Skip to main content

How to turn your compost to keep the soil aerated and nutrient-rich

Composting is a useful way to reduce your food waste and give your garden a boost of nutrients when it needs one. It’s a simple process, too. Compost care is relatively easy, and there are plenty of online sources to help you figure it out. If you’ve been reading up on how to compost, then you may have heard the phrase “turn your compost” a time or two. If you aren’t sure what that means, or what the best ways to go about turning your compost are, then you’re in the right place. We’ll walk you through the basics of turning your compost in this handy guide.

What is turning compost?

Turning compost can best be described as stirring or mixing your compost, so that the organic matter in the bin is moved around rather than forming solid layers. Turning your compost keeps it fluffy and aerated, but there are other benefits as well, such as stopping your compost from becoming compacted.

Compacted compost breaks down slower, mainly due to a lack of airflow and an increase in water retention. Additionally, compacted compost can develop a deeply unpleasant smell, so turning your compost can help it stay smelling fresh and earthy.

compost bin in use
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When should you turn your compost?

Depending on the size of your bin, you should be turning your compost every two to five weeks. If you save up kitchen scraps to add all at once, then you can simplify your schedule by turning your compost whenever you add to it.

However, there are a few other signs that it might be time to turn your compost. The first thing to keep an eye out for is compacted compost. If your compost is dense or hard, it’s time to turn it. If you have an outdoor bin or pile that isn’t covered, you should turn your compost after it rains, especially if it was a heavy rainstorm. This helps distribute the moisture evenly throughout the compost.

Another sign to keep in mind is scent. Compost should smell mostly of dirt, although it may also smell slightly of whatever was last added to it. If your compost smells heavily like rotten food, it likely needs to be turned. You may also want to check the moisture levels in your compost, and add more dry material if it’s too wet.

Shovel in pile of dirt compost
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to turn your compost

Turning your compost is a simple process, but there are a few ways you can go about it. If you have a small bin that isn’t affixed to anything and has a lid, the easiest way to turn your compost may be just to roll it. Make sure the lid is on tight, then tip the bin onto its side and roll it back and forth a few times. If the bin is very small, you can also just pick it up and give it a good shake.

That isn’t really an option for people with large bins, bins that are affixed to something, or people with compost piles, though. Instead, you’ll need to turn your compost manually. Different tools are helpful for this depending on the size of your bin or pile. Some commonly used tools are shovels, pitchforks, rakes, or your hands (we recommend wearing gloves).

Whatever tool you’re using, the method remains more or less the same. Scoop up some of the compost, getting as deep into the pile as you can, and flip it over. The goal is to mix the compost, so that you don’t end up with layers. Repeat this process, digging your tool in at different depths until you’re satisfied that the entire bin or pile is loose and fluffy. Be sure to get the edges and bottom as well! Otherwise you might develop a crust of compacted compost that can block drainage holes.

Another option for turning your compost is to let your bin do the work for you, by getting or making a compost tumbler. Compost tumblers are bins, suspended on their sides off the ground on an axel. This allows the bin to turn, either manually with a crank handle or simply by pushing the bin, or automatically with the use of an engine.

 A black plastic compost tumbler in a garden
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Can you turn your compost too often?

Yes, you can turn your compost too often. Turning your compost more frequently than once every two weeks can slow the composting process down by weeks or even months. This is because, in regular (non-worm) bins, composting is fueled mainly by heat. Heat builds up in the compost over time, starting in the center, which causes the organic matter to break down faster. When compost is turned, some of the heat is released and the compost pile cools down. If you turn your compost too often, then the compost doesn’t have a chance to build up that heat.

Now you know everything you need to know about turning your compost. You can produce rich, aerated compost quickly just by turning it once every two to five weeks. Using a shovel, rake, or even just your hands, you can fluff your compost so it’s ready to use weeks earlier than you otherwise might. Whether you choose to aerate your compost manually, get a compost tumbler to do it for you, or just roll your bin across the ground a time or two, you’ll love the results of this simple process.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Why you should absolutely be composting grass clippings
Repurposing your grass clippings: Tips and tricks
A person mowing their lawn

Whether it's the first cut of the year or it's the middle of the growing season, mowing your lawn can leave behind a lot of unwanted grass clippings. Thankfully, you can easily turn those clippings into compost for your garden for some easy, organic, and completely free fertilizer. This process will be easier with smaller lawns, but no matter the size of your yard, you can use our guide to gather up all those cuttings, improve your lawn's appearance, and give your garden some much-needed nutrients all at the same time!

Do you have to remove grass clippings?
You should know that composting isn’t your only solution! We’ll talk about some other options later on, but as long as you’re cutting your lawn regularly, leftover grass clippings won’t pose any threat to new growth and can simply be left alone to naturally decompose; however, if you've waited longer than usual to cut your grass this time and it's a good deal taller, you’ll want to remove a decent amount of clippings to avoid smothering the grass underneath.

Read more
Are you asking, ‘Why is my tomato plant wilting?’ Here’s how to be the hero in your garden
Properly water and inspect your tomatoes to prevent (or treat) wilting
Tomatoes on a tomato plant

Tomatoes are probably the most popular veggies grown at home. Even novice growers can grow these plants with little to no experience in growing anything. Even better, many of these beginners are successful because tomatoes are so easy to care for and grow in your own home. However, one of the most common questions about growing tomatoes is, "Why is my tomato plant wilting?" Well, it could be due to a few reasons. We'll take a look at them here and give you tips on how to get your tomato plants back into tip-top shape. 

Why do people grow tomato plants?
Let's first talk about why you want to grow tomato plants. Growing tomatoes at home has a lot of benefits. First, they're healthier than store-bought tomatoes, and they taste better, too! There's no denying that tomatoes grown at home have a richer flavor. Once you eat your own tomatoes, you'll likely find the store-bought ones flat and watery by comparison.

Read more
This is how to know when to harvest your peas for maximum flavor and crispiness
Find out when your peas are just right for the picking
Organic green sugar snap peas

If you're looking to start a vegetable garden or just add to the one you already have, consider growing peas. These green pods are some of the easiest spring vegetables to grow — they even work as indoor vegetables. They tolerate cold temperatures and moist conditions quite well and don’t need much fertilizer to thrive. Best of all, their crisp texture and sweet flavor make them versatile veggies in the kitchen. The only thing that's tricky about growing peas is knowing when to time your harvest. If you're having trouble figuring out when to harvest peas, keep reading to know when to get the freshest, sweetest, and crispest peas.

Quick tips on growing peas
Even before you get to harvesting, you want to care for your peas so they grow healthy, strong, and delicious — luckily, they're pretty low-maintenance vegetables. Here are some tips to start your pea-growing journey:

Read more