Turning The Compost Heap? – Don’t Bother!

It is amazing how much controversy there is over Compost! There are so many different systems it is unbelievable. Anyone who reads about our Self Sufficient Life knows we like to keep things simple around here.

There is enough work involved when trying to become more self sufficient without making life more difficult for yourself. I would like to take this opportunity to set a few Composting myths straight.

Compost Heap Turning

If you have looked around the Web you will find many people advocating the turning of the Compost Heap on a fairly regular basis. They claim that it is needed to make great Compost. Their reasons are as follows:

  • Aeration.You need to turn the Compost Heap to add air to it. Oxygen is needed to help activate the pile and keep it aerobic.
  • Turning the heap ensures all of it gets the high temperatures need to kill off any dangerous bacteria/pathogens
  • Turning it speeds up the process
  • Compost Heap turning ensures the pile becomes fine and all contents are chopped up

These are the main points of the advocates of turning the pile. Lets have a look at them


If you have a badly constructed Compost Heap then it will not have sufficient Oxygen to make it work efficiently. The fact is that if we add a variety of compostable material to the pile there is sufficient air that this is not a problem. Layer different types of Organic matter and there will be  air pockets that will ensure it works efficiently.

The perfect solution for a decent airflow and aeration is to build a Compost Bin out of Pallets. See my Wooden Compost Bin plans for a simple Compost Bin that allows plenty of air flow.

Bacteria And Pathogens

If your Heap has worked properly, which it should if you use a variety of materials and keep it moist but not sodden, then anything harmful will have been destroyed. Once the high temperatures have been reached and the Organic matter has turned to Compost then this is not an issue.

Any concerns about dangers from the Heap should simply mean that you should leave it for a little longer. The longer the pile is the left the finer the Compost will be and the safer you can feel.

If you are anything like me you would always ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling Compost or getting dirty in the Garden.

Speed Of Creating Compost

It is argued that turning will speed up the process. Some agree, some don’t. To be honest I don’t care! If it speeds it up by a few weeks is it worth it? For a Compost Pile to work efficiently it needs to be of a decent size for the temperature to build nicely. Is the back breaking job of turning it worth getting the Compost a few weeks sooner?

True, if you turn it so you put the outer matter in to the centre it will break down quicker because of the higher temperature. But for the work involved I think I would rather wait.

A Fine Grade Of Compost

No home composter is going to give you a super fine tilth throughout the heap. There will always be larger, woodier pieces in the mix. Turning and chopping the heap will make it finer but so what? We aren’t trying to win a fine tilth award! We want Compost that will add to our land and give us better yields.

Whenever you empty out the heap the large woody pieces that may or may not be present simply get put at the base of where the next pile will be made or added to an existing partial pile.

I often find that any larger pieces break up very quickly once added to the land anyway.

See the posts on How to Compost and What to Compost to make sure you get the most from your endeavours.

So, there are a few reasons to turn the Compost Heap but if you weigh up the advantages against saving yourself the time and labour involved my view is to save that energy for some Double Digging. Or use that saved energy to shovel some free Animal Manure in to a pile and add it at times to the heap. This will do a much better job of  getting it to a high temperature that turning it ever would.

What do you think?

Is it worth the bother?

Have you tried both systems and seen a marked improvement by turning the pile, or did you just hurt your back?

For a more self sufficient future

7 Responses to “Turning The Compost Heap? – Don’t Bother!”

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  1. Bob Pickett says:

    I read a study that demonstrated that when you turn the compost there is aeration, but the higher oxygen levels will only last 15-20 minutes. I think if you turn it once a month there “might” be a benefit but who knows.

  2. Cara says:

    Thanks for the post! Very informative.

    Cara’s last blog post..Product Spotlight: Chopstick art

  3. Bob, I read a few studies too. It seems the extra aeration benefits are minimal át best. Better to just layer it well with a mix of materials and save the old back.

    Cara, glad you found it helpful.

  4. Mark Daymond says:

    I have three compost heaps. When the first one is full then I dig it out into the next one along and then start again. It works for me anyway.

    Mark Daymond’s last blog post..Spring has Sprung!

  5. Hi Mark, if it works then that is great. It is amazing how many systems there are.

  6. Sootie says:

    We have a double compost bin – home made and we re now done with filling one and moving on to the next one. I tend to turn mine every couple of weeks (because I like the exercise and I like to see how it’s developing).

    I saw a lady on the beach collecting loads of seaweed the other week, so asked her what she was using it for (nosey? me?). Anyway, she says she rinses it, chops it up a bit, and puts a good layer on the top of her compost and it develops in beautiful dark fine soil. Obviously I copied her (anything is worth a try, especially if it is free), collected two black bags and did the same. I will let you know the verdict! I also put a little aside and am making a seaweed stew for watering, which is turning a lovely dark colour.

    Will hopefully be reporting some good results shortly! 🙂