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How to Make Compost Starter

By Joan Norton ; Updated September 21, 2017
Compost is dark brown or black
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Compost starter is a substance that provides a nitrogen-protein source that feeds the microbial material in a beginning compost pile. It is a “booster start” to get the decomposition process going well. Animal products such as dried blood have been a traditional source for nitrogen-protein compost starters, but a handful of already-composted material does just as well. It is easy to get the compost pile started by using bone meal, blood meal, manure, fish meal, alfalfa meal or cottonseed meal. Other compost starters that are high in nitrogen are nettles, seaweed and comfrey.

Compost starter

Chicken manure is a compost starter.
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Spread a 4-inch thick layer of brown, carbon-rich material to start the pile. This may include shredded newspapers, dry leaves or grass, wood chips, pine needles or straw.

Sprinkle the starter over brown materials.
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Add ½ cup of the compost starter of your choice by sprinkling it evenly over the brown layer. If you are using a commercial compost starter, read the directions carefully for the amount needed.

Add a 4-inch layer of green materials. Water until it is wet but not soggy. Water helps activate the compost starter.

Repeat the layering process of alternate green and brown materials, spreading a handful of starter after each brown layer.

Water the compost pile thoroughly, wet but not soggy. Decomposition has started and it will continue for three to six months until finished compost is available.

Aerate the compost pile every two weeks by “stirring” a little bit with a pitchfork or strong stick. Just let air in, but do not turn the pile.


Things You Will Need

  • Garden gloves
  • Compost bin
  • Compost materials
  • Compost starter


  • Commercially manufactured compost starters contain billions of microorganisms that activate the decomposition process in the same way the fungi and bacteria already in your garden do.
  • A handful of rich, dark earth from a forest or wild area has as much microbial activity to start a compost pile as a commercial starter does.
  • Place the compost bin in a sunny area. Compost decays fastest when it is between 14 and 160 degrees F.


  • Check weekly to see that the compost pile is moist and water if necessary.
  • If the compost pile develops too many flies, put a layer of brown material on top. Flies are attracted more to the green materials as they decay.

About the Author


Joan Norton, M.A., is a licensed psychotherapist and professional writer in the field of women's spirituality. She blogs and has two published books on the subject of Mary Magdalene: "14 Steps To Awaken The Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene" and "The Mary Magdalene Within."