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I have a 1m x 1m x 0.6m compost heap. I was turning the heap yesterday and was surprised to find that most of the heap hadn't really decomposed, and was in fact quite dry.

Should I be regularly adding water to the heap to encourage composting?

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See also: How can I keep my compost wet? –  bstpierre Jul 3 '11 at 22:25
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Perhaps not regularly, but certainly whenever the heap begins to look a little dry - successful composting depends on moisture. There is a very good article on composting and moisture level, together with a host of useful links, here, and an excellent one on home composting, by the Royal Horticultural Society, here.

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In this related question, I answered:

A handful of compost should be about the consistency of a damp sponge. What I do is add water when I turn the pile: I turn the hose on a little bit, set it in the spot where the pile is going to be, and start shoveling material onto it. After a couple of inches of depth, I raise the hose, so the water trickles into the center of the pile. Then shovel some more, repeatedly lifting the hose every couple inches of depth. This way, the whole height of the pile gets some moisture.

If it has been hot, and we haven't had any rain, I'll also dump waste water onto the pile. (E.g. soiled water from animal buckets.)

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Below are a few more sites that contain a lot of good composting information that you may find helpful/useful:

At Home With Compost:

Clues on Composting

The composter contents should be moist like a wrung-out sponge. If the contents are too dry, it will take overly long to compost; and if too wet, the contents may begin to smell.

Troubleshooting

If the pile does not decrease in size or generate heat, composting may need a boost. If the pile is dry, add water - mixing thoroughly. If the pile is wet and muddy, spread it in the sun and add dry material. Remember to save "old" compost to mix with incoming material.

Having the right amount of greens, browns, and water is important for compost development. Ideally, your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens and alternate layers of organic materials of different-size particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost and the green materials provide nitrogen, while the water provides moisture to help breakdown the organic matter.

Backyard Composting Approach One

1 - Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin.

3 - Moisten dry materials as they are added.

5 - Optional: Cover top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist.

Backyard Composting Approach Two

6 - Top with a 3-inch layer of brown materials, adding water until moist.

7 - Turn your compost pile every week or two with a pitchfork to distribute air and moisture. Move the dry materials from the edges into the middle of the pile. Continue this practice until the pile does not re-heat much after turning.

Location

Because the compost pile may need to be kept moist during dry weather, a convenient source of water should be available. But don’t locate the pile where water may stand. Excess moisture in the bottom of the pile can cause the process to stop or lead to odor problems.

Layering

Lightly water each layer as it is added. The entire pile should be as wet as a well-wrung sponge. Achieving this result is easier if you water each layer of dry material while building the pile rather than trying to wet the entire pile after it is built.

Care of the pile

Decomposition will occur even if a compost pile is ignored after it has been built, but it will occur at a slower rate. Adding water to maintain moist conditions and turning the pile to improve aeration will speed the process. To check the moisture content of the pile, squeeze a handful of compost. If a few drops of water can be squeezed out, moisture is about right. If no drops fall, the pile is too dry. If water trickles out, the pile is too wet. Cover the pile with plastic or other materials during wet weather to avoid excessive moisture buildup.

Piles may be turned by slicing through them with a spade and turning over each slice. The main objectives of turning are to aerate the pile and to shift materials from the outside closer to the center, where they may also be heated and decomposed. Moisten dry spots in the pile by spraying with water during turning.

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