Making Compost

I’ve seen plenty of formulas and recipes for making compost.  One certification standard, for example, specifies:

(2) Composted plant and animal materials produced though a process that
(i) established an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1; and
(ii) maintained a temperature of between 131 F and 170 F for 3 days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system; or
(iii) maintained a temperature of between 131F and 170F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times.

I’m pretty sure the compost we make here would satisfy that standard, but we don’t track the ingredients that carefully and we don’t take the temperature of the pile.  When we first started out doing this I was careful to insure that the correct mixtures of green and brown ingredients went in and I kept the pile moist to make sure it would stay hot.  But eventually we settled on a different way that works for us.

On the first day of fall I start a new compost pile.  For the next twelve months the pile receives leaves, manure, grass clippings, spoiled hay, bedding from the stalls and sheds when they get their annual cleaning, any kitchen scraps the pigs or chickens won’t eat, and anything else that will rot.  I turn the pile occasionally with the front-end loader on the tractor.  It gets turned at least once a week and sometimes more often than that, except during the winter, when it doesn’t get turned.  On the first day of fall the following year I stop adding to that pile and start a new one.  The original pile will be spread on our gardens beginning the following spring and through the fall.

New pile in the foreground, old pile in the background.

New pile in the foreground, old pile in the background.

So the compost we spread has been cooking for a minimum of 6 months and for as long as two years.

Because we’re not in any hurry to get it ready we don’t need to keep the pile wet.  We rely on nature to do that.

The process works for us.  We spread the rich black compost on the gardens, then till it in before we plant.


So the takeaway from our compost learning process was not to be overly focused on precise formulas and temperatures (as long as there is plenty of time).  For others trying to figure this out, I’d recommend just experimenting to discover what works best for you.