How to Make Compost Fast

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Learn how to make compost fast.

Did you know you can have finished compost in just 6 weeks? 

When you follow these four basic steps your compost will reach 160 degrees F (70 degrees C) and you'll be on your way to taking your garden to the next level

Let's begin by de-mystifying compost. As you'll see, making a compost pile is a lot like making a cake. And we can do it in four easy steps.


How to make compost fast: STEP ONE: Gather Ingredients

Remember, follow the recipe! Like I said, making compost is like making a cake. Thing is, do you blend the butter and sugar one day and add eggs a month later?

Of course not. If you want to enjoy a slice of homemade cake for dessert tonight… If you want finished compost in 6 weeks, not 6 months or 6 years, then assemble your ingredients first.

That said, when it comes to what to compost, no single ingredient is right by itself. When the materials in a heap present good nutrition to the bacteria and fungi, they work quickly. Like us, they need protein and carbohydrates.

1. Protein: Found in nitrogenous stuff like grass clippings and manure

2. Carbs (for energy), as in straw, cardboard egg cartons, and leaves.

The precise amount of nitrogen and carbohydrates is not as important as long as the pile heats up.

Here's a general guideline for what to compost: One part nitrogen to three parts carbs.

You're looking for a combination of ingredients that will provide the right living conditions for the microorganisms and bacteria that break down the materials in the compost pile. This tiny work force of actimomycetes (act-TIN-OH-my-SEE-tees) must have food, water and oxygen to do their job. They need nitrogen (N) in order to use the carbohydrates or carbon (C) materials as food.

Lawn Clippings

Nitrogen (N) materials include:

"Stable scraps" such as horse, rabbit, goat, chicken and other manures, green grass clippings (minus any chemical fertilizers and herbicides), fish meal, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, trimmings from grocery store produce, and garden waste, such as weeds and trimmings.

Carbon (C) materials include:

Straw, dried leaves, sawdust (in small amounts), wood chips (also in small amounts), and shredded newspaper, cardboard and brown bags. One of the best and easiest combinations to come by occurs in the fall. Mix 3 parts dried leaves to 1 part green grass clippings to make a compost that is light, airy and fine. Now that's gourmet!

Then let experience teach you. That’s the artistic part of making compost.

When looking for what to compost, go on treasure hunts. Cruise your own back yard, talk to your neighbors, ask your friends, scan Facebook, talk to farmers, ranchers, and folks who handle produce at your local grocery stores.

Here’s one of my recent recipes:

•        Cottonwood and alder leaves

•        Fresh grass clippings

•        Coffee grounds

•        Seaweed and eelgrass

•        Food scraps

•        Cow, buffalo, and goat manure

•        A few shovelfuls of local soil


Now how do leaves and soil benefit compost-making?

Leaves and "real" soil helps speed up decomposition by “seeding” the new pile with bazillions of talented and hard-working microbes. A similar technique is used by brewers, vintners, and bread makers.

How to make compost fast: STEP TWO: Mix Ingredients

Work with a minimum size of 3x3x5 feet. (If you live in a milder climate, then 3x3x3 feet is large enough). The key is to make a compost pile large enough to retain heat and prevent ingredients from drying out. Expect temperatures of 120 to 160 degrees (F), which is enough to kill most weed seeds and pests.

Think tossed salad, NOT layers.

Remember, you’ll make your pile all at once. This goes for compost tumblers as well.

Don't just toss stuff in the corner of the yard in dribs and drabs as you feel like it. “That’s just a rubbish heap,” said a fellow composter in the U.K.

In order for your compost to heat up, and quickly, you need an enclosure that’s at least 3x3x3 feet square. (My first bin was made from wood pallets).

NOTE: Once the pile heats up, it’s alright to add kitchen scraps, but limit it to the first 2 weeks.

Secret #1: Mix ingredients uniformly; don’t just layer them.

Secret #2: As you build the pile, think “shredded wheat” as in shred, break, bruise and groove the skin of the materials as much as possible to increase the number of entry points for bacteria and fungi. A short-handled garden fork of pitchfork works great here.


How to make compost fast: STEP THREE: Add Water

Why is water so important? Because you are taking care of live creatures.

“Compost,” says Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes, ”Is a whole universe of diverse soil food web organisms. Never mind the huge numbers in good, fertile garden soil: the numbers of organisms per teaspoon in compost, especially the microbial populations, are simply too large to fully comprehend.”

•        Up to a billion bacteria

•        400 to 900 feet of fungal hyphae

•        10,000 to 50,000 protozoa

•        30 to 300 nematodes

Microbes require food, water, air; just like us. Give them what they need and your compost heats up and breaks down nicely.

•        Moisten ingredients as you add them to the pile.

•        Keep a hose handy.

•        Materials should sparkle with moisture, not sag with sogginess. 

•        Cover your pile to protect it from drenching rains.

NOTE: If you're making compost in a tumbler or stand-alone (upright) plastic bin do not add additional water if you are adding a lot of nitrogen-rich ingredients such as fresh grass clippings.


How to make compost fast: STEP FOUR: Turn, Turn, Turn

Secret #3: Complete and frequent turning of your compost exposes materials to the air, speeds up activity, and keeps the compost process AEROBIC and active. If the pile runs out of air, microbes die, the composting process slows to a crawl and it begins to stink.

Composting is much like burning: Air is used up rapidly, especially in the beginning. So, grab a pitchfork. Turning the pile is good upper-body exercise.

Remember to think “shredded wheat” in Step #2 above.

Once you build the pile, here is a recommended turning schedule:

•        Day 2: Turn the pile

•        Day 4: Turn it again

•        Day 7: Turn

•        Day 10: Turn

          (After Day 10, turn every 4 days or so)


Secret #4: A long-stemmed compost thermometer is your best friend. Why? The best sign of a properly made compost pile is the temperature. Readings of our compost piles at Day 3 usually average between 140 to 160 degrees F. When it rises fast and maintains heat for a couple of weeks, your mixture is spot on.

Finally, cover your compost heap to keep rain out and heat in. Plywood, tarps, pieces of carpet or insulation. For the ultimate compost work station, consider a composting shed.

There you have it. How to make garden compostThe ultimate guide.

To find out how to better use your food waste for making better compost click here.

Why Your Compost Doesn't Get HOT and 10 Easy Ways To Fix It

Gardeners tell me there's nothing more frustrating than to invest tons of time and energy into making compost, only to have it turn into a soggy, smelly mess. Or dry out altogether so it just sits there.

That's why I created this guide: To help you assess your compost and then apply solutions so you can get your compost pile back on its feet.

Take a moment to imagine a greener lawn, tastier veggies, and a garden that's a made-in-heaven dream to maintain.

With Marion's guide you can get finished Compost in only Six Weeks!

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"How to make Compost fast" - by Marion Owen

Who is Marion Owen?

Learn the fine art of nurturing your dream garden using organic methods that have been fine-tuned over 35 years by Marion Owen, New York Times bestselling author.

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