How to Start a Compost Pile With Nitrogen


Organic waste tossed into a heap in your backyard turns into nutrient-dense humus eventually, but whether the composting process takes two weeks or two years is up to you. Many compost enthusiasts use nitrogen activators, or inoculants, to jump-start microbial activity, which, in turn, leads to decreased composting time. The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension advises using an organic nitrogen activator, such as manure, plain topsoil, finished compost or blood meal, because they provide the decomposing bacteria with protein to stimulate growth and reproduction.

Step 1

Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of dry, brown carbon-rich organic waste across your composting site. Make sure your heap measures at least 3- by 3-feet but no more than 5- by 5-feet. Try to mix a variety of materials together, including dense waste, such as sawdust, with loosely packed waste, such as straw and leaves, to help improve the aeration of your pile. Squirt the layer of waste with your garden hose, dampening it with enough water to make it as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 2

Sprinkle your nitrogen compost activator across the surface of the carbon waste. Limit plain topsoil to no more than a 1- to 2-inch layer to keep the compost pile from getting too heavy, which may decrease oxygen levels and lead to anaerobic decomposition. Additionally, don't apply more than ½-inch layer of powdered blood meal, since it typically contains 12 percent nitrogen, according to the University of Missouri Extension. Add up to 3 inches of animal manure, since it's a less-concentrated source of nitrogen.

Step 3

Scoop a second layer of carbon-rich waste on top of your nitrogen activator. Dampen the organic waste and top it with a second layer of nitrogen. Repeat these alternate layers of waste until your compost heap measures 3 to 5 fee tall. Insert a compost thermometer or narrow metal pole straight into the center of your compost heap.

Step 4

Mix your compost pile once every two to three days to provide plenty of oxygen for the decomposing bacteria. Watch for signs of microbial activity, such as steam or heat rising from your pile. Pull the pole from the center of the heap, feeling it to check for warmth, an indication of rapid decomposition.

Step 5

Keep your compost as damp as a wrung-out sponge and continue turning the pile every few days once it becomes warm. Add fresh waste to the heap as it becomes available or leave the original materials to decompose into mature compost.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never add manure from meat-eating animals, such as pets and pigs; this manure may contain harmful pathogens that could infect humans.

Things You'll Need

  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Garden hose
  • Organic nitrogen compost activator
  • Compost thermometer/metal pole


  • University of Illinois Extension: Materials for Composting
  • University of Missouri Extension: Making and Using Compost
  • "The Rodale Book of Composting;" Deborah Martin & Grace Gershuny; 1992
Keywords: nitrogen in compost, compost activators, quick compost

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.