If you’re planting a garden this spring, now is a great time to start a thermophilic compost pile.
First, some vocabulary: The type of composting we’re talking about today is thermophilic composting. The term thermophilic means “heat-loving” and refers to the type of bacteria you’re trying to encourage to grow in the pile. As these bacteria break down organic materials, they give off heat. You’ll know you’ve got a healthy thermophilic compost pile when you plunge a pitchfork into your compost pile and see steam coming from the middle.
To get a compost pile to heat up, you need four ingredients:
1. “Green” (nitrogen-heavy) organic material, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps or animal manure.
2. “Brown” (carbon-heavy) organic material, such as dry leaves, sawdust or peat moss.
Start with roughly equal parts greens and browns. Lay down about a six-inch-thick layer of browns, cover it with a six-inch-thick layer of greens, and water it until it’s about as damp as a wrung-out washcloth. Repeat until you have a pile about four feet wide, four feet long and four feet high.
Once a day, use a pitchfork to turn the pile. The best way to do this is to leave a space next to your pile that’s the same length and width as the pile itself. To turn the pile, simply move it into this space, one forkful at a time, watering it several times as you go to make sure it stays damp. (Just water as needed; if the pile is sopping wet, you obviously don’t need to add any more moisture.) The next day, move the pile back to its original spot, one forkful at a time. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.
Use a container with a lid, such as a one-gallon ice-cream tub, to collect kitchen scraps to add to your pile. Add the scraps to the center of the pile, where they’ll break down faster. Avoid putting meat, dairy or grains into your compost, as they can attract rodents.