Let's talk about when and how to turn your compost! "Turning" is simply the act of physically mixing your pile to help keep everything aerated and decomposing smoothly. Knowing when to turn your compost as a beginner composter (or even as an advanced composter!) can be tricky as it depends on a couple of factors. Heat, humidity (moisture), and oxygen all play a huge role in the decomposition process. These factors cause a large variation in decomposition rates which is what tells us how often to turn our compost.
How often to turn your compost pile:
A compost pile in a hot and humid climate will need more oxygen which is achieved by adding browns - these provide structure and aeration - and the physical turning/mixing of the compost pile. These kinds of piles should be turned 1-2 times a week.
A compost pile in a cold and dry climate will need less oxygen since the decomposition process is much slower in these areas. In many cold climates, decomposition will fully halt in the winter (if it gets to freezing temperatures where you live, that's a pretty sure sign that decomposition has halted) which means no turning is necessary. These kinds of piles can be turned every 1-3 weeks, or not at all during the winter.
How to turn your compost pile:
Deciding how to turn your pile will depend on the type of composting you are doing! If you are using a simple pile on the ground you can take a shovel and mix everything up that way. If you are using a compost tumbler you can simply rotate the barrel a couple of times and that should get everything mixed up!
Taking the time to assess the health of your compost pile while you are turning it, is a great way to keep your decomposition process running smoothly. Does you compost need more browns or greens? Is it too dry or too wet? Since I live in a relatively dry and temperate climate I often have to water my compost a bit when I am turning it. This is also a good time for me to assess whether I need to add more browns, which I often do by just adding a small pile of dried leaves from my yard.
Remember that you know your compost pile best! All of my tips are guidelines to help you get started, but your compost is totally unique! There will be some trial and error needed to get it right, but once you do you'll get some awesome soil to use in your garden, donate, or share with friends!