The reason to aerate your compost pile is quite simple: to get better compost quicker. If a compost pile is “left to rot” by itself it will ‘rot’ slowly and unevenly due to compression, non-optimal temperature, and insufficient oxygen.
But if you play a proactive role in the ongoing decomposing of your compost pile, you can ensure good-quality compost. Physically exerting yourself every two to three weeks to turn your compost pile will bring about several beneficial outcomes.
The process of aerobic decomposition, which is an organic one, uses air. Turning compost aerates it, facilitating and hastening decomposition by introducing air inside the compost.
However, if a compost pile is not aerated and if air cannot enter the compressed areas or if the oxygen in what little air there is is exhausted, the compost will begin to decompose anaerobically, that is, it will putrefy. Anaerobic decomposition releases a foul odour so a side-benefit of aeration is control or elimination of odour from the compost pile.
The deeper, lower parts of the compost pile that get compressed will decompose at a slower rate and their temperature will also be lower which further slows down decomposition. You can get the compressed parts to start ‘cooking’ again by using a compost aerator to separate and break up compressed parts, introducing air-channels between smaller, broken-up pieces and ‘fluffing up’ the compost, thereby exposing more surface area of the compost to air.
Way back when, growers and nurserymen used poles and pitchforks to aerate their compost piles. Now we have a specialised tool, the compost aerator, to do the job efficiently.
Last update on 2021-06-16 / All Pricing & Imagery from Amazon Product Advertising API
The standard and most common design is comprised of a pole with a handle at the upper end and two ‘wings’ at the lower end; these wings fold upwards as the pole is pushed into the compost pile. Pushing the aerator into the compost, and then moving it up and down repeatedly as you gently move it sideways, churns, turns, and aerates the compost.
The simple design of Darlac’s compost aerator is unusually effective because the size, shape, and angle of the barbed wings really get a grip on the compost.
Darlac’s DP788 compost aerator has a pointed tip and two spade-like folding wings with teeth around the edges (all the better to bite you with, my dear!). The rubber-grip handles are among the most comfortable, making long stretches of hard physical work not-so-hard.
Because the open wings are concave, when you pull up the aerator from inside the compost pile it will meet a fair amount of resistance; therefore, this aerator requires effort and strength on your part. On the positive side, if you use this kit correctly it will really aerate your compost.
A drawback is the length of this product. At only 79 centimetres it is unacceptably short and will not reach the bottom of many compost bins. Worse, sometimes the wings get stuck in the retracted position and simply do not open when you are pulling up the aerator within a compost pile, rendering it useless. If this happens, here’s a useful little trick: rotate and rock the shaft and the wings will probably unfold.
Griping over, the overall design is simple yet excellent because – provided you have the strength to use it – this aerator is unusually effective as it tumbles, turns, and moves compost.
Darlac’s aerator is quick and easy to assemble. Another plus point is that it is a robust, sturdy product that is built to last.
Notwithstanding its drawbacks, this product gets the nod as our best pick because it is ultra-effective, simple in design, and of very good build quality. Remarkably, our top pick is also the lowest-priced product among our selections, adding price and value to its list of advantages.
- The simple but excellent design, especially of the wings, makes it an unusually effective aerator.
- Very comfortable rubber-grip handles to facilitate the requisite manual labour.
- Very good build quality, well-machined, and durable.
- The shaft could’ve been and should’ve been a little longer.
- After the aerator is pushed into a compost pile and then pulled upward, sometimes the wings do not open.
- Requires a fair amount of strength to use in a deep or compressed compost pile.
Lotech’s brilliant design eliminates the labour of pushing the aerator into compost as the corkscrew method makes insertion so effortless that a child can use this aerator.
Cost: Price not available
The corkscrew-shaped base and the curving hooked handle of Lotech’s crank-twist aerator make insertion into compost child’s play because little physical force is required. Keep rotating the handle with the merest downward pressure, and the aerator works its way into the compost. On top of that it is quite light.
Where other compost aerators are difficult to force through the more troublesome components of compost, such as matted grass, it is a breeze to twist the Lotech to the bottom of most any pile. After twisting it in, firmly lift the aerator straight up to dislodge compost from the bottom and turn the pile or unscrew the aerator back out to create an air channel.
In sum, this compost aerator is both easy to use and effort-free.
A minor drawback is that it pulls up and turns somewhat smaller plugs of compost; unlike winged designs, it cannot turn and tumble sizeable heaps of compost. However, it is far more effective than one might expect. Another miss is that its 81-centimetre length is not long enough to reach to the bottom of some compost bins.
Made of rust-proof (and sparkling) stainless steel, Lotech’s aerators are hand-crafted, artisanal implements. Moreover, they manifest excellent build quality and are very durable and weather-proof.
Because this aerator has no wings and no moving parts, nothing can get jammed or fall off.
Though it is not an inexpensive aerator Lotech’s product is superb value. Indeed, one could even choose this ingeniously-designed aerator as an out-and-out top pick.
- Very easy to use and requires such little strength that children can use it in a small compost pile.
- Super old-world build quality and durability combined with artisanal craftsmanship.
- Don’t feel embarrassed to just ogle and admire this work of art that looks like she may have hopped out of the MoMA or the Guggenheim.
- Turns and tumbles relatively smaller plugs of compost.
- The shaft is not as long as it should have been.
- Can be confused with the same company’s similarly-named product which is almost twice the price!
With retractable dual wings on two levels and offset handles, also on two levels, Bosmere’s aerator takes design to a new height – and price to a happy low.
Cost: Price not available
It would appear that Bosmere designed its compost aerator expressly for some design competition. To begin with, it is made of matte steel. The handles are on two levels and project at right angles to one another; thus, you can raise and lower the aerator with the upper handle while you stabilise it with the lower one, and rotate it back and forth with the lower handle as you stabilise it with the upper one. If you use this dual-purpose design correctly, it works very well.
The serrated shoehorn-shaped dual-pair wings look business-like – and they are.
These wings too, like the handles, are on two levels and are also positioned at right angles to each other so that, theoretically, compost is turned on two levels, and, practically speaking, turned on four sides surrounding the shaft instead of on two opposite sides.
Unfortunately, the tip of the shaft does not have a tapered point which makes pushing the aerator into the compost pile more laborious than it should be. Also, the shaft is on the thick side. The lack of a point is almost a deal-breaker; you either need to file the tip of the shaft to a point or attach a point to it.
Sometimes the wings stay closed but it is possible to remedy this: simply rotate and rock the shaft and more often than not the wings will open.
At 91 centimetres, this aerator is of acceptable length.
Though not an inexpensive compost aerator, this Bosmere product is an excellent choice for fit and strong persons who will take the time to learn how to use it.
- If you get the hang of using this Bosmere aerator, it is an excellent bit of gardening equipment.
- Provided you learn how to use this kit, its ergonomic design translates into ‘user-friendliness’ and usability.
- The wings’ size is a good compromise – not so big that pulling it up is impossible and not so small that they don’t turn the compost.
- The shaft’s tip does not have a tapered point, making insertion quite a chore, sometimes an undoable one.
- The design of this aerator takes some getting used to and you need to make an effort to learn how to use it.
- If you’re not strong & healthy you may have trouble with this aerator.
This very versatile implement is designed for four gardening tasks and is extremely effective as an aerator but build quality is dodgy as some units’ claws break.
Cost: Price not available
Garden Weasel’s ‘Claw’ is aptly named. The business-end of this aerator is shaped like a claw – if of some robotic animal – and CLAW serves as an acronym for Cultivate, Loosen, Aerate, and Weed, which are the tasks that this multi-purpose implement is designed for. It makes a more than adequate compost aerator with a how-to-use all of its own.
For compost aeration, the Garden Claw needs to be pushed into some degree and then, with a firm grip on the horizontal handles, rapidly twisted one way and then the other. As you twist the aerator around, displacing and tearing compost, you can push the aerator in further. The tines are fairly narrow so they do not meet much resistance and slice through compost. It is unexpectedly easy to use; children, as well as the elderly, can operate it.
The claw is made of stainless steel; unfortunately, it sometimes breaks at the welded join when being twisted in moderately compacted soil. That this is probably a quality control problem is pointed to by the location of the break and also because many units withstand heavy usage.
No assembly is required as this implement is delivered in one piece. At 97 centimetres its length is well nigh perfect.
Garden Weasel’s Claw is the most expensive aerator in this review but then it is not only an aerator but a jack of all.
The ideal single tool to take care of several gardening tasks, including cultivating and loosening beds, for those who want one multi-purpose implement. However, because some units are fragile and durability is an issue, its price seems steep.
- As a jack of all, the Garden Claw can really be used for four or five gardening tasks.
- Unexpectedly easy to aerate with, and so much so that children or aged persons can use it.
- No assembly required for this aerator of nearly perfect length.
- As a jack of all, the Garden Claw is not the best tool for any particular gardening task.
- Not suitable for heavy, compressed compost near the bottom of the pile.
- Twisting the shaft in heavy or compacted soil causes the claw to break off on some units so if you buy this product, you take a chance.
Yard Butler’s product is a good idea and a good design that is poorly implemented and requires workarounds by the user, but its low-low price is a saving grace.
Cost: Price not available
Made of charcoal-grey steel, Yard Butler’s aerator has folding wings shaped like thick flat paddles. The shaft has horizontal, rubberised comfort-grip handles.
Use this aerator by pushing it down as much as you can into the compost pile and pulling it up sharply. The paddle-like wings are supposed to open and drag small heaps of compost upwards, and thus ‘turn’ the compost.
In practice, the wings stay folded as often as not when you pull up the aerator. Usually the wings do not flare open if the aerator is not deep enough so try pushing it in a little. If the problem persists twist the aerator and angle it sideways along the axis of the wings; this may pry open at least the wing on the upper side of the angled shaft. We feel that part of the problem is linked to a brand-new product with moving parts being used for the first time. Repeated usage, oiling, and greasing may help.
Under heavy usage sometimes the wings or the head at the welded join get deformed and now and then even break. Another, less impactful though more frequent, problem is that stray bits of compost get stuck in the hinges and pivots.
The comfortable feel and design of the handles make it relatively effort-free to push this aerator deep into a compost pile. Other than the welded join of the head to the shaft this implement is sturdy.
This aerator’s 91-centimetre length is acceptable.
Available at wildly varying prices, at the lowest price this flawed product is the cheapest on our review.
- The thick paddle-shaped design of the wings is a good compromise between insubstantial and overdone wings.
- Very good handles mean you can get a grip that is as comfortable as it is firm.
- Available at wildly varying prices, at its lowest price it is the cheapest aerator in our review.
- All too often the wings stubbornly refuse to open when the aerator is pulled upward, making the exercise pointless.
- Bits and pieces of compost stick in the hinge and pivot of the wings, jamming the mechanism.
- Beware: one and the same implement is available at wildly different prices with the highest price being double the lowest!
How To Aerate A Compost Pile
Compost bins come in an array of shapes and sizes. They can be tub-shaped or cubical; vertical or horizontal. Smaller ones are meant for the kitchen; larger ones for the yard. Their material can range from treated wood to recycled plastics to stainless steel. Some are multi-compartmental so that compost that is decomposing (‘cooking’) and fresh scraps and additions can be kept separate.
Then there is the tumbler bin or tumbling bin which has a shaft running through it around which the bin is turned or ‘tumbled’ to aerate the compost. There’s that word: aerate! For no matter what type of compost bin you have, aeration plays a large part in the difference between high-quality compost and poor compost, which, in turn, makes the difference between healthy plants and not-so-healthy plants. It may also mean the difference between a healthy and not-so-healthy you because attacking your compost with a compost aerator will give you a good upper-body workout!
Compost piles are essentially of two types: batch and as-you-go. Turn a batch pile every two days for the first ten days or so, and then on a periodic basis, say once every ten days, taking care to turn from the bottom which is where the most compressed part is. However, the as-you-go pile needs to be aerated on an ‘as-you-go’ or ad-hoc basis in view of the fact that fresh additions need to be broken up and churned. If you add vegetable or food scraps, make sure to push these into the compost pile because leaving these near the surface may attract flies and other pests.
Commercial compost bins usually have small openings at the top or sides through which the aerator can be inserted. If they are large enough, by all means, utilise the openings but usually, they restrict the movement of the aerator. You may be able to do a better job if you open the lid and use the entire surface area of the pile through which to work the aerator.
A compost aerator can be used in a few different ways; as well, compost can be aerated in a few different ways.
One way is to push the compost aerator from any exposed point on the surface all the way down and then pull it all the way up, doing so repeatedly in the same area. If it is a crank aerator, then crank it during the push step. Then push the aerator in a different part of the compost pile and repeat. This method will ‘tumble’ the compost, pulling up compost from the lower levels and causing that at higher layers to fall in.
Another way is to push the compost aerator in through the centre of the pile, move it up and down by about 15 centimetres while rotating it back and forth as you gradually move it to one side. Then push the aerator in from another side and, manoeuvring it as described, gradually move it to the centre. This method will aerate the compost and also move it around within the pile. Compost at the centre of the pile has a higher temperature and, therefore, decomposes more rapidly than that at the sides so it is essential to move compost radially.
Do not let your compost pile dry out; it should be damp – but not wet – all throughout. If the compost appears dry, water it evenly over the surface area using a garden hose with a spray attachment or with a watering-can and then make sure to turn and aerate the pile.
Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.