The question of when to stop adding to your compost heap is not a one-fits-all answer. There are two kinds of composting that you can do, and the one you choose is to factor into the solution.
You either use a passive method of composting, or you use a batch pile method.
The passive composting methods are also known as cold composting, and you need to stop adding to the pile around when it should be done decomposing, which can take up to two years.
In batch method composting – or hot composting – you need to stop adding to the pile until it has heated up and cooled entirely down.
To know precisely when to stop adding new material to your compost pile, you will need to know a few different factors.
There is no better method of getting what is known as “black gold,” which results from all your composting work.
This black gold is a soil-like material that will be crumbly and often coarse, a black or very dark brown color fertilizer.
Passive “Cold” Composting
The most significant benefit of this composting is right in its name – it is the easiest to maintain and takes the least amount of your own time.
It is cold because you are not helping to optimize the conditions for optimal composting, and the inside of the pile will not reach the heat you can achieve in batch composting.
Even within passive composting, there are multiple methods. These are the typical compost heap methods that add material to overtime and slowly break down naturally.
Though you will get your black gold, it will not be a quick process, often taking up to two years to complete the full process.
However, you should have access to good compost in as little as three months.
The other method is known as trenching. Many people use this method of composting without realizing it, burying their organic and kitchen waste.
Once buried, the waste will eventually decompose naturally. Once done, there will be no compost, but the trench area will be enriched.
Suppose you are purposely using the trench method if you understand that you will enrich the soil in that area and not get any compost.
As a result, there are ways you can speed the process up. This method is known as the bokashi method.
What is the bokashi method of passive composting?
Using the bokashi method is pairing your food waste with what is known as effective microorganisms in an anaerobic environment.
Bokashi is a Japanese word that refers to organic matter fermenting.
The effective microorganisms used will typically be a combination of yeast and a lactic acid bacterium combined with the anaerobic (airless) underground environment.
This may seem counter-intuitive if you know anything about typical composting.
Oxygen is a critical component of the composting process, making the bokashi composting method more of a pre-composting way.
With a lack of air, the microbes consume the sugars from the waste and produce lactic acid.
This causes the pH in the waste to decrease, and this prevents organisms that typically grow and putrefy the waste from growing.
The sugars within the food are consumed, and the rest of the waste is left intact.
After a period anywhere from two to four weeks, the waste will be fermented entirely. You can then take that waste and add it to a more traditional heap of compost.
Batch “Hot” Composting
What exactly makes batch composting to be known as hot? Well, there is one more name that this composting goes by that says it all, and that is active composting.
Active composting is done in batches – hench the name. The heaps that are formed in batch composting usually remain hot during the entire composting period. This is because you will continuously turn the heap,
To start a hot pile, you start the same way as to build any compost heap.
Any pile made will heat up once, but left to its own devices, it will not remain that way. Once it cools off, it becomes a continuous passive heap.
To get to the core of batch composting, you need to turn your pile frequently to allow the oxygen through the pile to keep it from cooling.
Now, the heap will become compost much faster than in passive composting. However, the work you put in here even matters for speed.
If you turn your pile only once a week, you will have a pile that substantially cools down and therefore takes longer to reheat up. This will lengthen the entire process.
If you want to keep your compost heap at the optimum heat for quick and complete composting, you will want to invest in some materials to help you, such as a compost thermometer.
Using that, you will know when to add water or when to aerate the pile to keep it at just the right core temperature.
Making A Continuous Heap
Either a passive or hot compost heap can be made into a continuous heap. If you are looking to turn your compost heap into a continuous one, then you need to remember that if done incorrectly, you will not get compost that is free from new waste and therefore is not finished.
To make a passive heap continuous, keep adding your waste to the top and leave it alone.
You should turn this pile only once or twice a year, keeping in mind that if the pile starts to lose airflow and starts to dry out or stink, you need to turn it regardless if it is one time too many.
A hot pile is a lot of work in a batch system, but if you are willing to undergo an even higher level of maintenance, you can turn a burning heap into a continuous one as well.
Start your pile as any other batch pile, and then instead of simply turning it and leaving it be, add to it.
To add to it and keep it hot, you need to be particular when you add new waste. The best time to add new material is when you are turning the pile.
If you need to add waste at a time when you aren’t turning it, be sure to dig in and add it to the hot middle part of the heap.
Stop Adding When You Are Ready
Keeping in mind the composting types and how long each typically takes to turn into compost will tell you exactly when to stop adding to your pile.
As long as you are OK with a long process and taking your compost from the bottom, a passive and continuous heap can continuously be added.
Batch piles can be turned into endless piles, and you can likely keep a well-built and maintained pile hot for months at a time if you are adding the material at the right times.
You will get out of composting what you choose to put into it. Stop adding to your heap when you are sure that it has started the actual composting process and you do want to introduce any other waste into the mix.