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Monday, June 20, 2011

Composting in New York is Identical to Composting in the Desert - But Different

Compost pile at The UNCE Orchard in North Las Vegas.
I always wanted to put a shade structure over it.
Q. When I lived in New York, I used to compost and I would love to also compost in Henderson. Do I follow the same rules for composting in Nevada as I did when I lived in New York?

A. The ingredients and methods are the same but I would like to add a few things that you might want to consider. A great place would be a heavily shaded and protected spot away from the house.

I would keep it out of the wind as much as possible. Wind just drives the moisture out of the pile quickly and the exposed surfaces have a harder time composting usually requiring more frequent watering and turning.

Secondly, there is no reason for it to be in the sun and it would be better if it weren’t. Sunlight is not needed in a compost pile. All the energy driving the decomposition is coming from the microorganisms feeding on what is in the pile.

Thirdly, we have lots of horse manure here that is taken to the landfill where it is dumped. Use it when you can. It is nearly identical in attributes to cow manure. The compost pile is meant to decompose so it will attract decomposers like cockroaches and grubs so keep it away from the house.

The pile should be kept moist but not dripping. Make sure it is getting lots of air so keep the piles small or turned frequently. I hope this helps. By the way we usually have some compost available at The Orchard for a small donation.


  1. OK...I am totally confused! I was told to put it in sun by some farmers. I have a bin that turns. Also, what is the deal with worms in compost? Use them or not? Thank you.

  2. Hi Anonymous. I am not sure where you live but this blog is aimed at people who are in the hot, desert Southwest climate, the eastern Mojave Desert. The heat from generated from sunlight energy can benefit a cold compost pile. With our sunlight intensities and high temperatures it can be a mistake to leave compost piles exposed to direct sunlight and winds. They can get very hard to manage under these conditions. Composts generate their own heat thorugh decomposition. In our climate they do very well in the shade during the summer months and most of the winter. During cold periods you can tarp them loosely to conserve heat if that is needed. You should monitor your compost temperatures with a compost thermometer. You should be able to find one for about $20 to $30 and should be managed around the 160F temperature range. Worms take compost one more step past the finished compost stage. But worms work best with the lower temperatures of a finished compost and they perform best if not baked in our sun and the soil does not dry out.