Learning how to compost isn’t difficult at all, and I think it should be considered an essential life skill. Like tying your own shoes, or putting on a duvet cover.
I adore compost because it is the very transformation of something worthless into something wonderful, which I find downright inspirational!
The best news is, you can compost just about anything organic, that is anything carbon-based that has lived (or was the product of something living) at some point of time.
With the energy of mindfulness, you can look into the garbage and say: I am not afraid. I am capable of transforming the garbage back into love.
The only tricky thing to compost is meat and dairy products. Fortunately for us, living in a plant-based household has removed meat and dairy from our compostables. When we had chickens, all leftover cooked meat went to them!
You can also use the Pet Waste Composter to decompose meat. Otherwise, bury meat in the ground, deep enough to deter any marauding cats or foxes, or any other scavenger that might live in your parts.
My Compost Investment
I have three tumblers, two worm farms and one pet waste composter.
Some councils offer a free compost bin per household, and your local classifieds are likely to have a few worm farms or tumblers waiting for a new home. One of my compost tumblers was gifted to me by a neighbour, the others I purchased from my local hardware store.
Starting your own compost operation begins with a little bit of compost chemistry and a tiny bit of math.
The Compost Equation.
While the alchemist’s busy themselves turning lead into gold, I will share with you the formula for turning garbage into sweet compost, which is just as valuable!
(25C:1N) + (O2 + H2O) = Compost
(C) is Carbon-rich material like brown leaves, straw, pine needles, wood chips and twigs, ashes or basically dry, brown, crunchy organic material.
(N) us Nitrogen-rich material like food scraps, used coffee grinds and tea leaves, green cuttings and lawn trimmings, duckweed, algae, seaweed and stock (horse, sheep, cow, pig) manure. Nitrogen-rich material is typically green, organic, and squishy!
Ideally, compost needs 25 parts of carbon-based materials to one part of nitrogen-based material.
If the C:N ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N ratio is too low (excess nitrogen), you will have a stinky, toxic,
How to Compost Fast
By tweaking this compost equation, we can possibly generate compost within two to three weeks of starting the pile.
Small piles lose their heat quickly. A cubic metre of raw materials is required for the compost to retain enough heat to get rolling!
The best way to keep a compost hot is mass. So in the case of my two compost bins, I have one bin I feed, while the other cures. Trying to spread a small amount of waste across two or more bins is not a good idea.
Fill one bin first to at least one-metre cubic mass before filling the next one.
Bulk up your pile with carbon-based materials by collecting leaf litter. You could add shredded free cardboard boxes from the hardware store. To bulk up with nitrogen-based materials, ask your cafe for their spent coffee grinds. Or ask your neighbours for their grass clippings (that’s what I do!).
Compost needs oxygen to “breathe”. A well-aerated pile feeds the microbial life that is busy transmuting your garbage into compost.
Regularly tumbling the compost will ensure that the mix is well aerated. I find that tumbling is a great deterrent to undesirable insects and pests like ants and slaters.
If you use a non-rotating bin or pile, you can fork through your mix. Or, try a compost airer (it looks a bit like a big corkscrew) to turn over your pile.
Not all carbon particles are created equally! Newspaper is slower to compost because it is made up of cellulose fibres coated with lignin, a resistant compound found in wood pulp. (Lignin also gives books that lovely old book smell!)
Corn stalks, straw and pea hay are also slower to compost because they are composed of a resistant form of cellulose. As micro-organisms find it harder to access the carbon in these materials, their composting rate will be much slower.
So while these forms of carbon have relatively slow rates of decomposition, your compost can be accelerated by shredding the newspaper, cornstalks, straw or pea hay into smaller pieces. Shredding creates a larger surface area and makes the carbon more readily available for microbial use.
I have an electric mulcher I found in the classifieds that is perfect for the job for larger garden waste. I have a shredder in my office for paper waste and it can handle thinner cardboard too.
Composting bacteria love a warm, moist environment (think of a rainforest floor). Dry compost will take a long time to eventually break down.
Moisture can be added with additional nitrogen-based material, or simply, add water. It is better to water your compost a little each day, than to give it a weekly drenching.
As I explained earlier, the quickest way to increase the temperature of your compost is to increase its mass. Heat is important to compost, it helps to “cook” the material, breaking it down faster and sterilizes any seeds.
I like using tumblers and closed compost systems because they retain the heat. An added bonus is they keep out vermin and other pests.
If you have an open pile, you could cover it with a tarpaulin, or wet strips of cardboard. Even old blankets to prevent heat from escaping the pile.
If the mass is more than one cubic metre, heat can be generated by placing the compost in a sunnier aspect. The addition of accelerants, water and worms will also help to increase the heat of the compost.
I actually LOVE weeds!*I have lots of nitrogen-rich weeds like cooch-grass and morning glory vine to add to my compost. But to add them without any preparation would be a bit of a disaster. I don’t want compost spreading weeds throughout my new garden!
Shredding the weeds through the mulcher reduces the particle size. Then I place the weeds in a sealed tub (an old brew kit) and cover them with boiling water. You will be surprised at the volume you can fit!
The boiling water is the first stage of sterilizing any seeds by cooking them. Then, when cool, I add shredded comfrey and worm wee to the mix to help accelerate the weed decomposition. Then, I leave the mix, lid on, for two weeks. Yes, it smells! The weeds decompose and ferment to the point where they are safe to add to my compost tumbler as a nitrogen-rich accelerant.
Worms, Worm Wee and Castings
Composting worms can make quick work of fine-textured, well-balanced compost. They eat through the raw material and create air pockets as they move through the material. I have had composting worms in my tumblers and they don’t seem to mind the daily tumble!
If you don’t want to add worms from your worm farm into your compost, add the worm wee or juice that contains much of the microbes needed to break down the material and accelerate the compost decomposition. Equally, a few handfuls of worm castings (worm poo) will introduce bacteria to the mix.
Scoby is a symbiotic mix of bacteria and yeast that transforms sweet black tea into Kombucha. It “grows” into a gelatinous, cellulose-based biofilm, and contains several strains of yeast and bacteria, including species like Acetobacter which are known to be beneficial for breaking down nitrogen-rich material.
Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Billions, but Scoby Juice sounds like it could be the next superfood multi-million IPO. Remember you read it here first!
Since we use the continuous Kombucha method, I have plenty of spare scobys! I blend them with water to make a slurry that I can mix in a watering can and add to dry compost. Again, a little bit every day is better than a one-off big dose.
Compost Accelerating Herbs
The microbial life that breaks down the carbon and nitrogen ingredients need nutrients to thrive. Herbs like comfrey, yarrow and borage, are high in just about every nutrient such microbes (and plants!) need, including Phosphorus and Potassium, and many trace elements.
Comfrey particularly has more potassium than composted manure and is a great addition to the compost.
Diagnosing and Fixing My Compost Issues!
My Old Worm Bin
My old worm bin has been fed an exclusive diet of grass clippings for the last 18 months. It has not been watered. The worms have been eclipsed by a pill bug or slater infestation.
But underneath those clippings, is rich worm castings.
I have split my worm bin into two sides, the left has compost ready to use, the right is “digesting!” I have added more worms to the pile to boost population numbers.
My New Worm Bin
Remember earlier in the year I created a new worm farm? I transferred some fresh lawn clippings that had been dumped into the big worm bin, into the small worm bin and also transplanted slaters into the mix!
So I am going to empty the contents of the new worm bin into the old worm bin and start fresh with new, pest-free worms, and be much more careful about what I feed them this time around!
Medium Compost Tumblers
My medium tumblers get all of my household compost and most of the unflowering weeds from my backyard. It needs to be balanced with some fine carbon materials. Fortunately, the large Peppermint tree at the front of my house obliges with a plentiful supply of dry leaves.
We trimmed the elderflower hedge and when shredded through my mulcher, it provided plenty of nitrogen-rich mass to my tumbler.
Large Compost Tumbler
AS you can see, my large tumbler is full of dried out, carbon-rich material. So it will need more nitrogen-rich additives like the lawn clippings, plus daily watering to get it composting.
I contemplated pulling all the dried material out and running it through my mulcher before returning it to the tumbler, and frankly, I chickened out. There’s more than a few spiderwebs in there and I don’t want to risk a redback bite, even for excellent compost.
Making compost is rewarding and saves you buying it. My kids are very mindful of the importance of our “rubbish” and how useful it is! Plus, I am equally excited about cultivating compost as I am about growing plants and I hope that now you are too!
Do you have your own sweet compost? What’s your secret? Please leave a comment below and share it with us!