There are two kinds of material; greens and browns. The greens decompose very quickly but need a lot of aeration. The brown material does not decompose quickly but supplies a lot of aeration. When you add these two together it aerates the pile and it decomposes quickly. Green materials are the fresh material (fresh cut grass, manure, mortalities, kitchen wastes etc.) Brown materials are the dry material (hey, straw, autumn leaves, shredded card board, cornstalks and corn cobs, dryer lint, News paper, etc.)
A common misunderstanding about compost piles is that they must be hot to be successful. This just isn't true. If you have good aeration and moisture, and the proper ingredient mix, your pile will decompose just fine at temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
Hotter piles will decompose a bit faster, however. The heat in a hot pile is the result of the body heat of billions of microbes that are busy digesting the ingredients in the pile. A hotter pile means the microbes have faster metabolisms and therefore a faster composting process.
Decomposition occurs most efficiently when the temperature inside the pile is between 104 and 131 degrees F. Compost thermometers are available at garden shops and nurseries. It is best not to turn the pile while it is between these temperatures, but rather when the temperature is below 104 degrees or above 131 degrees. This keeps the pile operating at its peak.
Composting microbes are aerobic (they can't do their work well unless they are provided with air.) with out air, anaerobic(non-air needing) microbes take over the pile. They do cause slow decomposition, but tend to smell like rotting garbage! For this reason, it's important to make sure that there are plenty of air passageways into your compost pile. Some compost ingredients, such as green grass or wet leaves, mat down very easily into slimy layers that air cannot get through. Other ingredients, such as straw, don't mat down easily and are very helpful in allowing air into the center of a pile. To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile and its microbes, turn your pile regularly and add a lot of brown materials.
Your pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. It shouldn't be drippy and it shouldn't be too dry. If in the center of the pile white mildew appears your pile is not wet enough you should moisten it and turn. If your pile is damp in the middle but dry every were else, your pile is too small or dry, you should moisten it and add more material.
Key points to remember
* Use equal amounts of green and brown materials
* Mix together a variety of ingredients
* Shred or chop all ingredients, if possible
* Build the pile large enough to retain heat
* Turn or aerate the heap regularly to let in the air
* Keep the pile as moist as a damp sponge
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