I mentioned in an earlier blog post about composting that, at my house, a compost pile hangs around for six to nine months before it has broken down enough to use it in a garden bed.
What can you do to speed up the composting process? How can you get access to that fabulous compost as soon as possible?
Once again, there are three keys to compost success.
1) Make the pieces smaller. Smaller pieces decompose faster. If you want compost faster, grind up what you use in your compost. Don’t put big chunks in.
2) Get more air into it. Composting is an aerobic process. For it to happen requires oxygen. The more you aerate your compost, the faster it will break down. So, turn it or whatever, but keep air in all parts of it.
3) Add nitrogen when it cools off. After you initially create your pile, if you’ve put a good amount of nitrogen in, it will heat up. Over time it will cool off again. If you can turn the pile while layering in some more high nitrogren, the pile will heat up again and the decomposition process will rage on.
After you have the three composting basics in mind, now you just need to put it together.
Decide where you’ll put it. It’s likely that your compost pile will be a part of your life for a while. At my house it takes six to nine months for compost to happen. Maybe there are some super compost ninjas around that get theirs broken down more quickly, but that isn’t how it goes for me. (Here are some tips for making your compost break down faster.) It is important to put the compost somewhere that you can live with it for that long.
At my house, I have a Golden Retriever whom I love very much. I love her despite the incredibly annoying love she has for spreading my greens and browns all over the yard if she can get to them. Because of this habit, it is important for me to enclose my ingredients as well as my working compost. While you can certainly buy beautiful and costly compost containers, I just use chicken wire. I just buy a roll at Home Depot or Lowes and unroll a good amount (a compost pile needs to be at least three feet thick and three feet high). I fasten the ends together with cable ties. There are probably more poetic ways to do that but I have lots of cable ties, it’s easy and I don’t have to use any tools.
If you don’t have any critters that will make a mess of your pile, you can just pile it up. You may not like the look of a pile in anywhere in your yard. If you look around, you’ll find lots of beautiful, fancy and expensive ways to contain your compost. What you do completely depends on how much money you have and how you want to spend it. As for me, if I can find a low priced way to accomplish something, that’s what I’m going to do.
Once you have your place, start layering your greens and browns. Three parts brown to one part green. Be sure to keep your hose nearby so that you can add moisture too. Keep mixing it up really well as you put it together.
Once you have your pile all put together, you mostly wait. In a couple of days you should start to feel the pile heat up when you stick your hand down into it. If you want to, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of your pile. You can use any thermometer with a probe, although they do make specific compost thermometers with a really long probe so that you can easily get into the middle of your pile more easily.
You do need to make sure to monitor the moisture and throw water on it when it gets too dry. You also need to get air into it if you want to help the pile break down faster. (Here is more information about getting air into your pile.)
Thinking of beginning composting? It’s pretty simple. You really only need to know three things.
1) Your greens and browns. To have compost, you must start with the greens and browns. Greens are materials that are high in nitrogen, like grass clippings. Browns are things that are high in carbon, like dead leaves. You’ll need a ratio of about 3 parts carbon materials to 1 part nitrogen materials.
You don’t need to go crazy measuring things either. If you have too much nitrogen in your compost, your pile will stink and you can add carbon. If you have too much carbon in that compost pile, it won’t heat up and you can add nitrogen.
2) Oxygen. Compost needs oxygen. Even the middle of your pile needs oxygen. You can accomplish this in one of several ways. You can utilize a compost tumbler that allows you to easily turn the compost. You can drill holes in a PVC pipe and keep it in the middle of your pile to allow for air flow. You can get out there on the weekends and use a shovel and turn your compost. My favorite tool is this Yard Butler CA-36 Compost Aerator. This is what I use to stir up my piles.
3) Moisture. Your pile needs to be as moist as a wrung out sponge. If it is too wet, or too dry it will slow down your progess. We don’t want to slow our process..right?
So you’ve put together your greens, your browns, and you have a plan for keeping air circulation going and moisture. What now? Stay tuned. We’ll go over that next.
I made this composting video last year while I was working with my very first compost pile. I’ve improved my technique. I’ll write more tomorrow about composting.