It takes a long time to create a decent and nutritious compost. Unfortunately, many people are discouraged by this fact and prefer not to bother with it. However, do you really have to wait one or two years for good quality compost? It turns out that it can take much less time because the time of production depends on the composting method.
Compost can be created in as little as six to eight weeks but mostly, it can take a year or more. The more effort you put in, the faster you will get compost. When the materials turn into a dark brown, earthy-smelling soil, the composting process is complete.
What Influences the Time of Compost Formation?
The balance between the amount of carbon and nitrogen in organic material is one of the most important factors in composting. All organic materials contain both carbon and nitrogen, but their ratio varies from material to material. The microorganisms used in the composting process need carbon to give them fuel and nitrogen to make protein.
The ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen is 30:1, because it is at this ratio that the activity of microorganisms is greatest. If the carbon to nitrogen ratio is too low in the compost pile, the microorganisms can precipitate nitrogen into the air in the form of ammonia. If the carbon-nitrogen ratio is too high, the process will be very slow and inefficient. To achieve the ideal carbon-nitrogen ratio, it is enough to mix several materials with different ratios of these elements.
Leaves, straw and cuttings from non-fibrous plants are suitable for composting. Leaves are the most common material in most home composters. Any sticks, branches and tree branches larger than 0.5cm in diameter should first be run through a wood shredder.
Clippings from the vegetable garden and flower beds are excellent sources of nitrogen. Kitchen scraps such as brewed coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and vegetable peelings can also be composted. Blood, bone meal and manure are also great additions.
Grass clippings can be composted, but be careful when doing so, as taking grass from an unknown origin can be treated with pesticides and herbicides. So when you intend to compost grass, you should be patient for at least a year’s composting period. This way you will make sure that the residues of these chemicals won’t be a problem when you continue to use the compost.
Of course, taking grass from our own garden we can be sure that it is not contaminated with chemicals.
The right Season of The year
From a practical standpoint, the composting process will be faster if you use a composter that heats up faster. For example, if you use a plastic composter with a lid, filled with material that will quickly rot in a sunny place without adding fresh contents, and turn its contents a few times during the decomposition process, you will have finished compost at the end of the season.
However, if you regularly add fresh material to the composter without mixing it, you will avoid combining partially decomposed stuff with fresh ingredients. If you create a properly balanced mixture, the compost from the bottom will be ready for use in just a few months.
So you may want to be patient, start the process in the summer and wait those six months to harvest excellent compost in the fall. On the other hand, if you set up a composter in the fall and fill the garbage can during the colder months, be prepared for the fact that you probably won’t get decent compost the following spring. This is because cold weather slows down composting.
Speed of decomposition of the material
Keep in mind that not every material suitable for compost decomposes at the same speed.
The best waste for faster composting will be:
- Fruit peels – the fastest to decompose are banana, lemon and orange peels
- Vegetable plants and peelings – all sorts of leaves, vegetable trimmings or even pea pods are good choices for composting. However, try to avoid cabbage or peach or avocado seeds, for example.
- Cut grass – You can confidently throw in cut grass, but try not to throw in too much. The layer of added grass clippings should be no thicker than 20cm. Apply this tip and your compost will be of good quality. Only on the condition that you do not treat your lawn with herbicides.
- Annual weeds
Type & Size Of Compost Container
The size of the composter you choose will depend, of course, on how much space you have available and and your needs, but you should be aware that you will always get more heat in larger containers. In addition, they will better retain the heat generated.
In other words, the composting process will be faster if you use a larger container. If you only have space for a smaller bin, you should place it in a sunny place. This way you will get useful compost faster.
As for what material the composter is made of – I will reveal that it can make a big difference. Wooden composters (such as those made of pallets) do not retain heat as well as plastic ones. Moreover, you can expect that with a wooden composter, its edges will dry out, especially during sunny summer days. Because of this, the materials inside won’t decompose quickly, since bacteria only work well when there’s enough moisture inside.
Aeration – How Often Should You Turn the Compost.
How often you turn the waste in your compost pile will have a significant impact on the aeration of the inside of the pile. Aeration is essential to the process because the bacteria that compost need oxygen. The process will go faster if you aerate the material more often.
The bad news is that mixing the pile can be quite tedious and take some time. Also, mixing fresh ingredients with rotting ones will affect the process. That is, it will require more time to get a decent compost. This, in turn, means that you may need another bin of fresh stuff.
I think buying a proper compost bin might be a wise solution. And especially if your household generates a lot of leftovers. By doing so, you’ll only make it easier on yourself and make composting faster and more convenient.
How fast do the materials in compost decompose?
The main thing you must always keep in mind is that you should choose just the ingredients depending on how quickly you want to get useful compost. The best option, of course, is to mix green and brown materials. This way you will get the richest compost possible.
Materials that decompose within 6 months:
- Annual weeds
- Fresh leaves
- Flower heads
- Fruit peels
- Leaves of vegetables
- Vegetable cuttings
- All kinds of peelings
- Bread and breakfast cereals
- Coffee grounds
- Leaves and tea bags
- Old herbs and spices
- Thin stems
- Cut grass
- Dry pet food
- Dust (from vacuum cleaner)
Materials that decompose within 2 years:
- Stems of herbaceous plants
- Autumn leaves
- Soft green hedges (after pruning)
- Cardboard and lusterless paper
- Paper towels
- Egg cartons
- Toilet paper rolls
- Old clothes, bedding and towels (made of silk, cotton and wool)
Materials that decompose for up to and up to 3 years:
- Wood shavings and wood chips
- Needles and cones of coniferous and evergreen trees (you can read more about them here)
- Ivy stems
- Wooden twigs
- Egg shells
- Grass clippings (in the sense of grass itself – no other materials)
- Avocados, plums and peaches
- Wine corks (provided they are corked, NOT plastic)
The most important rule of fast composting – the more you shred/chop/grind materials before throwing them into the compost, the faster they will decompose, rot and turn into the final product, which is compost.
This applies to any material, whether it’s the fastest decomposing or those that take two or three years to decompose.
Materials to AVOID when composting:
Whether you need compost as soon as possible, or you can wait a year, two or three for it to mature properly, there are ingredients you absolutely should not add to your compost pile:
- Meat, fish, dairy, fats and bones – avoid adding animal products, as they are likely to “overheat” the compost pile.
- Organic material that is difficult to decompose – it is not a good idea to throw blackberry and raspberry bushes, thick branches and long twigs into the compost pile – all these things take a very long time to decompose and unnecessarily prolong the whole process.
- Coal ash – it contains too much iron and sulfur, which makes it harmful to plants.
- Colored paper – colored inks contain high levels of toxic materials, including heavy metals.
- Pet feces – you should know that pet feces, especially from cats and dogs, often contain pathogenic organisms that can make compost toxic. It is safer to avoid adding them to your compost pile.
- Diseased plants – If you add such plants to your pile, you risk spreading disease throughout your garden (after using the compost).
- Inorganic materials (e.g. metals, glass, aluminum or plastic) – They cannot decompose at all. Adding them to compost is completely useless. Also avoid pressure-treated lumber because of the potentially toxic chemicals it is treated with.
- Synthetic chemicals – All herbicides and pesticides are harmful so you should not mix them with your compost.
Composting Methods And Rate Of Decomposition
It’s worth knowing that the composting method you use will affect how long you have to wait for your first usable compost.
1. Hot composting – a twenty-day process
This method is the most advantageous if you want to get ready compost quickly. However, be prepared for the fact that it is quite a demanding process compared to other commonly used methods. First of all, the compost pile must be at least 1m x 1m in size.
You must dutifully take care of the correct ratio (30:1) of brown to green materials, which determines the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. What’s more, you should grind all materials into pieces about 2.5 cm in size.
During the first week, you need to turn the pile over every day. For the next two weeks, try to turn it every other day. This way you will get ready compost in about three weeks.
There are two main types of microbes that contribute to decomposition inside the compost:
- Mesophilic organisms – live and function most efficiently at 21° to 38° C, and
- Thermophilic organisms – live and function most effectively at temperatures between 45° and 70° C.
Although higher temperatures kill pathogenic organisms and weed seeds, moderate temperatures favor the growth and activity of the most effective “decomposers” – mesophilic organisms.
Heap temperatures between 32° and 60° C are ideal for rapid decomposition. However, if the temperature exceeds 60° C, many microbes and invertebrates will die or become less active. In this case, turn the pile to increase airflow and cool it down a bit.
If the compost never reaches 50° C, you may need to add nitrogen and/or water. Cool weather may also prevent heating the pile.
If there is a strong ammonia smell in the pile, it means that it contains too much nitrogen. This can usually be offset by adding more “brown” materials, rich in carbon.
2. Cold composting – A process that takes three to twelve months
This is the most popular and easiest way to get excellent compost in a satisfactory time. Set up a pile somewhere in the garden and add all your household waste to it over time. How long the process will take depends directly on the material used, as well as the moisture content and temperature of the pile.
To get a good compost in three to four months, the right ratio (20:1 to 100:1) of carbon to nitrogen is required. Otherwise, the decomposition process can take up to a year or more.
3. Biohumus (vermicompost) – It takes one to three months
When deciding on this method of composting, you need to determine the number of earthworms accordingly. The more of them you have, the faster the process of obtaining compost will be.
At the beginning, when the worms begin to settle, you will get useful compost after about three months. Later, when the number of worms reaches a maximum (usually after nine months), you will get finished compost after just one month.
4. Hermicomposting – A three-week process
There is now a new way to obtain compost by using Hermetia illucens (black fly, black soldier) larvae. They are a much better option than earthworms because they work quickly and can survive different temperatures. Moreover, when you use them, you can even add dairy and meat to your compost.
The great thing is that maggots become fatty after eating organic waste, making them excellent chicken feed. Depending on the amount of waste and the number of maggots used, you can expect excellent compost after about three weeks.
External Factors Affecting Composting
Be prepared for a number of external factors to affect the natural decomposition process taking place in the composter.
The most important external factors when composting:
- Temperature – it’s a good idea for you to check the temperature in your compost pile from time to time. The fact is that the bacteria work better when the inside of the compost heap is warmer than the ambient temperature.
Usually this looks like the following:
- In summer – the temperature of the pile should reach ~98.6-122°F (~37-50°C) when it is ~80°F (~27°C) outside.
- In winter – the temperature of the pile should be ~41°F (~5°C) when it is about ~30°F (-1°C) outside.
When the temperature inside the pile starts to drop, this is the time to flip the material. You will know that the compost is almost ready when the compost stops heating up after flipping.
- The density of the materials used – the density of the materials you use to make compost will have a direct effect on the speed of the decomposition process. This means that if you add denser wood fibers, it will take longer to make usable compost.
- Size and shape of the material – as I mentioned earlier, the more shredded things are, the faster the decomposition process will take place. You should cut or chop the used material depending on how long you want the compost to take.
- Intensity of adding material – continuously adding fresh stuff to your compost pile will slow down the composting process. I recommend you use at least two bins. One for compost that is ready to use, and another for fresh material that you add daily. This way you will make the process faster and more efficient.
- Technology – the method and technology of composting have a big impact on the decomposition process. For example, specially designed hot composters will speed up the process by encouraging the growth of bacteria that produce the required heat.