image by mjmonty, linda n, natalie maynor, glint x, suavehouse: Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0
The rapid composting method, also known as the Berkeley Method, is one of the quickest ways to convert waste into compost. It requires no special equipment or accelerator. Instead, it uses high temperatures to speed up the decomposition process. The high heat supplied by this method kills weeds, seeds and plant diseases, typical concerns with backyard compost piles. With rapid composting you can turn your waste materials into a rich garden additive in 14 to 21 days.
Steps for rapid composting
Reduce the surface area of the organic waste pieces to 1/2-inch to 1 1/2-inches in size to help them break down quickly. Twigs, branches and woody material can be run through a chipper or chopped with a machete. Cut plant and garden waste with pruning shears. Run food waste through a blender.
Get the right balance of green to brown materials. This can be a process of trial and error, but begin by adding equal volume of nitrogen rich "greens" (e.g. grass, plants, food waste, weeds) with carbon rich "browns" (e.g. pine needles, paper, cardboard, twigs, branches, dry fall leaves, sawdust). If your pile emits an ammonia smell, it has excess nitrogen. Solve this by adding more "brown" matter.
Gather enough organic material to construct a minimum 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet pile. Anything smaller than this will not contain enough waste to create sufficient heat, which is necessary to start the decomposition process. If you've done everything correctly, the center of your pile should heat up within 24 to 48 hours. If you don't notice a rise in temperature, check the moisture level. If it is too wet, add brown waste. If too dry, add green matter and water.
Spray the pile with a garden hose to keep it damp but not soggy. Too much water will slow decomposition and cause a foul odor. A pile that is too dry will take longer to cure or may stop decomposing completely. City water sources contain chemicals that kill the "good" bacteria needed in your pile. Use reclaimed rain or well water. Cover your pile with a tarp or large trash bag when rain is in the forecast.
Turn your pile everyday. This will give you the shortest composting time. The center of the pile should have the highest temperature indicating this is where the action is occurring. Move material from the center to the outside edges and the outside material toward the center. This can be done with a shovel, pitchfork or any implement appropriate to finish the job.
Check the temperature. If you tend your compost pile carefully, you should notice a drop in its temperature within 2 to 3 weeks. This signifies your compost is ready for use. Use the compost indoors and outdoors as a nutrient-rich soil additive.