Composting tips & tricks 2020
So you’ve got your compost bin all nicely squared away in the corner of the garden. You’ve added all your kitchen scraps and dead leaves. Now you’re ready to see the pay-off from all that hard work. Only, nothing seems to be happening. The leaves still look like leaves, the lettuce scraps are still green, and there’s no compost being formed.
If your composting is moving along slower than you think it should, these five tips will help jump-start the process.
Cover the pile
Composting is the chemical decomposition of the items you add to your pile. As with any chemical reaction, composting happens faster at higher temperatures. Since the reactions involved in composting give off their own heat, you can increase the temperature of the pile by covering it with plastic. The plastic will prevent the heat from the composting reactions and should speed up your process.
Balance is everything
The right balance of carbon and nitrogen in your compost pile will make decomposition go faster. Sources of carbon in composting include dead leaves, sticks, and paper. Nitrogen comes from the fresh stuff like grass clippings, kitchen waste, and other green stuff. According to the Cornell Waste Management Institute, the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen for composting is around 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. An overabundance of nitrogen in the mix causes ammonia gas to be formed. So, if you’re smelling a sharp, unpleasant odor coming from your pile it’s a sign that you’ve got too much fresh green matter.
Grind your compostables
Remember that composting is a chemical process that breaks down the fresh organic material in the items you throw in the bin. The more contact an item in the pile is able to make with the other items, the faster the process will go. Grinding or chopping large items before throwing them in makes it that much easier for the chemical processes to get the job done.
Turn, turn, turn
Turning is important for a couple of reasons. One, the material at the center of the pile will be warmer because of the heat given off by chemical reactions. Constantly moving new material into that warm center will keep the reactions going strong. The other reason turning is important is the items in your pile need to come in contact to take part in reactions. If you don’t turn, the material on the outside of the pile will never decompose, while the reactions on the inside of the pile use up all the available material and stop.
Knowing when to turn your pile is a bit of an art, but using a thermometer will help you get an idea of when to turn. As reactions in the pile increase, the temperature of the middle of the pile will rise. At the peak of the reactions, the internal temperature will reach somewhere between 120-170 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a thermometer, you can watch for this peak temperature. When the temperature starts to drop again, you know that most of the organic material has been used up and the pile is ready to turn.
Keep things moist
Composting likes wet conditions. The hotter (see above) and wetter the environment, the faster everything will break down into the rich product of composting known as “black gold”. But be careful. Too much water can cause the oxygen floating around in the pile to be absorbed, and that’s bad too because chemical reactions need that oxygen as well.
If these tricks don’t do it, there are some commercial products available that can strongly encourage your compost pile to get the job done quickly.
Commercially produced microbes can give your pile a big boost. They generally don’t contain anything that isn’t already present in your existing pile, but they are highly concentrated and might help jump-start decomposition. If you keep an organic garden, though, be sure to check the label. Not all commercial compost products are organic certified.
Other short cuts include adding coffee grounds, cow manure, or other items rich in nitrogen to the pile. You might even want to try vermiculture in order to speed things along, but that’s a whole other can of worms.