While composting, it is important for microorganisms to be in a good and healthy condition and for microorganisms to be in a good state it is important for you to maintain ideal moisture levels throughout the compost. 40-60% of the moisture is considered to be a good moisture level because these levels showed optimal conditions for the microorganisms for decomposing organic matter.

Why Moisture Management in Compost is Essential

An ecosystem requires optimal conditions for the organisms that grow or live in it. On a bigger scale, you can think of a crocodile and a panda, both require separate ecosystems and surroundings for them to live an optimal life.

If you look closely, a compost pile is also an ecosystem and different conditions in the compost will lead to the growth of different microorganisms in it. So the optimal moisture for bacteria which support healthy composting is 40-60%.

If the moisture level goes lower, the microorganisms will not be able to function properly and conditions will not be very supportive for them to live to lead to a very slow decomposition of organic material. On the other hand, if the moisture level is very high, the pile will get waterlogged which will lead to anaerobic conditions and the growth of other microorganisms which aren’t really good for healthy composting. This imbalance in moisture levels leads to a slowdown in composting and bad smells.

Overall, we can say that maintaining the ideal moisture level in the compost pile is very essential for the proper decomposition of organic material and for the production of very high-quality compost which can be used to make the soil fertile and give good growth to plants.

Why low moisture levels are bad for compost

Low moisture levels slow down the process of composting and in some cases, it can even stop the process completely. Here are a few things that happen when moisture goes down in a compost pile

Inhibits microbial activity

Good microorganisms require a good moisture level to thrive and decompose organic material in an efficient manner. When the moisture levels go too low it becomes hard for them to survive in low moisture conditions and the process of decomposition slows down. It can also completely stop if the moisture level goes too low.

Reduces temperature

When the moisture is too low, it can decrease the temperature of the compost pile due to reduced microbial activity. This reduced temperature will reduce the ability of the pile to kill weeds and pathogens in it.

Impedes nutrient availability

Due to low moisture levels, the microorganisms aren’t able to break down the organic matter properly and the nutrients aren’t released in the compost effectively which limits the benefits of the compost.

Increases susceptibility to wind erosion

Low moisture levels make it easier for the wind to erode compost and organic matter making the wind blow away the nutrient content from the compost

It’s essential to maintain proper moisture levels in your compost pile to ensure that decomposition proceeds effectively. A moisture level of around 40-60% is ideal for composting. Be sure to monitor moisture levels regularly and make adjustments as needed to keep your compost pile at the proper moisture level.

Why too much moisture is bad for compost

When there is too much moisture in the compost, the pile can become waterlogged. Waterlogging in compost leads to anaerobic activities and the growth of undesirable microorganisms which lead to unpleasant smells from the compost. Excess moisture also leads to the loss of nutrients which can reduce the quality of finished compost.

By following these tips, you can help control excess moisture in your compost pile and ensure that the composting process proceeds efficiently and effectively.

Determining the moisture of the compost

In simple words, you can identify the ideal moisture in your compost by just looking at it. If there is a very thin coating of moisture on the organic matter overall, it’s the best level of moisture, it’s not too much and not too less. Below we’ve discusses a few ways that you can use to determine the moisture levels of the compost.

Oven-drying method

Mix your compost well and take a sample from the compost and dry it in the oven at a specific temperature for a specific time and weigh it to determine the moisture content of the compost by putting the measurements in this formula:

Moisture content = Weight lost during drying/ Initial weight of the sample

Moisture meter

This is a simpler method, just buy a good moisture meter from any gardening tool shop and dig it inside the compost and it will tell you the moisture content by either measuring the electrical conductivity or capacitance of the compost.

Use the squeeze test

Another good way to know the approximate moisture content of your compost is to perform a squeeze test. Just take a handful of compost and squeeze it tightly in your hand. Below are given the outcomes of the squeeze test and the moisture approximation of it so you can guess the moisture content of your compost:

Squeeze Test and Results

  • If the water drips out of the compost, it is too wet and the moisture content is most probably above 60%.
  • If only a few drops come out of the compost when squeezed, then the moisture is between 50-60%.
  • If the compost feels moist in your hand and now water drips out of the compost, then the moisture content is below 40%.
  • If you squeeze a handful of compost and the compost seems too dry and crumbles, then it indicates that the moisture content is below 40%.

Maintaining proper moisture levels in compost

Here are a few tips for maintaining proper moisture levels in the compost pile:

If the compost is too wet, then add some dried materials like shredded leaves, straw or newspaper pieces to absorb excess moisture.

If the compost is too dry then add some water to it with a can or sprinkler.

If the moisture level is optimal you can use a cover to slow down the evaporation of water from the compost pile and maintain optimal moisture for a longer period of time before you water it again.

Using a compost bin can also help regulate the moisture level by preventing excess water from entering the compost pile and also preventing the release of moisture from the compost into the environment.

Maintaining proper moisture levels in compost is important to ensure that the organic materials break down effectively and efficiently. Here are some tips to help maintain proper moisture levels in your compost:

Best compost bins to avoid waterlogging

There are a few bins which avoid waterlogging to some extent and are really good for composting.

Compost Tumbler

Compost tumblers are raised above the ground and are having drainage and ventilation holes in it solving the problem of maintaining optimal moisture and aerating the compost.

Wooden Compost Bin

Wooden bins usually have slatted sides which allow air to circulate around the compost and drainage holes at the bottom of the bin which helps in maintaining drainage and ventilation in the compost.

Wired Mesh

Wired mesh bins are also good at keeping the compost aerated and they are also open at the bottom which helps excess water drain from the compost.

Aerated static pile compost bin

In this type of compost, perforated pipes are inserted into the compost which provides air into the compost which helps excess moisture dry out and maintain optimal levels of air and moisture in the compost

No matter what compost bin you use, make sure that you continuously monitor the compost pile and put in continuous efforts to maintain proper moisture levels and keep the pile aerated.

Moisture management in areas with high rainfall

Managing moisture in areas with high rainfall can be challenging, but it is essential to ensure successful composting. Here are some tips to help manage moisture in areas with high rainfall:

Choose the right location for composting

Make sure that the location you choose for composting is good for drainage and not a low-lying area which collects water. You can also consider using a compost bin which is a little lifted above the ground so the rainwater drains from the compost easily.

Use a shed or a cover

Make sure you cover your compost pile with a waterproof cover which doesn’t allow rainwater to go inside the compost. If you can have the compost where this is a shed above it it is also a good way to prevent rainwater from entering the pile.

Add absorbent materials

Add more materials like wood, straw and newspaper to absorb the moisture content from the compost and make the compost better for microorganisms to decompose the organic material.

Make sure the aeration is proper

Proper aeration is very essential for both, the microorganisms in the compost which lead to decomposition and moisture management. Air helps dry out the excess moisture from the compost helping create a better environment for the microorganisms to decompose the organic matter.

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