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How to Accelerate Compost

thermometer image by Alfonso d'Agostino from

Composting, by nature is a gradual process. No matter what you do, you won't be able to turn your kitchen and garden scraps into humus overnight. And even if you could, you wouldn't be able to use it on your plants. According to Ohio State University's horticultural department, compost should be at least four months old before it is used on garden seedlings. But by modifying the conditions of your compost pile to make them ideal for the bacteria responsible for breaking down its contents, you can accelerate the time it takes your compost pile to go from scraps to soil.

Cut any material to be composted in the small pieces, using a knife or scissors--shred them if possible. Small pieces have more surface area for the microorganisms to work away on, causing them to break down faster.

Add a few handfuls of garden or potting soil and organic fertilizer (manure and grass clippings work well). The soil contains a fresh batch of the microorganisms responsible for turning compost into humus and the fertilizer provides them with energizing nitrogen.

Add a constant ratio of carbon to nitrogen each time you add to your compost pile. Compost breaks down the most efficiently with a 30-to-1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. One way to precisely keep track of this ratio is to use a compost calculator to keep track of the carbon/nitrogen balance in your pile as you add things on. Another, more approximate method is to make sure that each addition you make to your compost pile is one part green (food scraps, moist plant material) to two parts brown (dead leaves, hay). If you find that you have more green material than brown (as most people do), keep a supply of hay or dead leaves around to add to the pile every time you add kitchen or plant scraps.

Measure the internal temperature of your compost pile at least once every two days, using a compost thermometer. Compost decomposes most quickly when the pile's internal temperature is between 120 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn your compost pile (roughly once weekly) with a manure fork whenever its internal temperature drops to around 120 degrees. If your compost pile's temperature is consistently low, move the compost to a black compost bin and move it into direct sunlight to help it maintain a high temperature.

Cover your compost pile with a compost blanket when it rains. Too much moisture slows down decomposition (your compost pile should consistently be as moist as a wrung-out sponge).

Surround your compost with hay bales to insulate it during mild wintes and place it in direct sunlight to keep it composting during cooler months.


Only add vegan materials to your compost pile. Some animal products, such as oils and bones, will compost, but they take a long time to decompose.

Compost is ready when it is dark brown and crumbly like rich garden soil.

Compost piles work most efficiently when they are between 3 and 5 cubic feet in size.

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