aerating and turning your compost), and a 3-4 length of 5/8” rebar (not absolutely necessary, but can be used to aerate pile and can serve as a cheap thermometer to see if your pile is heating up like it should be.)

Making a batch of Hot Compost:
The best way to make compost is in batches, filling your bin to the top with the proper materials. This aerobic (with air!) composting is powered by microbes that require oxygen. You make compost by combining the right amounts of 4 ingredients: water, air, carbon, and nitrogen.

Water and air: Make sure your batch is thoroughly moistened. The pile should be moist but no water should come out if you squeeze a handful. It should feel similar to a damp sponge. Air is provided by turning the compost or by including chunky materials such as twigs and Sweet Gum tree gum balls.

Carbon: This is the “brown” material you add to your batch. One of the easiest (and cheapest!) sources is fallen leaves, which can be collected in the fall and stored for multiple batches throughout the year. Other brown organic material includes: spoiled (left out in the rain) hay and straw, shredded paper and cardboard, and horse stable litter.

Nitrogen: This is the “green” material and is what heats up your hot compost pile. Sources include fresh manure from farm animals (not from your house pets! You can compost pet waste but you have to do it in a special way), grass clippings, and raw vegetable kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy!). Coffee grounds, though brown, are actually “green material.” You can also use purchased organic materials such as alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, or blood meal. TIP: store your veggie scraps in a tupperware bin in the freezer until it is full. That way you won't have decomposting food scraps sitting around your kitchen and you don't have to add them to your pile every day.

Putting it all together: Layer the raw organic materials, following this sequence 3 or 4 times until your bin is full:
  1. Add about one foot of leaves (about 3-4 bags in the simple bin described above).  Pack it down with a rake and soak the leaves well with water.
  2. Add nitrogen (food scraps, cow manure, grass clippings, etc), spreading it evenly over the surface of the leaves.
  3. Add one shovelful of rich soil or finished compost (to introduce some beneficial microorganisms that will break down the food scraps and leaves.)
  4. Mix well with a garden fork while watering until the layer is soaked.
  5. Repeat until the bin is full. Be sure to end with a layer of carbon to reduce odors that could attract pests.
Turning Your Hot Compost Pile: If you don’t turn you hot compost pile, you have a cool pile and that’s okay, it will simply take longer to get rich compost. Remember, don’t worry, compost happens! To maximize you hot compost pile, turn it roughly once per month. If you start your pile in the spring, it should be ready in 4-6 months. If you start in the fall, it should be ready in 8-10 months. A less effective alternative to turning the pile is to take a dowel or rebar (see tools) and push holes into the compost from time to time, allowing air into the center of the pile.

Worms! Worms can be added to compost piles to help speed up the rate of decomposition. You will want to keep the pile moist, but not wet. If your pile is sitting on the ground, worms will find it and will come and go as the please as your hot compost pile heats up. 
Adding Food Scraps to an Active Hot Compost Pile: After you have built your pile you will continue to produce veggie food scraps in your kitchen. This organic material can be added to your hot compost pile simply by burying the scraps in the pile. Be sure to bury them at lest 6 inches deep to avoid any smell or pests.
Now that your know how to build a hot compost pile you can mak

your own nutrient rich compost. Add your homemade compost to the soil in your garden, flower bed, or house plants to grow strong healthy plants.
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