Managing your summer compost

Follow these quick tips to keep your compost working at optimum levels all summer long.

Composting can and should be a year-round activity and spring is the perfect time to start a compost bin.

Spring and summer bring warmth and rain to the compost bin speeding up its biologic processes. Spring, summer and fall offer opportunities to add more organic materials to the bin to make more and better compost for your gardens. Summer heat can also slow and even stop the composting process, as well.

Roots from nearby trees and shrubbery can find their way into a static pile and absorb the nutrients meant for your gardens. It is pretty easy to avoid these and other composting issue by staying alert to changes in your pile.

When you build an initial pile, it is recommended to water each layer as you assemble your yard waste and other organic materials and to keep it evenly moist during the entire decomposition process. But sometimes the summer heat can dry out a pile very quickly arresting the decomposition process. Once a pile is dry, surface wetting from rains or garden sprinkles may not penetrate the dry layer on top to moisten the entire pile. It is easiest to keep your compost evenly moist but if your compost does dry out you will have to break into it to moisten it again. This is best done by turning the compost and moistening each layer again with water.

It is important to remember that organisms do the real work of decomposition and they require moisture to thrive. Not too much moisture though or your compost will begin to smell bad because the water will replace the air. If you are getting too much moisture from rain you can cover your compost with plastic to protect it from the rain. Maintaining even moisture equal to a wrung out sponge is best. Keep it turned and you will have rich finished compost for use in your garden by the end of the summer.

For more information about gardening in Michigan visit the Michigan State University Extension Gardening in Michigan website.

If you need more information about how to start a compost bin, check out these websites:

Michigan State University Extension composting webpage

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality home composting pamphlet

United States Environmental Protection Agency  

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