Managing Compost Materials

Management extends to the most basic aspects of composting, beginning with the raw materials you use. You have control over what does and doesn’t go into your heap. You can add grass clippings to the pile or leave them on the lawn. You can put chopped leaves in the compost or use them as mulch. You can include chipped woody prunings in the pile or spread them in pathways.

Whatever you use in your pile, make sure you choose as many different materials as possible. A pile made up of various materials is more likely to decompose rapidly and to achieve high internal temperatures. For example, a mixture of grass clippings, leaves, weeds, brush, and kitchen waste makes a better compost than any of those materials alone.

Deciding on the raw materials is only the first step in pile management. Your level of involvement in the composting process—and the speed with which you produce finished compost—will be determined by how you collect the materials, whether you cut them up, how you mix them together, and so on. If you use all the techniques discussed here, you’ll have a highly managed system that produces compost quickly. However, there’s no need to use all the techniques; pick only the ones that suit you. Your brand of composting may not produce compost as quickly, but it may be just right for your schedule and life-style.

Collecting the Materials

One way to collect composting materials is to throw yard waste into the heap as you clear the waste from the landscape. The pile will grow slowly. If you leave it alone and don’t turn it, you can expect to have a layer of compost at the bottom of the pile in a year or two. This strategy requires the least amount of work and maintenance.

Another strategy is to organize a holding area for organic materials until you’ve accumulated enough to build the pile all at once. Building all at once allows you to mix carbon and nitrogen materials in the right proportions. As a result, the pile will decompose much faster than a pile assembled gradually. Although you’ll produce compost more quickly, you’ll have to handle the materials at least twice: once in collecting them for storage and once in building the pile. If you decide to turn the pile, you’ll have to handle the materials again.