Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hot Composting Secrets for Faster Finished Compost

Hey, hot stuff.

Are you hot-to-trot for that first satisfying scoop of dark brown crumbly finished compost? You may consider “hot composting.”

Basically, this method, also referred to as batch composting or active composting, employs every possible advantage to create the optimal environment for microbial activity within a compost pile. That microbial activity generates heat causing the pile to increase in temperature and rapidly decompose.

Translation: hot composting is a lot of work but you are rewarded with finished compost very quickly.

People using this method, let’s call them “hot composters”, have been known to generate finished compost in as little as three weeks!

Hot diggity dog, let’s get started.

  1. Stockpile materials. Add all the material at once instead of building a pile gradually throughout the year. You can save food scraps in the freezer, hit up your local coffee shop, and stockpile leaves and yard trimmings until you have enough for a pile.
  2. Bigger is better. Hot composters build piles that are at least 3 ft x 3 ft or larger. If you are using a black plastic bin, fill it almost to the top if possible.
  3. Balance browns and greens. Add three parts brown stuff (leaves) to one part green stuff (food scraps). The perfect mix of carbon and nitrogen will make your pile sizzle. 
  4. Chop everything up. The smaller the pieces, the faster the microorganisms will decompose everything. Run over the yard trimmings with a mower and chop up the food scraps before leaving the kitchen.
  5. Boost microorganisms. Several shovels of finished compost will inoculate the new materials with microorganisms.
  6. Mix materials. Before you put the stockpiled material in the bin, mix all the greens and browns together. This will make sure all the slow decomposing browns have some green buddies to help them out. 
  7. Ban branches and unchipped wood. These items decompose too slowly for a hot composting pile. Chip the branches and sticks into small pieces before you add them.
  8. Consider airflow. Keeping the pile hot requires good airflow. If you place a layer of wood chips or straw at the bottom of the pile before adding your mixed materials, passive airflow will make turning more productive.
  9. Water. Keep your pile as wet as a wrung out sponge
  10. Turn weekly. Hot composters know that frequently adding air to the pile will keep those microorganisms chomping away.
Most of us will not use all of the hot composting methods nor do we really need finished compost every three weeks. But we can be hot composters some of the time by stealing a few of their tricks to heat up our compost piles.

I’ve never tried the passive airflow idea (#8) but the next time I build my pile, I’m going to add a bottom layer of straw and see how it works.

Will you try any new hot composting tip? Let me know in the comments.

Don't cha wish your compost pile was hot like me? Don't cha?
A hot compost pile from the ladies at Compost Gardening.