How to compost faster?

How To Make Compost Really Fast – Just 30 Days

With the heat of summer upon us, most of us are thinking about picking beans, roasting corn and canning tomatoes. It’s been really wet in parts of the country this year, and these crops aren’t doing as well because all the rain is diluting the nutrients in the soil. How can you give your plants an extra boost? With compost. Don’t have months, or even years, to wait for it to form? You don’t have to!

Composting is a simple process. It involves dumping your vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and egg shells along with grass clippings and twigs and leaves. After six months to three years, you have a rich, crumbly dark brown substance that will give your plants all sorts of nutrition. But often times we don’t have the time (or patience!) to wait that long. Now there’s an easy way to make compost in 30 days or less.

How to get compost – FAST

Setting up your own composter

Of course you could go out and buy yourself a compost tumbler for $100-$200 or more. It will certainly get the job done, but there’s a plan that’s easy and a whole lot cheaper that you can do yourself.

First you’ll need to obtain four pallets. You can usually get them free from grocery stores or home improvement stores. You might have to pay a few dollars, but it’ll be worth it. Be sure the pallets you get are clean, without any grease or any substances on them that could leach into your compost.

Once you have four pallets, use one for the base and three around the sides and back in a U shape. Bind them together with wire, rope or zip ties. Don’t do anything permanent – you’ll be removing them later. If the base has large gaps, you might want to add a few boards to make a “floor.” Be sure to leave some space between, like ½ inch or so, for air circulation.

Materials to be composted

Once you have your bin set up you can begin adding the composting material. You want a ratio of about 1 part “green” material to 2 parts “brown” material.

The green material can be:

  • fresh grass clippings,
  • manure,
  • leaves,
  • fresh hay,
  • or household kitchen waste, such as vegetable peelings.

(Don’t worry about weed seeds – once the internal temperature of the compost hits 155° for three days, weed seeds will be killed.)

For the brown material you can use:

  • straw,
  • dead leaves,
  • twigs or yard weeds that have been wintered over.

Now, here’s the part that will speed things up. Everything you put into your compost bin should be no larger than 1-2 inches in size. And all household kitchen waste should be put in a blender. This will speed things up considerably since it will not take time for it to break down naturally.

Filling the compost bin

Premix the brown and green material together. Then set up a 3 inch layer on the bottom of the bin. Add a few sticks so there will be air circulation. Then add another 6 inches of material, then more sticks. Keep doing this until your pile reaches the top of the bin. If you don’t have enough material, go at least 3 feet high.

After you get your brown and green material in the bin in layers with the sticks, wet it down well. It should not be saturated, but similar to a damp sponge. You can also add a few handfuls of lime, but I’ve never had to. You don’t need to add a “compost starter,” but you can add some aged compost or garden soil. This will provide some beneficial bacteria and fungi to get it started.

If you use this method, you won’t need to turn your compost at all. Alternatively, you can omit the sticks between the layers and turn the pile occasionally. This will provide the necessary aeration. The pile will get very hot, 140° to 160°. If you don’t provide aeration, it could get hotter than 160°, which will kill the good bacteria. Essentially, you’ll need to start over. Temperatures of 155° will kill most plant diseases as well, but it won’t kill heat resistant diseases like tobacco mosaic virus. And it won’t be hot enough to kill pathogens found in meat products.

Other tips for creating great compost

On that thought, here are a few things you shouldn’t compost. Meat and bones are no-no’s. Glass, plastic, fatty substances, metal, rubber, pet waste and anything that may contain chemicals such as clippings from herbicide-sprayed lawns.

Some things I never thought of but that can be composted are junk mail (with any plastic windows removed), cardboard and cereal boxes. Most cardboard manufacturers are using soy-based inks and natural adhesives, but you might want to check before you use them. Newspaper is also great. All of it in our area is recycled paper and soy-based ink. Again, you might want to check with the printer. Cut, shred or tear junk mail and newspapers into small pieces to get them going faster too.

Another thing you can do to speed things up is add some worms. (Read more about vermicomposting with worms here.) Red wigglers are about the best to use, but common garden worms and night crawlers will work just as well. These little creatures multiply quickly, regenerate if damaged, make fast work out of scraps and aerate the compost too. And when you’re done, you can use them for fishing bait!

Composting is an old time-honored tradition of slowly making nutrients for your soil out of waste materials. But it can be quick, too!


Image credit

When it comes to growing healthy, vital plants, soil building is essential. Most people who want to garden without synthetic chemicals turn to compost. Compost is a rich, dark, crumbly substance colloquially known as “black gold.” It is made from organic materials including leaves, wood chips and appropriate food scraps that have been broken down into a natural fertilizer.

Composting takes time. Depending on the conditions and ingredients used, it can take from three months to two years to create. Like cooking, the process goes much more smoothly and quickly when done properly. The following tips can greatly enhance the ease of making good compost.

Balance the Ingredients

Compost is produced by the digestive processes of microbes, and sometimes, composting worms, who speed up the process. So you want to set up a meal that is easy for microbes to digest. They like a 20:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen which means using 20 parts of carbon-rich ingredients for every 1 part of nitrogen-rich ingredients. For carbon-rich ingredients, think brown: corn stalks, straw, sawdust and dead leaves. For nitrogen-rich ingredients, think green: cut grass, hay, seaweed, plant pruning scraps and kitchen scraps. If you are planning to add composting worms, we recommend Uncle Jim’s Red Wigglers.

Use the Right Composter Size

Three feet by three feet is the recommended pile size for compost. Why? Because microbes like a warm, moist environment, and at this size, the center tends to heat to the proper temperature while still allowing for airflow. Some commercial composters carry a different recommendation, but for do-it-yourselfers, 3×3 is a good bet.

Keep Particle Size Small

The smaller the particles, the more surface area is exposed to digesting microbes. Large chunks disappear much more slowly. Chopping or shredding organic matter before adding it to the composter speeds up the process significantly.

Manager Moisture and Aeration

A damp wrung-out sponge is the recommended moisture level for a compost pile. It is the ideal dampness for both microbes and composting worms, who need both water and air to stay healthy. For proper aeration, you can choose to turn the compost once a week if you have time. In summer, pay extra attention to moisture because compost dries out more easily. You can sprinkle a little water on it or add a compost popsicle of food scraps frozen in water. Too much water and your worms will drown.

Add Worms

Worms can eat their own body weight in a single day, and the tailings they churn out are loaded with plant happy nutrients. Red worms are the best compost worms because they live close to the surface and enjoy nutrient-rich environments. They are also good breeders and an initial stock of red worms is likely to replenish itself year after year.

Avoid Problem Ingredients

Problem ingredients interfere with composting. They include:

  • Oils, meat and bones, dairy – All of these can attract vermin and unwanted insects. Oils also interfere with water distribution and become malodorous over time. Meat, bones, and dairy become foul when they decompose and generate noxious odors.
  • Weeds – weeds will take root unless shredded.
  • Coated or printed paper – toxic chemicals leach from coated and printed paper. Plain brown paper products will do fine in compost.
  • Highly acidic foods – a debate rages about adding things like tomatoes and citrus peel to compost. In small amounts they might be OK, but they can upset the pH balance in large quantities. Also, citrus peels are notoriously difficult to break down and their fossilized remains can often be found in otherwise completed compost.

Add Compost Enhancers

Many organic gardening companies sell all-natural compost enhancers that contain microbes and other ingredients to accelerate the production of compost.

Composting has many great benefits. It reduces landfill waste, and it eliminates the expense and hassle of purchasing composted materials and synthetic fertilizers. With a little attention to the process and the addition of a good batch of worms, turning out great compost is easy.

5 Steps to Quick Compost

Photo by Francesca Yorke/Getty Images

Rapid or “hot” composting is a great option for impatient gardeners who don’t want to wait the 6 to 12 months it takes for most compost piles to mature. Done right, hot compost can be ready in as little as 14 days. It does take a little extra work, requiring you to shred the materials and manage the pile more actively. But you can’t beat the timeline. Here’s how to do it:

1. Use equal parts by volume of green and brown materials. This will deliver the 30:1 ration of carbon- to nitrogen-rich ingredients you’re after. Brown materials include dead leaves, twigs, wood chips, brown-paper bags, newspaper, cereal boxes, milk cartons (rinsed) and cardboard boxes. Green materials would be grass clippings, spent flowers, and kitchen scraps—fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, and eggshells (no meat or milk products). For a complete list of what can go into a pile, check out the composting section on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website

2. Chop them small, into ½- to 1½-inch pieces. This gives the microbes lots of surface area to get to work on. Use a reel mower to run over soft plant material or pruning shears to cut it up. A chipper might be needed for tougher stuff, like twigs and branches.

See more: Your Toughest Lawn Questions Answered

3. Layer greens and browns in a pile at least 36 inches square and 36 inches high. Pile the materials in thin layers, alternating greens and browns. Make sure paper and grass clippings don’t clump up. Using a bin with a lid helps retain heat. If yours has no lid, you can add a piece of plastic on top. You can find instructions on how to build a compost bin here. Just be sure to size it right for hot composting.

4. Add water. Materials need to be kept moist, but not wet. They should feel like a wrung-out damp sponge. If they become soggy, they will develop a bad smell. If they are too dry, decomposition will be slow or will not occur at all. Add water as needed to keep the pile moist.

5. Turn the pile. The pile should heat up within 24 to 48 hours; if it doesn’t the pile is too wet, too dry, or needs more nitrogen. Use a thermometer with a probe to take the temperature at the center of the pile: 160-degrees F or slightly lower is ideal. Any higher and it will kill the active microorganisms needed for decomposition. Use a garden fork or shovel to turn the pile, moving the material in the center to the outside. This prevents the pile from overheating and activates the outer layers. If the pile is turned every day, it should take two weeks or a little longer to break down into dark-brown, fresh-smelling, crumbly compost.

Interested in learning more? Find the original paper published by University of California professor Robert D. Raabe here

Learn About Fast Ways To Compost: Tips On How To Make Compost Faster

Composting has become an important part of good stewardship and conservation. Many municipalities have a composting program but some of us choose to make our own bins or piles and harvest the resulting nutrient rich gold for our gardens. Making kitchen scraps and yard waste into compost faster can be done with a few tips and some good practices. Let’s learn how to make compost faster and have a good cycle of consistent plant material.

Fast Composting Tips

Simply leaving a pile of yard debris and kitchen scraps will result in compost in time. However, the process can be sped up to just a few months if a few simple guidelines are followed. Fast ways to compost occur when the compost bin or pile is correctly managed. Getting compost to break down quickly starts with size and ends with management.

The main items a compost pile needs are proper carbon to nitrogen ratio, small surface area, aeration, moisture and temperature. If you want to know how to make compost faster, the key is to manage these five factors carefully. Neglected compost piles tend to dry out; lose oxygen, which kills aerobic bacteria; and lose temperature.

Keeping a careful balance of carbon and nitrogen is

one of the most important fast composting tips. The two macro-nutrients essentially feed off of each other and provide the right environment for all the little bugs and organisms which will help decay and consume the organic material. The right balance encourage the microbes that will be performing the decomposition task. The correct ratio is 30:1.

Getting Compost to Break Down Quickly

Faster breakdown occurs when pieces are smaller and bacteria are encouraged with proper aeration and heat. The key is to keep pieces with smaller surface area that bacteria and micro-organisms can attach onto and begin breaking down. Shred as much yard debris as possible and keep kitchen scraps no larger than an inch in diameter.

Speaking of size, in a compost pile situation, the material will decompose much faster in a large pile at least 3 square feet (approximately .3 sq. m.). The way you layer the bin is one of the easiest fast ways to compost. Ideally, the pile will be directly in contact with soil, the next layer is organic, then soil and so forth. Near the top, put a layer of manure and then more soil. The high nitrogen content of the manure and the direct contact with microbe bearing soil organisms are crucial to speedy decomposition.

The simplest fast compost method is nothing more than good management. If the pile is dry, cool, or has the wrong ratio of nutrients, it cannot do its work efficiently. Aeration is also crucial. Keep the pile moderately moist and turn it with a garden fork at least once per week.

Building a Fast Compost Station

If you are new to composting, the fastest method is the 3-bin system. This is where the compost is turned frequently and added all at once per unit. This allows one pile to break down before you add more organic material. Each pile is started individually, keeping newly added items from essentially starting the pile over again.

You can also use a compost tumbler to the same effect. Add all material at once then turn it at least once a week or once per day if it is handy. Mixing up the material and aerating it keeps it moist, warm and the microbes active. If material added is small enough, this method can achieve compost.

Don’t be intimidated by composting! Composting is easy to do, and this guide is full of tips on how to get the best results.

If you don’t have time to read this whole site right now, no problem!

Just remember that all organic material breaks down. Even if you just toss your yard debris into a hole in the ground, it will eventually turn into compost. There are ways to get faster results, but it’s not the end of the world if you make step in the wrong direction along the way. For instance, if your compost is too dry, you can put some water on it and set things back on the right course. It’s like driving a car. If you are going in the wrong direction, turn the wheel and get back on the right road.

How quickly compost breaks down depends on four things – moisture, oxygen content, temperature, and a good mix of ingredients. The perfect compost pile is damp without being wet, like a squeezed out sponge. It should also be well aerated, with plenty of the oxygen that aerobic bacteria need. And it should have a mix of different types of materials. If you have just one thing, like grass clippings alone, or leaves alone, then it takes a really long time to break down. But if you have several materials and mix them all together, then they break down much more quickly.

To achieve optimal conditions, here are the things you should focus on:

1) Drainage.
2) Air flow.
3) Insulation.
4) Good Mix of Various Ingredients.

Good compost bins allow liquids to drain easily. Stagnant water can suffocate helpful bacteria, and allowing water to sit practically invites pests such as mosquitoes or raccoons. Many compost bins also offer some cover. A lid that keeps rain and snow out of the compost pile will protect the compost from excess liquid. Even if there’s a drain at the bottom of the bin (such as a spigot or mesh screen), it’s a good idea to avoid putting too much water in in the first place. Water that trickles through the compost can wash away useful nutrients and will also suck away heat. However, if you keep the lid on your compost bin all the time, you’ll want to check and make sure that you’re getting ENOUGH water, because materials don’t break down very well if they are too dry either. The general rule of thumb is that materials in your composter or compost pile should be as moist as a damp, wrung out sponge.

If you live in an arid area, you’ll want to keep an eye on your bin in the summer months to make sure that it stays damp enough when it sits in the direct sun. If it gets too dry, add water with the hose or uncover the pile or bin when it rains. If it seems too damp, leave the lid off in the sun and let some of the moisture out.

Many compost bins are designed to maximize air flow and circulation. This is because oxygen keeps away the stinky anaerobic microbes that can otherwise create odors. Keeping your compost well mixed and aerated prevents those anaerobic bacteria from getting established. Oxygen is fuel for the aerobic microbes that break down trash into finished compost – give them plenty of oxygen and they’ll work quickly. There are tumbling compost bins that help aerate their contents, or you may want to use a compost turning tool like a pitchfork or a specialized compost turning tool.

Temperature is another key to the breakdown of compost. Helpful microbes work best at elevated temperatures, so it’s important to keep their workplace warm. The fastest decomposition occurs between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but some breakdown will occur as long as the compost is kept above freezing. Microbes generate their own heat as they work, so keeping the compost bin warm is all about proper insulation. Compost is self insulating – if you pile compost on top of compost, the middle of your compost stack will be the warmest. Position your compost so that the wind doesn’t blow on it and so that it sits in full sunlight. One way to get extra heat is to choose a compost bin with dark colored walls that warm up in the sun. Or if you are using a pile, put a black tarp over it. In hotter areas of the country, you might need to pick a shady spot instead.

The ingredients of your compost are also important. Microbes that break down compost do well on a mix of different food sources. They need plenty of cellulose-rich, carbon material along with nitrogen rich kitchen scraps. The ideal mix is 75% “brown” material and 25% “green” scraps by volume. Or if you are doing it by weight, it’s about a 50 / 50 mix of nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials. That means for every pound of kitchen scraps, it’s good to have a pound of leaves, for example.

“Brown” material includes dried grass, leaves, and shredded newspaper. These types of material take longer to break down than “green” vegetable peels and fruit rinds. If your compost is too wet, add more brown material. If you don’t have a lot of green material, you may need to add water to the compost.

Green and brown doesn’t refer to the actual color of the stuff you are putting in the composter — it’s just shorthand for saying nitrogen rich or carbon rich.

You can see our chart of nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials here on this page.

One last tip – have fun! Don’t take things too seriously and keep trying new techniques.

Need a little more information than this, but don’t want to be overwhelmed?

Check out my short and simple 41 page book on!

How To Compost: Everything You Need To Know To Start Composting, And Nothing You Don’t!

Photo found on courtesy of Rantz

Help Your Compost Pile Decompose Faster

Get the rich organic nutrients of compost onto your garden faster by helping your compost pile decompose more quickly.

A compost pile’s bacteria and other microorganisms generate heat when they digest organic material – kitchen scraps, yard litter – and turn it into nutritious, dark, crumbly compost. You can hurry the process along by creating a more labor-intensive “hot” compost pile, as opposed to a slower “cold” compost pile that lets nature do all the work.

Start by planning for a large pile, because it holds heat better than a small one. Your best option is a pile about 4 or 5 feet wide, long, and high.

Organic matter consists of large amounts of carbon and smaller amounts of nitrogen. Organic matter in your compost bin will break down more quickly if you mix a ratio of 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Carbon is the “brown” dead stuff such as autumn leaves, straw, newspaper, and cornstalks; nitrogen is the fresh “green” stuff such as grass clippings, weeds, and other plants, and kitchen vegetable scraps.

Some gardeners prefer to alternate their green and brown organic matter in layers measuring 2-4 inches thick, but others simply mix the two together.

Chop or shred materials before you add them to the compost pile so they’ll decompose faster. Some gardeners recommend that they be no larger than an inch in diameter.

Use a compost thermometer – those with a long probe are preferable and most convenient – to monitor the pile’s temperature. It should reach from 130-170 degrees in just a few days. When you notice the internal temperature dropping, turn the pile, moving inside material out and outside material in.

Turning the pile frequently allows more oxygen to the microorganisms that are creating your compost, which in turn accelerates decomposition. Aerating it every couple of days will create compost faster than aerating it weekly.

Water the pile in dry weather to keep it damp, but not soggy. Too much water depletes oxygen for the material – munching microorganisms and creates unpleasant odors.

Cover the pile with a plastic tarp. This keeps moisture in during dry weather and excessive water out during rainy weather.

If you want your compost pile to speed up even faster, commercial accelerants, which contain concentrated amounts of microorganisms already in your compost pile, are available in both organic and non-organic formulas. Or you can try home solutions, such as fresh grass cuttings, coffee grounds, aged livestock manure, beer, or rabbit food pellets. These are nitrogen-rich and will jump-start a lagging compost pile.

After several weeks of watering, turning, and monitoring, you’ll have a crumbly, dark, nutrient-rich material that gardeners call “black gold” for good reason: it contains nutrients beneficial to plants, helps soil retain those nutrients, increases soil’s water capacity, and attracts valuable earthworms to your garden.

How to Speed Up Your Compost Pile

By Cathy Cromell, The National Gardening Association

If you build a basic compost pile, you’ll have harvestable compost from the bottom and center of the pile in three to six months. To speed up the composting process, you have to invest a little more time and energy.

This speedier method requires more upfront labor chopping or shredding the organic matter, as well as regular turning of the pile. But you’ll be able to harvest more compost in a shorter time frame.

  1. Follow the recipe for basic compost, but chop or shred all materials into small pieces before layering.

    After several days, the pile will shrink noticeably in size.

  2. Turn the entire pile, making sure materials on the outer edges get mixed into the interior to promote even decomposition.

    Remoisten if needed.

  3. If you’re gung-ho, after a week or two, turn and remoisten the pile.

    If you’re less than gung-ho and don’t want to perform any labor that isn’t absolutely essential, dig into the center of the pile with your pitchfork and check to see whether it’s warm and moist. If so, you can skip turning. If it feels dry or cool, it needs turning and watering.

  4. Repeat the process every two or three weeks.

    Check the organic matter for heat and moisture, and turn and moisten it as needed.

After three or four turnings, you’ll have harvestable compost.

By: Joseph Masabni

If we composted many of the things we throw away, such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, and other landscape debris, we could divert 20 to 30 percent of the trash currently going into landfills. By composting these materials, we can reduce the amount of waste we generate and produce organic matter and nutrients for our garden, landscape and yard.

Composting is simply the process of organic material decomposition. The resulting substance is called compost. Every garden benefits from the addition of compost because it supplies many of the nutrients plants need and also

  • Improves the soil’s physical characteristics
  • Increases the soil capacity to hold water and nutrients
  • Increases soil aeration

Materials for Composting

Many materials can be put in compost piles, including:

Kitchen scraps. Fruit and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds and filters, and eggshells are great items for the compost pile. Do not use animal products such as grease, fat or meat trimmings, or dairy products because they break down very slowly, attract rodents and other pests, and have an unpleasant odor when they decompose.

Grass clippings. Grass clippings (Fig. 1a) have relatively high nitrogen content and make good compost. Mix green, fresh clippings with soil or dry plant material such as leaves to keep the grass from compacting as it settles. Compaction prevents air from entering the pile and slows or prevents the composting process.

Dry leaves. These are plentiful in the fall, and rather than putting them out by the curb, put them in your compost pile. Most leaves decompose faster and more thoroughly when shredded before they are added to the pile. If you do not have a shredder, place the leaves in a row on your yard and cut them up with a rotary lawn mower. Rake up the chopped leaves and add them to the compost pile. (Figs. 1a and 1b.)

Manure. Chicken, cow and horse manures are great nitrogen sources for compost piles. Cat and dog feces should never be put in a compost pile because they can carry disease organisms. •

Sawdust. Sawdust is plentiful at sawmills in many areas, especially in East Texas. Always compost sawdust before adding it to your garden because it can tie up nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes. Add extra nitrogen to sawdust to speed its breakdown.

Other materials. Sod removed from the lawn, hay, non-noxious weeds, shredded newspaper, and hedge clippings can all be composted. Large twigs break down slowly so do not use them.

Building a Compost Pile

You can buy many types of composting bins, but you can also make one easily with wire fencing, cement blocks, bricks, or even scrap lumber. Less room is required if the pile is enclosed, but if you have adequate room you can also leave it free standing. With an enclosed pile, leave an opening on one side so the compost can be turned with a fork to allow air to enter the pile. The compost pile should be located:

  • In a secluded area
  • Preferably near the garden
  • In a partially shaded area to prevent the pile from drying out too fast
  • In a spot with good drainage so it does not become waterlogged

Ideally, a compost pile should be made up in layers (Fig. 2.) The first layer should be coarse plant material, such as branches and twigs, to allow oxygen to circulate up through the pile. The second layer should be 6 to 10 inches of finer plant material such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps.

Figure 2. Layering of a compost pile.

The third layer should be a 1 inch layer of soil or manure, which provides microorganisms and nitrogen. The microorganisms are what actually break down the plant material. To do this they need food in the form of nitrogen.

If you use soil for this layer, add 1⁄3 cup nitrogen for every 25 square feet of compost pile surface area. The nitrogen can be in the form of ammonium nitrate, blood meal, or bone meal.

Repeat the second and third layers until the pile is 5 feet tall after settling. A compost pile needs to be of adequate size, usually 4 square feet, to provide a stable environment for the microorganisms. If a compost pile is much smaller than 3 feet in diameter, it will decompose much more slowly.

Required Elements for Composting

For decomposition to occur, these elements and conditions are essential:

  • Organic material
  • Microorganisms
  • Air
  • Water
  • Nitrogen

Organic material comprises all the items previously listed: kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, etc. The size of the material in the compost pile greatly influences the amount of time it takes for it to break down. The smaller the item, the faster microorganisms can break it down.

Microorganisms need a favorable environment, which includes air, water, and nitrogen.

Air is the only part that cannot be added in excess. Turning the pile often will provide an ample amount of air and speed the composting process. If there is too little air in a compost pile because of compaction, anaerobic decomposition occurs, producing an odor like that of rotting eggs.

A compost pile can have too much water, so the pile location should have good drainage. During the summer, you may need to add water so that the compost pile does not dry out. A compost pile should be moist but not soggy. If you squeeze a handful of the material it should be damp, but water should not drip out.

Organic materials have varying ratios of carbon (C) to nitrogen (N), and this ratio influences how fast microorganisms break them down. If the C:N ratio is too high, decomposition will be slow; if the C:N ratio is too low, the pile will lose some nitrogen to the air in the form of ammonia. The ideal C:N ratio for a compost pile is 30:1.

One way of estimating the C:N ratio is by the amount of green and brown materials in the compost pile. Cut grass, kitchen scraps, and manure are considered green materials and have low C:N ratios. Sawdust, tree leaves, and straw are brown materials and have high C:N ratios. An equal amount (by weight) of green and brown materials will give you the right C:N ratio.

Table 1. Carbon:nitrogen ratio of common organic materials.

As microorganisms begin to break down the organic material, heat is generated. Within a few days the compost pile should reach an internal temperature of 90 to 160 degrees F. This process will destroy most weed seeds, insect eggs, and disease organisms, producing rich, soft humus or compost (Fig. 3.)

Figure 3. Humus ready for use in the garden.

Turn the pile weekly during the summer and monthly during the winter to increase the rate of decomposition. About 90 to 120 days are required to prepare good compost using the layer method. If you have room, make three piles so you will have one ready to use, one being tilled, and one being filled up (Fig. 4.)

In-Ground Composting

Composting can also be done directly in the ground, preferably where a garden row is to be planted the following season once the raw material has completely composted.

To do in-ground composting:

  1. Dig up the area—a long row or a raised bed—and remove the soil.
  2. Fill the hole with the organic materials, such as shredded newspapers and dry leaves (Fig. 5).
  3. Cover it up with the original soil (Fig. 6).
  4. Let this area rest, or compost, for a few months.
  5. Turn the soil and use it as a new planting bed (Fig. 7.)

Figure 5. After digging a hole or trench, fill it with newspapers and dry leaves.

Figure 6. Cover the composting material with the original soil from the hole or trench.

Figure 7. After the compost area has rested for a few months, turn the soil. It is ready to be used for planting.

Table 2. Troubleshooting guide to composting problems.

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