Composting is a natural process. You can say it’s the most important recycling process in the ecosystem. Every living thing on the planet eventually dies and breaks down into soil to help new plant life (and, subsequently, every other living thing) flourish.
By learning about the key factors in making fast compost we can begin making our own compost piles more efficient, regardless of whether our compost is finished in 2 weeks or in 2 months. The rate of decomposition has to do with microscopic bacteria and other microorganisms that live and thrive in your pile. The key is to give them everything they need to work and multiply. The more microbes you have and the more you feed them, the faster your pile will compost!
1. Carbon Suppliers
Mostly dry, porous materials aka ‘the browns ‘
2. Nitrogen Suppliers
Fresh, moist materials aka ‘the greens’
If you want to get compost in a hurry, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process
The great thing about composting is that you can throw a bunch of leaf clippings, food scraps, and dried leaves into a pile and they will decompose into crumbly, nutrient-rich compost for your garden. Depending on the size of your compost pile, what you put in it, and how you tend to it, this process can take three months to two years.
Size it right
Compost piles that are about 1 cubic yard (3 ft square by 3 ft high) get hotter quicker. (Up to 140 degrees F!) Heat is a by-product of rapid microbial action and a sure sign that the microbes are working at top speed to break down the materials. Smaller piles and larger piles don’t heat up as quickly.
Turn it over
Microbes need oxygen to do their work. Turning the materials in your pile once a week will add the needed air. If you can’t—or don’t want to—turn the pile, try aerating it by poking around in the pile with a pitchfork.
Keep the combo right
For rapid decomposition, your compost pile should have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 20:1. Carbon-rich materials include corn stalks, straw, dry leaves, sawdust, and shredded paper. Nitrogen-rich materials include kitchen scraps, fresh pruning’s from your garden, alfalfa hay, grass clippings and seaweed.
Keep it moist
Water is another key component in making compost, but you don’t need too much. Your compost pile should be moist like a damp sponge, not soggy or waterlogged.
It’s no surprise that smaller materials break down faster. You can help your compost along by shredding fallen leaves with your lawnmower or leaf shredder and chopping up your kitchen scraps. Some avid gardeners even recommend putting kitchen scraps through the blender, which gives you the added benefit of moisture when adding the scraps to your compost pile.
Let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of fast composting
Advantages of fast composting:
Finished compost in a few weeks
Higher nutrient content due to less leaching of nutrients
Fewer viable weeds and weed seeds
Disadvantages of fast composting:
Additional effort required
Large amounts of materials are required at one time
How to Get the Balance Right for Really Fast Compost
It’s important to have the right balance of materials in our fast compost so that it breaks down as quickly and efficiently as possible. The bacteria in our compost need both carbon and nitrogen to function; carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein synthesis. For everyone unit of nitrogen used by the bacteria they also consume about 30 units of carbon. Therefore, in order to keep the bacteria working efficiently we need to create a compost pile that is about 30 parts carbon to 1-part nitrogen.
Since most compost materials don’t have a carbon to nitrogen (C: N) ratio of 30:1 we need to combine our materials so that the total mixture will be as close as possible to 30:1.
Leaves are great sources of nutrients and minerals. Up to 80% of a tree’s nutrients and minerals end up in its leaves. Leaves are often referred to as nature’s nutrient recyclers. By composting leaves, you have a perfect way of getting these valuable nutrients and minerals back into your soil.
Leaves provide a high carbon source or ‘browns’ for your compost. The carbon/nitrogen (or C/N) ratio of leaves is usually over 30, often around 50. That is, they are low in nitrogen which is often hard to find in other sources of composting material.
How to Compost (Leaves)
Firstly, shred or grind the leaves. This will significantly speed up the composting process. Fill your garbage can approximately three quarters full of leaves. Put your string trimmer in, turn it on and move it through the layers of leaves.
Leaves are considered ‘browns’ in your compost pile. Therefore, you need to add liberal amounts of ‘green’ materials, high in nitrogen, such as grass clippings or kitchen waste. To prevent attracting pests to your compost pile and to speed up the composting process.
Adding compost accelerator to your pile will add a boost of microbes to help the composting process. Turn your pile 1-2 times a week. Add more green waste (grass clippings, kitchen waste etc.) as you turn. Turning the pile and mixing in oxygen will get it to heat up and compost more quickly.
Covering the pile with a plastic sheet will help to keep the pile warm and prevent it from drying out. If you keep up the regime of regularly turning and aerating your pile you should have high quality leaf compost by the following spring.
Extra leaves can be stored in sacks next to your compost pile.
Animal manure is rich in nutrients that make it a great organic fertilizer for your garden, and low-cost fertilizer and a wonderful way to utilize nutrients instead of creating a pile that is not getting used and could be harmful to water quality. All animal manures are good sources of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients that plants need to thrive.
How to Compost (Manure)
Locate your pile on a flat site that doesn’t collect water and is away from your neighbors’ property lines and any open water. Plan for multiple piles to avoid contaminating composting piles with fresh manure and setting back the process.
Feed straw bedding through a chipper if possible to decrease the size of the particles. The smaller particles break down faster.
Layer bedding, manure to form a pile. Include and other materials such as grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps to balance large quantities of carbon-rich straw or wood chip bedding or dried leaves, shredded newspaper or sawdust to counteract too much nitrogen-rich manure.
Add to the pile until it is about 3 1/2 feet tall and from 5 to 7 feet square at the base. This is the optimum size for heat generation in a compost pile. Any larger or smaller, and the pile has a difficult time reaching the temperature necessary to kill any bacteria and pathogens in the manure that could lead to contaminated vegetables. The hotter the center of the pile, the more quickly it will break down, as well.
Turn the pile once a week during the first few weeks. Since most decomposition takes place in the hot center of the pile, this ensures that all parts of the pile eventually move into the center. The increase in airflow through the pile that turning allows also speeds decomposition.
Test the temperature at the center of the pile with a compost thermometer thereafter. Turn the pile when the temperature is either below 113 degrees Fahrenheit or above 149 F. When the temperature is too low, the pile decomposes slowly and doesn’t kill parasites or weed seeds; when it’s too high, the heat can kill the beneficial composting microorganisms, and the pile begins to smell.
Cover your pile with a large tarp between turnings to maintain the right amount of moisture. The pile should be barely moist, like a wrung-out sponge. Too much water can slow decomposition and make the pile smell, while not enough causes composting microorganisms to dry out.
Chipped bark and wood
Wood may not loom high in the life of the average composter who may only be faced with the decision as to whether to compost woody prunings from shrubs and the occasional branch from a small tree or to avoid the effort by putting them in the “green” wheelie bin.
How to Compost (Chipped bark and wood)
Gather the wood and bark chips in a single pile in a site that receives full sun or at least six hours daily or direct sunlight. Start a separate pile from your regular compost pile.
Mix in roughly equal amounts of green organic materials, such as green grass clippings, vegetable scraps and manure. Shred or chop these materials as small as possible for rapid decomposition.
Spread one or two handfuls of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer evenly over the compost pile, using two handfuls for a very large pile. Balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer contains equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium; you might substitute a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content.
Water the compost pile just until moist to start the decomposition process. Water also dissolves the fertilizer into the material.
Work the materials into a pile that is roughly the same length, width and height so the center of the pile heats up well. A size of 3 to 5 cubic feet works well for compost piles.
Turn the compost pile every two weeks after beginning the compost pile. Pull the materials from the inside of the pile to the outside; move materials from the outside to the center of the pile. The wood and bark chips, as well as the green materials, can break down into finished compost in as little as three months, especially during the hot summer months when the center of the pile gets hot. Do not turn the pile through winter because the heat can escape and slow decomposition.
Composting-free equipment/Composting machine
The composting has become a well-established process for adding value to a large and growing number of organic by-products. The need of the day is the development of innovative engineered treatment processes to stabilize waste, reduce odor and manage nutrients while saving time and space.
The composting free technology successfully fulfills all the above-mentioned criteria and produces quality by-products within 3 to 24 hours, while saving costly labor, reducing wastewater and odor generation.
There are two ways to stabilize the components in organic waste, composting and Composting-free. While composting requires long time and big space for natural decomposition by microbial, the Composting-free Technology can speed up the entire process by applying enzyme. (See our composting machine.)