How to speed up composting?

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bobnewboy

Settler
Jul 2, 2014
898
304
North West Somerset
Hi All, the missus and I have built a fairly good sized set of three composting stalls in a dark corner of the garden. Over time we have put a lot of garden and kitchen green waste of all sorts in them, and turned them round between the stalls every few months, as I have seen advised. However, our green waste doesn’t break down very quickly at all.

We’re in no blinding rush, but is there anything we can do or add to the stalls to gee-up the composting process? I do take a pee on them every now and then, but even this hasn’t really made much difference.

Cheers, Bob
 

zornt

Forager
Apr 6, 2014
185
48
Ohio, USA
Long time ago I saw an article about using a cat litter called Litter Green to speed up composting.


You would put a layer on top of your pile then water it.
Turn it over every so often ready in about half the time.
Apparently it only works with this specific litter.
 
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zornt

Forager
Apr 6, 2014
185
48
Ohio, USA
Edit to add. I think this was a companion book to a Public Broadcasting series called Square-foot Gardening.
Also a covering of black plastic would hold in heat to speed up the process.
 

slowworm

Native
May 8, 2008
1,079
148
Devon
Have you got a good mix of nitrogen rich green waste (grass clippings, veg tops etc) to drier material such as straw hedge clippings etc?

Are the heaps moist? Too dry and they'll just sit there but they don't want to be too wet. A cover of some sort to keep the heat and moisture in helps.

And plenty of pee rather than the odd drizzle.
 
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TLM

Settler
Nov 16, 2019
743
271
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Vantaa, Finland
Here they sell an additive that is supposed to speed up composting, I have no idea if it is a mix of bacteria or fungi but some people think it helps. I used it once at the cottage but was then away so I did not see the effect.
 
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punkrockcaveman

Full Member
Jan 28, 2017
313
195
yorks
I've not been composting for long but keeping it moist definitely helps, I try to use a bit of 'too young' compost in between the layers to help introduce the decomposing organisms to the fresh material.
 
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crosslandkelly

A somewhat settled
Jun 9, 2009
23,570
1,051
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North West London
Pee. Honestly urine works.
 

Woody girl

Full Member
Mar 31, 2018
2,713
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I've been using pee for years. One word of warning though. Be aware of any meds you are taking.
These can be inadvertently added to your compost and it may be something you don't want to add to your plants as they may affect wildlife or your crops.
 
Hi All, the missus and I have built a fairly good sized set of three composting stalls in a dark corner of the garden. Over time we have put a lot of garden and kitchen green waste of all sorts in them, and turned them round between the stalls every few months, as I have seen advised. However, our green waste doesn’t break down very quickly at all.

We’re in no blinding rush, but is there anything we can do or add to the stalls to gee-up the composting process? I do take a pee on them every now and then, but even this hasn’t really made much difference.

Cheers, Bob
I think in your particular case Bob you need four composting stalls, one should always remain empty. You turn number 3 stall into number 4 stall, then you turn number 2 stall into number 3 stall & number one stall into number 2 stall. The next month you turn them all back again. This is the fastest way I know.
Keith.
 

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
8,380
1,451
McBride, BC
My compost box is 5' x 5' x 3' deep. About 18 years of grass clippings and it's half full.

First, it really does need watering during spells of dry weather (rare here).

Second, I bought a bag of "Rot-It", compost box fertilizer. Something like 5-5-5.
Any fertilizer, maybe once a year, even 20-20-20 works fine.

Third, the decomposition process is aerobic. The yeasts, bacteria and other fungi require oxygen.

The box is alive. Use a big hay fork or garden fork to fluff it up once a year.
Here, it gets compacted by the winter snow loading.
 

Toddy

Mod
Mod
Jan 21, 2005
35,643
1,736
S. Lanarkshire
Worms, brandling worms to be precise :)

If you can't get heat into the compost heap, or constantly turn it in one of those big drums like a weird cement mixer, then the worms will do the work for you.

I lift the lid on my compost bin and there's a writhing knot of brandling worms that weighs as much as a bag of sugar.
The worm worked soil is beautiful stuff, broken down and yet still full of organic matter that is really important to create an excellent fertile soil.

If you can't find brandling worms nearby, I think they're sometimes sold by fishing tackle shops.

Mine just kind of appeared in the compost and their numbers grew to accomodate.
 

punkrockcaveman

Full Member
Jan 28, 2017
313
195
yorks
Worms, brandling worms to be precise :)

If you can't get heat into the compost heap, or constantly turn it in one of those big drums like a weird cement mixer, then the worms will do the work for you.

I lift the lid on my compost bin and there's a writhing knot of brandling worms that weighs as much as a bag of sugar.
The worm worked soil is beautiful stuff, broken down and yet still full of organic matter that is really important to create an excellent fertile soil.

If you can't find brandling worms nearby, I think they're sometimes sold by fishing tackle shops.

Mine just kind of appeared in the compost and their numbers grew to accomodate.
Now this is interesting to me. I had loads of worms in my compost last year, but last year I put a lot of kitchen waste into it, and kept it heavily watered. For me, I find the worms very useful for fishing. However my compost was very smelly and I didn't think I had enough 'brown' material. This year I went a little drier, added wood chip and reduced the kitchen waste, and it's not smelly, but the worms aren't there, like maybe one or two in a forkful, I would have had 20 or more in a fork full on the last lot.

As an aside note, don't buy dendrobenas worms, as apparently they somehow get rid of the smaller worms, perhaps out competing them?
 
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Toddy

Mod
Mod
Jan 21, 2005
35,643
1,736
S. Lanarkshire
I didn't know that about the dendrobenas worm, thank you, I will mind.

That said though, at twenty a forkful I would think that not a terribly busy worm worked compost heap.
I am struggling to post photos, the files are too large, but I'm not joking about the number or weight of the worms.
It's slower than any compost heap worked by heat though, but I think the soil is better, and given time the worms break it all down into good crumbly soil.

I've been looking, and the worms in mine are Tiger Worms aka Eisenia feteda.
(Yorkshire worms will sell them if required)

I do have to be careful of seeds put into a worm worked heap. Unlike a hot heap they aren't killed off by the heat. So, just now I'm pulling the dead bluebells but if I put the seed capsules into the heap I'll end up with thousands of new bluebells in every corner of the garden, plant pot and seed tray. Same with things like bittercress or St.John's wort, red Campiom or Foxgloves and Figwort. Pansies do the same too. It's not quite as easy that way as the hot heap.
My household is pretty much vegetarian, and the worms devour all household scraps. Rinse out the milk jug/carton thing and pour that over the heap too. An elderly farmer told me that the worms love the milk, he said they used to be found in byres under the straw where the cows lay. He always knew where to find worms for his fishing :)

If you're trying to get a hot heap going, traditionally horse manure was the stuff you wanted. If you can find a nearby stables, they're usually delighted to give it away if you bring your own bags.
 
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slowworm

Native
May 8, 2008
1,079
148
Devon
You need to be careful of manure these days as it can contain persistent herbicides they will not break down for several years ( https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=477 ).

It's often easy to get your own compost worms by laying a plastic sheet on damp ground for a few days. Virtually every garden will have them and they'll rapidly reproduce in a compost heap.

What you would normally expect would be a heap with a good mix of materials that are moist will heat up to start with then cool after the initial breaking down and then once turned a couple of times the worms to find their way in to complete the process.
 

bobnewboy

Settler
Jul 2, 2014
898
304
North West Somerset
Hi All, thanks for the many and varied suggestions. I do pee on the first stall - with the new, fresh green stuff in - but i can only water so much proto-compost in a day :). I think that one of the issues is the current dry period. I will be turning the stacks soon, and so when i do I shall add water to the layers as they are built up. I have noted that since we're on a ridge, the soil is light and sandy, so very well drained, and this may be holding the natural composting process back somewhat. So, more watering (of both sorts!), perhaps some kind of cover to keep the stalls damp, and a look for worms to add.

Cheers, Bob
 
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Toddy

Mod
Mod
Jan 21, 2005
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S. Lanarkshire
........Bittercress is my nemesis. The tortoise won't eat it either :(
If you pick it when it's young, it's quite tasty in a piece with cheese and tomato or just mixed in with salad leaves.
Old stuff's hard going though. Feed it to the compost, minus the flowering seed stems.
It's one of the few greens with any real taste in Winter. Kale's all very well, and I do like it, but it's not exactly known for being anything but green, and sprouts really need butter or the like added.
It's still a pest of a weed in the garden though.

M
 
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Erbswurst

Native
Mar 5, 2018
1,468
535
Berlin
You could try that powder:


It is made after a receed of the Benedictine Abbei Stanbrook , and probably available there too?

The Benedictine Abbei Fulda is one of the most serious pioneers of organic gardening in Germany. Of course, they simply continued what they did over centuries and what was correctly written down about gardening in their books.

Worms like simple cardboard.
You can add a bit to your compost. Seems to be attractive like chocolate to children.

Add parts of the old compost to the new one, so you put that micro life in the dead mix.
You should throw all organic waste of the garden on the heap. Rough stuff as well as fine stuff. Do it how it comes, that usually makes the perfect layering.

You can use a metal box with big holes or old fences but professionally you construct walls 120 cm wide, 120 cm high, as long as you want, but minimum 2 metres.
You should cover the heap with 5 cm earth in the end and keep it humid.
It must be in the shadow. Under an apple tree for example, BUT NOT UNDER WALNUT OR OAK.
You can plant pumpkin next to it if you don't have trees. The leaves of the pumpkin give the heap the needed shadow.

In the structure should be layers with twigs that air can enter into the heap.

XXXXXXXX

Different to the compost science we put over years everything in a box made from fences which was 2x4 metres and up to 180 cm high.
We didn't touch it inside, we just threw more and more on top.
When the plants needed water the compost heap got the same amount per square metre.
In the spring time we used the rough result how it was.
We only used the last layers to start the next heap.

The succes was great, the work next to nothing.

Like most things in the new garden the compost corner needs time to develop.
You need to create in your whole garden a nature similar balance of forces. The best is to plant mainly usual European plants like berries, fruit trees and flowers which grow in your area instead of forcing botanic experiments in the wrong conditions without an idea about anything.

Correctly planted you nearly can leave the most plants alone and just have to support in a part of the garden your vegetables, but surrounded by plants that grow naturally in your area.

You should offer as much as possible housing for different birds and feed them all over the year. They will do the most of the work for you as a payback.

Don't use any toxic stuff in your garden. Even professionals aren't able to handle that over several years, a beginner can easily destroy his land for many years with it. Try to get the best English books about organic gardening. I can't recommend it to you, because I only know the German literature.

Organic gardening means to bring the forces of nature in a natural balance. The balance produces a healthy micro cosmos. That's possible in the smallest piece of land.
 
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Toddy

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Mod
Jan 21, 2005
35,643
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S. Lanarkshire
@Erbswurst
In a forest, that works. In a small garden compost heap, the reality is that all those twigs end up making it a nightmare to empty and use the soil around the garden.
It has to be appropriate to your garden.
That means soft stems are fine, hollow ones are excellent, but woody ones get stripped of their leaves and soft tips. If you can shred or really crush the rest, then excellent, if you can't then don't clog up your smallish compost heap or bin with them.
Either stash somewhere where they can rot down slow, slow, slow....beside other slow rot stuff like turfs perhaps, they take about as long to break down, or use the organics recycle bin. The council will shred them and they'll still end up as soil.
Birch twigs (full of the same stuff that the bark is), beech, rowan, willow, wild cherry, pine, leylandii, holly, sycamore, hazel, wych elm, ash, oak, alder, elder....these are all windfalls in my garden, they do not rot down quickly in a compost heap. They do form twiggy snarls that are a pain to get out of the heap or bins. They don't dig into the flower or vegetable beds well either, even half rotted. They end up forked out time after time and returned to the base of the next compost bin in use.
I really don't find them worth the effort. In the woodland along side my garden though, their slow decay is excellent for making the soil of the understorey mixed with the annual leaf fall. But it's slow, and most of us work by the year in our gardens, not by the decade, when making compost.

In my garden, like many others in the UK, open compost heaps don't work well. They just sit and moulder, they don't heat up and they get water logged and they freeze in winter. They need a good cover of some kind.
I don't want the birds rooting through them because they leave it an unholy mess over the path beside the bins, as do the badger and the fox when they raid it for worms, and I really don't want to encourage vermin in to feast on fruit and veg remains.

I've lived here for over thirty years, I do garden organically, I don't use weedkillers, I hand pull every one, but the reality for most of us is small gardens.
These days I use the black dalek shaped compost bins. They're easy, they're effective, they sit under the wild cherries and the lilac beside the greenhouse.
They don't stink, they don't get soaked and they don't freeze, and I get absolutely brilliant worm worked soil from them :)
I'm happy to see the robins, wrens, blackbirds and bluetits down to feast when we're opening one of the daleks up to empty it :)

I think every garden is different, and no one system will work for everybody in their situation. In the UK though, if you're not making a massive compost system, hap it up. Cover it with something, keep any warmth and moisture in the heap and try to keep the vermin and flies out.
 
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