Air and Water in Compost

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 25,166
    Master gardener Ed Bruske discusses air and water in compost for your garden.

    Ed Bruske

    An award-winning journalist for The Wasington Post in a previous life, Ed Bruske is a Master Gardener and president of D.C. Urban Gardeners, a group dedicated to the greening of the District of Columbia through public education and hands-on volunteer efforts. An accomplished public speaker, Ed focuses his lecture activities on composting and soil ecology. He practices daily organic recycling through composting and vermicomposting at his home about a mile from the White House, where he and his wife are transforming their corner lot into an edible landscape. Ed is a personal chef, caterer and chef-in-residence at The Washington Youth Garden, located at the U.S. National Arboretum in the District of Columbia. He also writes about composting and cooking from the garden on his blog, The Slow Cook,

    Hi, I am Ed Bruske with D.C. Urban Gardeners. We are here in my garden in the District of Columbia talking about composting. What you just saw, you might think that looks a little bit silly, a man out watering his compost heap, but if you remember we talked about where compost comes from and how it is made. It is made by little micro organisms, billions of them, in billions, a whole ecosystem of small creatures that live in the compost pile and they eat the organic matter in the compost pile and turn it into compost for your garden.

    Well, like all other living creatures, they need two things to survive, air and water. So, what we want to do is keep this compost a little bit moist, watering here from the top occasionally and it will get some rain that will filter down through the compost and while you are building your compost pile, you can also give it some water at different stages, different levels, so that there is water in the compost pile.

    Now, if things get too wet, then you get what I referred to earlier as anaerobic bacteria, organisms that don't like air, but love water and that is what gives you that garbage smell, that putrefaction that you don't want to have. So, about the ideal amount in your compost heap compost has the feel of a rung out sponge, in other words sort of a Goldilocks, not too much water and not too little water, just the right amount. The second thing as I mentioned before, these creatures need, the decomposers is air and that is why we turn our compost heap or tumble a compost heap. I showed you earlier either a spade, fork spade or a pitch fork to turn that compost or a shovel and that is to inject air into your compost heap, so that those creatures can breathe, they do not die and it kind of stokes the bacteria like stoking a fire, so they really get active and turn that material into compost faster.

    In these days if you do not have a compost pile like this one, you can buy a manufactured tumbler that you crank and it will tumble either horizontally or vertically and it is a same sort of system, turning the compost to make sure that all those organisms have air at all time, so they do not die and turn your pile into a smelling mess. The next thing I am going to be talking about is the difference between a hot compost pile and a cold compost pile.