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  • Writer's pictureSean

How to Speed Up Composting: Useful Tips and Tricks

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

compost "greens" of various colors

If you've started composting at home, you might be wondering if there are ways to speed up the process. After all, waiting for compost to finish can feel like watching paint dry. But don't worry - we've got you covered. This article will share useful tips and tricks to help you get that rich, crumbly compost faster. Let's get started!

Why Speed Up Composting?

The composting process takes time - nature needs a while to do its thing. But sometimes, you might want to speed things up. Perhaps you have a lot of organic waste to compost, or you need compost for your garden sooner than later. Or maybe you're like me a chronically impatient by nature. By understanding the factors that affect the composting process, you can manipulate them to your advantage and make compost faster.

Moreover, speeding up the composting process can be beneficial for large-scale composting operations or community composting initiatives. It allows for faster turnover of compost piles and more efficient use of space, which can be crucial in urban or community settings where space is at a premium.

The Art and Science of Composting

Composting is a biological process where microorganisms break down organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. These microorganisms - mainly bacteria and fungi - need the right conditions to work effectively. They need a balance of "green" and "brown" materials (which are not always green or brown) which provide the necessary nitrogen and carbon, as well as adequate moisture and oxygen. By optimizing these conditions, you can speed up the composting process.

Understanding the science of composting can help you troubleshoot any issues that arise. For instance, if your compost pile is not heating up, it might be because it's too dry, too small, or lacks nitrogen-rich green materials. By knowing what conditions the composting microorganisms need, you can adjust your composting practices accordingly.

Increasing Surface Area

One way to speed up composting is by increasing the surface area of your compost materials. The smaller the pieces of material, the faster the microbes can break them down. You can chop up kitchen scraps, shred leaves, and break up twigs and branches before adding them to your compost pile. Using a garden shredder or a chipper can make this task easier.

Smaller pieces of material not only decompose faster, but they also help to create a more even compost. This can be particularly beneficial if you're using the compost for seed starting or potting mixes, where a fine texture is desirable.

Balancing Greens and Browns

Maintaining the right balance of green and brown materials is crucial for speedy composting. Green materials, which are high in nitrogen, are the 'food' for the composting microbes. They include kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings. Brown materials, which are high in carbon, provide the 'energy' for the microbes. They include dry leaves, straw, and shredded newspaper. Aim for a 1:3 ratio of greens to browns. If your compost pile is mostly greens, it might become smelly and slimy - signs of anaerobic decomposition, which is slower than aerobic decomposition. If it's mostly browns, it might decompose very slowly due to a lack of nitrogen.

Aside from affecting the speed of composting, the balance of greens and browns also affects the quality of the finished compost. Too many greens can result in a compost that's too rich in nitrogen and can 'burn' plants if used undiluted. Too many browns can result in a compost that's low in nutrients. By keeping a good balance of greens and browns, you can ensure that your compost is not only made quickly but is also rich and balanced in nutrients.

Turning Your Compost Pile

Regularly turning your compost pile can significantly speed up the composting process. Turning introduces oxygen, which is necessary for aerobic decomposition - the fastest and most efficient type of decomposition. It also helps to mix the materials, ensuring that all parts of the pile are decomposed evenly. Aim to turn your compost pile once a week or whenever it starts to smell - a sign that it's not getting enough oxygen. You can use a pitchfork, shovel, or a compost turner to turn your compost pile.

Aside from speeding up composting, turning your compost pile also helps to distribute heat evenly throughout the pile. This can be particularly important if you're composting weed harboring seeds or disease pathogens, as the heat can help to kill them and render them harmless.

Adding Compost Activators

Compost activators are materials that are high in nitrogen and/or contain composting microbes. By adding them to your compost pile, you can give the composting process a kick-start. Compost activators can be organic materials that are high in nitrogen, such as fresh grass clippings or manure, or commercially bought products that contain composting microbes. They are a necessity for bokashi composting.

Compost activators can be particularly useful when starting a new compost pile, as they can help to establish a healthy population of composting microbes. They can also be beneficial if your compost pile is slow to start composting, as they can provide a quick boost of nitrogen to feed the microbes.

Composting doesn't have to be a waiting game. By understanding and optimizing the conditions for composting, you can speed up the process and get that rich, crumbly compost in no time. Remember, composting is more of an art than a science - don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. Happy composting!


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