Home The Pile Pro Ideal Watering System
"A compost pile should be moist like a wrung out sponge." - Unknown

"Moisture should be present on all surfaces of all materials" - Rob Dentremont

The first phrase above is a common example of conventional composting wisdom. Someone wrote or uttered the words long ago and they have been repeated and re-written, ad nauseum, without challenge. But do those words even make any sense? A sponge absorbs water; compost materials generally do not. So the simile does not apply. How then does one describe the state of properly moistened compost pile? Well, I think phrase 2 does a much better job than phrase 1.

But how does one bring the pile to such a state? Let's skip hoses, shower nozzles, and garden forks and cut right to the chase - The Ideal Watering System (IWS). Two versions are presented, V2 and V1. I devised V1 in 1998 and V2 in 2018. For my purposes V2 totally supersedes V1, but the latter is presented below in the event it works better for someone.

Ideal Watering System Version 2IWSV2 originally served as a laundry water "reservoir", to deal with the high flow rate from the washer and the low flow rate through the garden hose as the water travelled from washer to the container outdoors. I had been using it soley for that purpose for several years until I realized its potential superiority over IWSV1. After giving V2 a spin I will not likely ever use V1 again.

V2 is simply two buckets, one standard w/optional lid and one modified with 1) a bulkhead-to-hose adapter and 2) either a garden hose shut-off valve or just a cap. Another small container to act as a pail can come in handy per below. Steps in the moistening process are:

  1. Fill upper bucket with dry material. Use bottom bucket to compress material and add more until the material is as dense as you care to make it. This works really great on fluffy leaves. A weight of one kind or another placed on the material is probably a good idea. (I will come up with a good homemade idea later.)
  2. Make sure the valve is closed and fill upper bucket with the liquid of your choice. Push on the weight in order to eliminate any air pockets. Let the material soak for as long as you like. This can vary from just a minute or two to overnight or maybe longer depending on the amount of lignin in the materials. For example, live oak leaves should soak until the onset of waterlogging when they start to turn black.
  3. Open the valve and let the liquid ( I guess it's some kind of tea, even if just "leaf tea") drain into the lower bucket. Find something to do for the next 15 minutes or so. By then the draining should be reduced to drops. Placing an object under the back of the bucket to create a tilt helps the liquid drain more completely. You can tilt the bucket even more if you like, or just close the valve.
  4. Bring the bucket to the pile and dump the contents. Using a small hand fork, declump the material until the new layer is uniformly fluffy.
  5. Repeat until pile is finished.
  6. Dump or save the liquid at your discretion.

IWSV1 consists of three elements: a tank, a colander, and a weight, all of which can be had for free or cheap. A simple process yields a perfectly moistened container of material.

picture of tanksThe tank needs to be large enough to accommodate the colander. These "tanks" once contained pool chemicals. The tank is filled with the liquid of your choice (for me that is laundry water...apparently non-toxic as piles heat up just fine).
bucket drill patternThe colander is simply a five gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Pictured is one of many possible drill patterns. With the aid of the weight, the colander gets *crammed* full of material.
buckets weighed down by bricksThis photo shows the filled colander immersed in liquid and prevented from floating by the weight (two bricks and a handle epoxied together). The soak time depends on the absorbency of the materials and can range from a few seconds to overnight or longer. The materials should be in at least a partially waterlogged state. Live oak leaves are moisture-resistant, but after a night in the tank they begin to turn black.
bucket drainingAfter immersion the colander is removed from the tank and allowed to drain. Not pictured is the convenient beam and hook, but lacking such a luxury the colander can be angled and balanced on top of the tank. After a few to 10 minutes of draining, the material is as close to "a wrung out sponge" as it can possibly get. Or rather, moisture is present on all surfaces of all materials. Try to achieve that with a hose and fork!
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