Fast Composting: 8 Tips & Tricks to Speed Up Compost Process
Fast composting is not a myth! With these 8 tips to speed up compost, you can have that elusive yet glorious black gold faster than you’ve ever dreamed of! We even have one method you can do entirely indoors – though it’s not for the squeamish.
So, ready your gardening gloves and some composting materials. Here are proven ways to speed up that compost pile!
1. Add Equal Greens And Browns
One great way to speed up compost is to make sure your pile has the correct carbon-nitrogen ratio of compost materials. According to the Berkeley Compost Method, which allows you to make compost in as quickly as two to three weeks, you should have a 30/1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen in your mix (1).
While that may sound complicated, don’t let all this carbon-nitrogen talk scare you away – making compost is easy! You don’t have to download any charts with nitrogen and carbon values on them or do any math. (Thank God! This is gardening, not chemistry).
Dry leaves, woody prunings, pine needles, sawdust, corn stalks, and even paper are carbon-rich materials, AKA browns.
On the other hand, greens are the nitrogen-rich materials of the equation. You can use fresh grass clippings, vegetable peels, and fruit. Just think green and wet, and you should do fine. Other composting materials such as coffee grounds, eggshells, and chicken manure are also good nitrogen sources, even if they don’t appear so green and wet.
By adding equal parts green and brown material, you can approximate the proper carbon-nitrogen ratio.
Picking up the best kitchen compost bin will make it more convenient to bring the greens to the compost pile. When you achieve the proper balance, your compost pile will start to heat up. This heat lets you know your composting is working.
Keeping that balance is essential so your compost doesn’t slow down or, even worse, start to smell. If you add too much green material like kitchen waste to your pile, you might notice an ammonia smell.
You can fix that by adding more brown material, like dry leaves, shredded paper, or even sawdust, to help get the pile back in balance. While your compost will still break down quickly, you are losing precious nutrients.
On the other hand, if you have lots of dry woody material that is carbon-heavy, you will struggle to get the heat you need for rapid compost. If you have ever done cold composting, you know you are always asking, “how long does it take to make compost?”
Properly balanced compost piles will give off a pleasant earthy smell, and you can feel the heat. It may take some work to find the proper balance in your pile. But don’t get discouraged! With time, you can achieve the correct ratio for hot compost.
2. Layer It Up
Rather than just chucking all your compostable materials willy-nilly in a compost heap, you should give some thought to how you build your pile. Don’t get us wrong. Compost heaps work, but they are just slow.
So, what do you do? Another tip for fast composting is to layer your brown and green materials as you go. Let’s say you are building a 3’X3’X3’ compost bin.
Start by layering some large branches at the bottom. These branches allow airflow, which is necessary for aerobic composting.
Once you have at least three inches of branches, add another three inches of dry brown material like leaves or pine needles. Then add six inches of green material on top.
You want to keep repeating the process- six inches of brown then six inches of green until the pile is complete.
If you are planning on adding to your pile rather than building it all in one go, start with about a foot of green and brown material in equal parts to get it going. Then, every time you add your kitchen scraps or other wet materials, make sure you add your brown too.
The dry material will help prevent the green materials from clumping together and creating noxious odors (2).
Some people like to add soil between the layers, but we’ll talk more about the benefits of adding soil later.
3. Shred Large Materials
No matter which of the composting methods you choose, remember smaller materials break down more quickly. Think of it as chewing your food before your stomach digests it – it aids in the digestion or, in this case, the decomposition process.
While we can break up our waste by hand with clippers, it’s not particularly efficient, even if it is a good workout. A lawnmower can be very effective at shredding fallen leaves but won’t cut it for larger yard waste. If you plan to have a large pile, it might be worth investing in a wood chipper.
If you have old files and junk mails, put them through a paper shredder first. As long as it isn’t glossy or full of plastic, it can go into your pile too.
Some people even recommend putting kitchen scraps in the food processor before adding them to the compost bin, but I find that a bit unnecessary.
4. Replenish Moisture
The composting process, like everything in life, is all about balance. And keeping your moisture content balanced is essential for fast composting. Neither too wet nor too dry- your compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge (3).
Keeping the moisture perfect can be difficult. If your pile gets too dry, the decomposition process will slow down. But don’t be tempted to overwater your compost pile either. If your compost becomes waterlogged, there isn’t enough room for air to penetrate, causing the pile to cool down and begin anaerobic composting. Most avid gardeners try to avoid this situation because it stinks – literally!
If your compost bin has too much water in the mix, you can add dry material to help balance it out.
5. Add Soil
Good finished compost is teeming with composting microorganisms and beneficial insects. These organisms are what aid in the decomposition process. By adding just a few spoonfuls of compost, you can introduce rapid microbial action to your compost bin (4).
“A single teaspoon (1 gram) of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and scores of nematodes…”
A little bit goes a long way! So, don’t go dumping bucket loads of garden soil into your bin.
Too much soil will weigh down the pile and run the risk of cooling down a hot compost pile. Many people add just a thin layer between the layers of green and brown materials as they build their pile.
6. Turn And Stir The Pile
When you turn the pile, you introduce oxygen that helps feed the bacteria breaking down the compost. In fact, turning your compost is one of the most critical factors that affect how fast the composting process takes.
Unfortunately, no answer is set in stone on how often you should turn the pile. In many ways composting is more of an art than a science.
The Berkley compost method says you should turn your pile daily, and you will have compost in two to three weeks (1). On the other hand, the University of Illinois advises you to wait at least two weeks before turning your pile (3).
Whether you plan to turn your compost once a day or once a week, everyone agrees turning helps speed up the decomposition process.
Luckily, you can make turning easier. One way is to have two compost bins of equal size and then empty the composting organic matter from one container into the other.
However, if you don’t see wielding a pitchfork in your future, you might want to look into the best compost tumbler because you just need to push it to turn.
Plus, with proper attention, a compost tumbler can make compost in about a month.
7. Use Worms
If you are composting outside and place your pile rather than in a compost bin, you will find worms make their way to your compost naturally. Don’t panic! These wriggly friends help aid the composting process.
But did you know you can compost with worms inside too? Worm composting, or vermiculture as it is called, can make speedy compost. And you can do this even if you live in an apartment.
Using the right worms, you can be harvesting worm compost in just three months. Red worms or red wrigglers are good choices, and you can order them online (5).
Once you receive your worms, all you need to do is to create a nice habitat for them and feed them your food scraps. Stick to raw fruit and vegetable waste. Also, keep in mind worms don’t like citrus and onions. You should also avoid cooked foods and meat products. But as long as you feed them right, they’ll eat your waste and convert it to finished compost. How awesome is that?
Thinking about building a DIY worm bin? Watch the video below:
8. Add Compost Starter
We talked earlier about all the beneficial microbes that are living in healthy compost. If you don’t have any nutrient-rich compost around, you can add compost activators.
Compost starter is loaded with beneficial microorganisms that boost the decomposition process. You can also use it if you are struggling with balancing your green and brown materials.
Some starters are just microbes, while others include minerals to help you build up nitrogen-rich compost. They are also available in both liquid and powdered forms. If you have a compost pile that seems to have stalled out, adding a compost starter might help heating things up again.
Yes, your compost pile can overheat. The ideal temperature for hot composting is between 140- 160 degrees Fahrenheit. While there is a slight risk, your compost pile can catch fire. Plus, excessive and constant high temperatures can kill beneficial microorganisms.
If you have enclosed compost bins, you should monitor the temperature more closely since they hold and build up more heat. If your pile is too hot, then you can add water and turn the pile.
No, lime does not speed up composting. In fact, you should not add lime to your compost pile. While lime was once thought to be a beneficial additive, that is no longer the case. Adding lime to your compost can create noxious smells and reduce your compost’s fertility. Plus, it could adversely affect the final pH.
Yes, you can pee on your compost pile. In fact, not only can you pee on your pile, but it’s also actually good for it. Urine is chock full of nitrogen and phosphor, so it does factor on the green side of the equation. Urine is an excellent fertilizer. So rather than flushing all that great green material down the drain, go ahead and add it to the pile.
- Rapid Composting Method. Retrieved from: http://sonomamg.ucanr.edu/files/29958.pdf
- Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile. Retrieved from: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/NR/rdonlyres/BCC96EDA-75F7-4F08-9C81-1ADA8C167D49/2182/pub2517compost2.pdf
- The Compost Process. Retrieved from: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/compost/process.cfm
- The Secret Life of Soil. Retrieved from: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/secret-life-soil
- Worm Composting Basics. Retrieved from: http://compost.css.cornell.edu/worms/basics.html
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.