A compost aerator is an invaluable purchase for gardeners who are keen to get the most out of their compost bins.
These tools allow oxygen to permeate the compost heap which, in turn, helps your compost break down faster and prevent it from rotting. They’re also low-maintenance items that are easy to use and simple to store.
There are a range of aerating tools on the market, so you’ll need to work out which is the best compost aerator to suit your needs.
The following information has been put together to help you make an informed choice:
The Benefits of Using a Compost Aerator
Thinking that the compost in your composter will sit and happily decompose until it’s time to spread around the garden is an easy trap to fall into.
Unfortunately, leaving your compost entirely to its own devices could well result in the material simply rotting.
Rotting and composting are two different processes, and an easy way to tell if your compost is rotting instead of composting is by the smell. Compost that is well looked after and aerated doesn’t have much of an odour – it mostly just smells like dirt.
Aerating compost has several benefits (not only minimising odour). It will help the organisms which are breaking down the compost to ‘breath’, allowing them to keep working efficiently. As a result, the matter will also compost quicker.
Compost which is turned more frequently (around every three days) maintains a higher heat than compost which is not turned, which is what speeds up composting.
The process of aeration helps minimise the presence of excess water in the compost which can lead to rotting. It spreads moisture around evenly within the compost bin, stopping parts of the compost from drying out whilst others get waterlogged.
Quality Aerating Tools
Making sure to buy a high-quality aerator can be the difference between having a tool that will work well for years, or ending up with something that bends (or worse, snaps!) on its first venture into your compost heap.
The best compost aerators are made from either coated/plated steel, or galvanised steel. These are generally the strongest models available and they also won’t rust easily.
There are some models on the market that are made from aluminium or plastic; these can serve a purpose if you’re looking for a quick, cheap solution, but they are unlikely to last as well as steel options.
Steel is around 2.5 x denser than aluminium making it more durable (but heavier).
Plastic aerators will be light but not very strong. They are much more likely to break, especially if they go brittle after a few years.
Compost can be surprisingly heavy so aerators need to be able to shift quite a lot of weight. You may also use an aerator to try to ‘lever’ compost from the bottom of the heap, so it is important to have a tool which is strong enough to cope with this job.
No matter what material you choose, you should store your aerator in a cool, dry place to keep it in good condition.
Corkscrew Vs. Plunger Aerator
There are two main types of aerator to choose from: corkscrew and plunger.
Corkscrew aerators are twisted into the compost then pulled out. This creates air and spreads moisture evenly, the compost that was at the bottom ends up on top.
Corkscrew aerators can be used in dense compost if they work through the compost gradually. Although they’re easy to screw in to dense compost, they can be hard work to pull out if there is too much dense compost on top. Not only do you have to screw into the compost, you then have to pull the aerator out with a lot of heavy material.
Working in smaller sections is a good way to get a corkscrew aerator through denser compost.
Plunger aerators are easier to work with in looser compost.
These have 2 folding tines or blades, which are streamlined as the aerator enters the soil and then open up when it’s pulled out. This creates large air pockets.
Initially, you only need to push a thin pole into the compost so it can be tempting to use them in denser material. However, pulling them out is where you need to be more careful – be mindful of your back as this can be heavy work.
With plunger aerators it’s also worth being aware that the blades can break off if they are forced to carry too much weight – as an extra, hinged component on the aerator, they are a ‘weak point’; therefore, it’s often better to work through compost gradually in layers, instead of trying to shift too much in one go.
How Often to Aerate Compost
How often should you be running out to turn your compost? Everyday? Every few days? Once a year? What’s the deal?
Studies have shown that aerating compost approximately once every three days is optimum. This keeps the central temperature of the compost heap much higher compared to aerating it every 10 or 20 days.
It has been demonstrated that aerating every three days makes it possible for compost to maintain a heat of around 65 – 71°C for a period of approximately 20 days.
Aerating every 10 days saw temperatures eventually rise (much slower) to 60°C, and aerating every 20 days saw temperature barely exceed 50°C.
Hotter conditions inside the heap are better for composting.
Aerator Handle Design
Firstly, some aerators have padded handles and others do not. Naturally, padded handles make the work much kinder on the hands. Wooden handles are the next best thing – they’re still more protective than metal handles and can be less cold to hold in winter. Non-padded, metal handles are really the most basic design when it comes to aerators. Using gloves can help.
The shape and design of the aerator’s handles can make a big difference to how easy it is to use.
Corkscrew aerators tend to have either a T-bar handle or a rotary ‘brace-drill’ style handle.
A T-bar handle can make it easier to screw a corkscrew aerator into the compost, especially if the organic matter is heavily compacted. It also allows you to use both hands to pull out the aerator.
‘Brace-drill’ style handles have one hand positioned above the other. This can allow for an efficient system for pushing the end into the compost, but does mean you don’t get as much ‘purchase’ on the handles when trying to pull the aerator out. As a result, they don’t tend to be as easy to use on compacted compost.
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