Professional composter Tony Ramsey of New Sharon says most home composters don’t have to worry about their compost getting too hot.

“Small piles can get pretty hot without the potential to be ‘too hot’ during the composting process,” he says. “Big piles (8 feet or higher) can get too hot, and some piles constructed too large . . . have been known to spontaneously ignite. That’s not a problem for home composters.”

Ramsey continues: “Basically, the sniff test is a good indicator — any foul odors or ammonia is an indication that the microbes have not yet finished their work. If the pile is still heating — warm to the touch — combined with any bad odors, just try to give it a little aeration, assuring it’s not too wet or too dry.”

And if you’re using the open pile method, look for worms. “The presence of earthworms is always a plus to indicate readiness, along with a slightly ‘sweet’ earthy smell,” says Ramsey. “Even at our level of production (at his commercial composting facility), I consider visual and odor signs to be important indicators of the readiness for particular purposes.”

When it comes to applying your compost, Ramsey says you should keep the heat of your compost in mind.

“Compost that is still hot but not too malodorous can usually be incorporated into the soil to finish ‘mellowing’ there,” he says. “It’s only (when you are) top dressing under growing plants or planting right after application, that ‘hot’ compost presents a problem.”

He continued, “Another way to think of that is this: On the farm, we used to spread fresh chicken manure and plow it under. In a week, it was completely consumed by microbes in the soil. The composting process in nature is sped up by what is essentially a ‘feeding frenzy’ by the microbes in soil, with the components that could make it ‘too hot’ being consumed at a remarkable pace.”

For more on composting, go to:

The EPA’s Composting at Home page at
The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Guide to Composting at Home at

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