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How to Speed Up Compost [16 Ways to Make Compost Fast!]

How to speed up compost! Starting a compost bin is a great way to add nourishment to your garden and practice eco-friendly living. If starting from scratch, you may feel daunted by how long compost can take to mature. Sometimes a year or more! 

The good news is that when the community of microorganisms responsible for breaking down compost material has the ingredients and conditions they need to thrive, your compost can be ready to use within a couple of months or even weeks!

In this guide, I’ll share 16 tips on speeding up the composting process and getting that gorgeous, nutrient-rich fertilizer on your garden beds faster.

How to Speed Up Compost

Need compost – but don’t want to wait until next year? These are our favorite tips to help accelerate your composting process. Without fuss!

  1. Aerate the pile
  2. Turn the pile more often
  3. Shred materials into smaller pieces 
  4. Add nitrogen
  5. Build a larger pile 
  6. Add a compost accelerator 
  7. Form a woody base layer 
  8. Water the pile 
  9. Maintain ideal temperature range 
  10. Use a compost thermometer to monitor conditions 
  11. Use a compost tumbler 
  12. Add coffee grounds 
  13. Insulate your pile 
  14. Add livestock manure 
  15. Add in healthy soil 
  16. Lower the pH 

Now that you know how to speed up compost – let’s dig into the details. (Garden spade optional!)

compost mulch red leaves gardening
Want to speed up composting? Try hot composting methods! Hot composting requires at least one cubic yard of compost space – and frequent turning. If you care less about the speed of your compost decomposition – then we recommend cold composting. We read an excellent article explaining how cool composting is simpler than hot composting. Cold composting may also have surprising benefits! (But – speed isn’t one of them.)

1. Aerate the Pile 

Here’s how to speed up compost without second-guessing. The microbes that quickly and efficiently break down your compost pile need oxygen to survive and thrive. 

If oxygen levels become depleted in a compost pile, anaerobic bacteria, which thrive in environments without oxygen, will replace the oxygen-dependent bacteria.

These anaerobic bacteria have a much slower metabolism and produce hydrogen sulfide and methane instead of carbon dioxide. The result? A much slower decomposing, stinky compost pile. 

Turning your pile, creating a loose structure, breaking up fresh materials, building in aeration pipes, and adding bulky materials (such as sticks) throughout the compost pile will help create air pockets.

2. Turn the Pile More Often 

Continually turning your compost pile will help speed up your compost. You’re achieving a couple of things by doing this. First, turning the pile promotes oxygen flow. Secondly, by turning the compost pile, you’re not allowing the core of the compost pile to become too hot. 

While heat will help speed up the decomposition process, too much heat, combined with a lack of oxygen, will kill the microbes we need and create that dreaded anaerobic environment. 

A general rule of thumb suggested by the National Organic Program is to turn your compost pile at least five times within the first two weeks. Doing so supports the activity of thermophilic bacteria (heat-loving bacteria) and prevents the compost pile’s temperature from exceeding 160degrees Fahrenheit.

Read More – Starting a Worm Farm Business from Scratch!

3. Shred Material into Smaller Pieces 

Want to speed up compost? Break it down! Large chunks of organic matter will take longer to decompose than tinier bits of material. An easy way to speed up the decomposition process is to shred your compost materials into small pieces of about one-half inch to one-and-a-half inches (.5 to 1.5) so that the microbes can more easily and quickly decompose. And – shredding your compost is a great way to ensure the pile stays aerated. 

vegetables and orange peels organic compost
Want to speed up compost? Particle size counts! We read on the University of Florida Extension blog that smaller compost pieces have more surface area. But – how does that speed up compost? Well, more surface area allows microbes to decompose the compost faster. They have more angles of attack! So – for speedy composting – break your compost into small chunks. Let those microbes go to work!

4. Add Nitrogen

If you want to speed up the decomposition of your compost, adding more nitrogen will feed the growth and activity of the bacteria in the compost pile. 

Nitrogen-rich material includes fresh grass clippings, livestock manure, and food scraps. Even our urine provides an excellent source of nitrogen! Add in thin layers throughout the pile for quick decomposition.

Just make sure that you’re not adding in too much nitrogen. 

As you’ll learn throughout this article, achieving a balance of ingredients and conditions is crucial. Too much nitrogen can create excessive heat, tipping the pile towards that smelly anaerobic environment. 

Generally, you’ll want to maintain a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30 parts carbon (woody materials like sticks, wood chips, brown leaves) to one part nitrogen. 

5. Build a Larger Pile 

A heftier compost pile can sustain warmer temperatures better than a small one. The ideal size for a backyard compost pile is at least nine cubic feet. (Three feet wide by three feet long by three feet high.) 

At this size, it has enough mass to more easily maintain the core temperature needed for bacteria activity (between 135 to 160degreesFahrenheit) while remaining small enough to turn and handle. 

6. Add an Accelerator to Speed Up Compost

Adding in a compost accelerator (aka compost activator or compost starter) will do just that – speed up decomposition. 

You can purchase a formulated accelerator stuffed with decomposers like fungi bacteria and nitrogen-rich ingredients to add directly to your pile. Adding a compost accelerator at the beginning stage is a great way to jump-start the decomposition process. 

Read More – 8 Best Compost Shredders! Perfect for Home Use!

7. Form a Woody Base Layer 

How you construct your compost pile will play a crucial role in the decomposition speed. The more packed and denser the compost pile is, the less oxygen will move through, resulting in a slower decomposition speed. Forming a woody base layer of branches at the bottom also encourages air circulation.

8. Water the Pile 

Moisture is crucial to the decomposition process as it supports the growth and activity of the microbes responsible for breaking down the compost materials. 

The ideal moisture content for most compost piles is about 40% to 60%. You may need to water it to achieve this level – depending on your climate. You can purchase a moisture meter to get a reading (make sure the probe is long enough to reach the center of the pile), or you can test the moisture levels of the compost by grabbing a handful and squeezing it. 

Ideally, the handful of compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Does the compost material feel dry or brittle? Then the pile needs more water. If water squeezes out, the moisture content is too high. 

raised garden beds growing fresh organic vegetables
If you’re going to speed up compost – you may as well put your lush soil amendments to good use. Our favorite way – is to add compost to our raised garden beds! Compost will enrich the soil and promote beneficial bacteria. We have excellent luck adding fresh compost once per year. We also need fewer fertilizers when we add plenty of nutrient-rich compost. But – it probably won’t eliminate the need for fertilizers outright – especially if you grow robust garden crops each season!

9. Maintain the Ideal Temperature Range

The helpful, heat-loving (thermophilic) microbes needed for compost decomposition thrive at temperatures between 135 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, this temperature range should sustain for two weeks or more to keep things moving. 

To keep your compost hot enough, you’ll want to ensure it’s well aerated and contains enough nitrogen to sustain a high microbe activity level.

10. Use a Compost Thermometer to Monitor Composting Conditions 

A great way to monitor the temperature is to purchase a compost thermometer. By recording the temperature as often as possible, you’ll be able to catch when the pile is getting too hot or cold, and you can adjust accordingly. 

11. Use a Compost Tumbler

Using a compost tumbler is a fantastic option if you’re planning on creating a smaller batch of compost. These tumblers come in many sizes and shapes, are well ventilated, and generally fit between 30 to 100 gallons of compost material. The ease of use makes frequent (even daily) turning achievable. 

12. Add Coffee Grounds 

Spread thin layers of the coffee grounds throughout the pile to provide the microbes with a rich and easily accessible source of nitrogen, which will support higher activity levels and faster decomposition speed. 

My local coffee shop saves their used grounds for me to pick up for use in my compost bin. If you’re looking for a source of free, nitrogen-rich compost material, I’d recommend asking your local coffee shop! (I know Starbucks gives away their grounds for free. But – make sure to tip them a few bucks for their time. That way – you’ll have a constant source of cheap compost amendments. And superior garden veggies!)

13. Insulate Your Pile 

If you live in a colder environment, insulating your compost pile in the cold months can help maintain higher temperatures for longer. You can try digging the compost bin partially into the ground. We also like Surrounding the pile with bags of leaves or straw bales. Or – try covering the compost pile with heavy tarps or cardboard.

14. Add Livestock Manure 

Adding highly nitrogen-rich livestock manure is another way to help speed up compost. If you don’t add in too much and keep the pile well aerated, the bacteria will thrive on this nitrogen boost.

wheelbarrow with compost bin in the garden
What’s our take on adding urine to compost heaps? Well, it’s bizarre. For sure! But remember that urine has loads of urea, phosphorous, and potassium. Human urine is also stable and won’t hurt your plants. Or wildlife! So – while we don’t promote this practice, we believe it’s safe. And it can benefit your compost! We even read a (small-scale) experiment where strips of urine-fertilized hayfield were bright, vibrant, and green. Untreated areas were dry – and dull!

15. Add in Healthy Soil 

You can introduce a vibrant microbe community to jump-start decomposition by adding healthy soil at the beginning of the composting process. You can take some lush garden soil from a well-established, thriving part of your yard and spread it in layers as you build your compost pile.

16. Lower Your pH Levels

Initially, microbes that break down the compost materials thrive in slightly acidic to neutral environments of around five and a half to eight (5.5 to 8) on the pH scale. As the compost matures, the environment should become more neutral.

Here’s another tip to speed up the decomposition process. You can lower the pH levels by adding slightly acidic materials such as pine needles or oak leaves. 

Read More – The Beginner’s Guide to Composting! Lush and Nutrient-Rich Garden Soil!

Best Garden Tools to Help Speed Up Compost

We know that fertilizer cost is spiraling out of control! The price hikes probably lead to you needing more compost. Without waiting until next year!

So – we put together our favorite gardening gear to help speed up compost.

We hope this compost gear list helps you produce epic compost.

With haste!

  1. Compost Accelerator 12 Dissolvable Packets | Green Pig
  2. Compost Accelerator 12 Dissolvable Packets | Green Pig
    $12.99 $11.29

    Are you serious about producing deep, dark, and nutrient-rich compost quickly? Then the temperature plays a key role. This backyard compost thermometer is our favorite to make your job much more straightforward. It has a 20-inch stem for effortlessly measuring the temperature - even if your compost pile is massive. You also get a bonus compost guide that helps new composters speed up compost without fuss. (PDF format.)

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/27/2022 08:23 pm GMT
  3. Garden and Compost Moisture Meter | ReoTemp
  4. Garden and Compost Moisture Meter | ReoTemp
    $68.00 $59.99

    Moisture is another vital variable for speeding up compost! This 24-inch moisture meter eliminates the guesswork. Immediately! It's perfect for measuring the moisture content of your fruit tree roots, tomato garden, compost piles, and garden soil. You can calibrate the moisture meter on a 0-10 scale based on your preferences. It powers with a tiny AAA battery. And - the solid T-handle design is sturdy enough for even the most diehard farmers.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/27/2022 05:49 am GMT
  5. Backyard Compost Thermometer and Digital Composting Guide (PDF) | ReoTemp
  6. Backyard Compost Thermometer and Digital Composting Guide (PDF) | ReoTemp
    $24.99

    One of our favorite ways to speed up compost is by turning it into fertile humus! It's easier than you think. Add your weeds, pine needles, small twigs, animal bedding, grass clippings, pine cones, and food scraps. Then - let the compost accelerator get to work! Expect fresh compost in around 30 days. It's perfect for flowers, bushes, trees, shrubs, lawns, and gardens. This compost accelerator contains 12 packets. Each packet treats nine square feet of compost.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/27/2022 07:28 am GMT
  7. Compost Tumbler Bin Composter | Nazhura
  8. Compost Tumbler Bin Composter | Nazhura
    $75.95

    Want to speed up compost to ludicrous speed? Then here's our favorite dual-chamber compost tumbler. It has a 43-gallon capacity and excellent aeration. The tumbler design makes it easy to rotate your compost without getting dirty. Toss your garden scraps through the tumbler door. Then, rotate thoroughly every couple of days. Your compost finishes fast - in weeks.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/28/2022 02:44 am GMT
  9. Compost Accelerator | 4 Packets | Convino
  10. Compost Accelerator | 4 Packets | Convino
    $7.99

    We love this natural compost starter to help speed up compost! It contains natural ingredients like wheat bran, eucalyptus oil, soil microorganisms, cedarwood oil, and cedar leaf oil. Not only does it accelerate compost decomposition - but it also helps to reduce odors. One tiny four-pound bag treats up to 100 pounds of compost. It's perfect for compost tumblers, buckets, composting bags, worm compost systems, kitchen bins, and outdoor compost piles.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/28/2022 04:28 am GMT

Conclusion

Producing black gold from your compost pile doesn’t have to take months or require a Ph.D. in soil science! Once you understand how to nourish the microbial community, you can get that beautiful, rich compost in a few short weeks. 

Just remember that the good bacteria you need to break down your compost material require these rudimentary conditions and you’ll have finished compost. Faster than you think!

  • Heat (135°F to 160°F)
  • 40% to 60% water content
  • Frequent turning and airflow
  • 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio 
  • Pile size of about nine cubic feet 

After reading this, we hope you’ll dive into (maybe not literally, that sounds like a mess!) using these tips to speed up your compost pile. Have any other nifty tips and tricks for speeding up compost decomposition? Or have you found any methods to speed up compost? Let us know!

Thanks for reading. And happy composting!

Author

  • Cammi Morgan writes about all things animals, plants, and ecological-centered living from the hollers of Southeast Appalachia where she lives off-grid in her self-built cabin. She shares 20 forested acres with her wonderful friends, an ever-growing pack of rescue dogs, and all the plants and critters who call these woods home.