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There are several reasons for piling the composting material. A pile keeps the material from drying out or cooling down prematurely. A level of moisture (50-60%) is necessary for the microorganisms to work happily.10 A vertical stack prevents leaching and waterlogging, and holds heat in the pile. Vertical walls around a pile, especially if they're made of wood, or bales of straw, keep the wind off and will prevent one side of the pile (the windward side) from cooling down prematurely.

A neat, contained pile looks better. It looks like you know what you're doing, instead of looking like a garbage dump. A constructed compost bin also helps to keep out nuisance animals such as dogs.

A pile makes it easier to layer or cover the compost. When a smelly deposit is added to the top, it's a good idea to cover the raw refuse with clean organic material in order to eliminate unpleasant odors and to trap necessary oxygen in the pile. Therefore, if you're going to make compost, don't just fling it out in your yard in a heap. Construct a nice bin and do it right. That bin doesn't have to cost money; it can be made from recycled wood or cement blocks. Wood (not pressure-treated) may be preferable as it will insulate the pile and prevent heat loss and frost penetration. A compost bin doesn't have to be complicated in any way. It doesn't require electricity, technology, gimmicks, or doodads. You don't need shredders, choppers, grinders, or any machines whatsoever.

Compost pits are more likely to be used in dry, arid, or cool climates where conservation of moisture and temperature is imperative. The main disadvantage of pits is that they can become waterlogged in the event of an unexpected cloudburst, and excessive water will rob the pile of oxygen, a critical element in the process of decomposition by aerobic microorganisms. Therefore, when pits are used, a roof over them may be an advantage, and air channels may be necessary to allow oxygen to enter the compost.

Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.

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weblife.org | library | Humanure Handbook | Chapter 3: Gomer The Pile