Building a compost pile doesn’t require specialized equipment – just space, the right mix of organic wastes, water, and a pitchfork or other turning tool. You’ll also need a basic knowledge of the science behind composting, and that science says you need to make sure the pile is well-aerated, meaning plenty of oxygen reaches throughout the pile. Turning a compost pile can adequately aerate the pile, but there is also another popular solution: A compost aerator.
A compost aerator can let more oxygen into the compost pile. That is important because the bacteria which you want to thrive in the pile, the ones that break down yard trimmings and food wastes into compost, thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. One of the main reasons compost piles fail to decompose in a timely way is because of too little oxygen reaching those aerobic bacteria.
Most compost aerators on the market today are metal rods with an auger or screw at the end allowing the aerator to be inserted or twisted into the compost pile. This creates a pathway for more air to enter into the pile and brings composting material from the interior of the pile to the outside, helping to turn the pile.
Many compost aerators on the market for the home composter feature folding “wings” at the end of the aerator. These wings open when the aerator is fully plunged into the pile. When the aerator is withdrawn, the wings help bring more compost to the top of the pile. This aerator can help make the task of turning the pile more efficient and help promote higher aerobic bacteria populations throughout the whole pile.
Some gardeners make their own compost aerators by drilling holes into plastic PVC pipe. This can be a good way to get a little more oxygen into the pile, especially if there are no plans to frequently turn the pile. (It’s also a way to reuse or upcycle leftover PVC pipe.) The drawbacks to these homemade aerators are that they only allow more airflow into a single spot, and it may be difficult to insert one into a pile which has started to decompose.