How to speed up composting – 7 expert methods to quickly break down your pile

Composting is a great way to use up organic waste and add nutrients to soil. Here's how you can speed up the process

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Composting is an essential task for gardeners who are passionate about making green choices. It's a great way to use up organic waste and give your plants a boost of nutrients. The one downfall? It can sometimes take a while for your compost ingredients to break down to a condition that is ready to use.

Whether you're making compost for the first time or are exploring different ways to make a composter, it can be a good idea to get to grips with how to speed up composting so that you can use your compost sooner. Luckily, there are a fair few tried and tested methods of speeding up composting that experts say work every time.

We've compiled an expert list of ways to speed up composting so that you can find the best solution for you and see the benefits of using homemade compost in your yard sooner.

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7 ways to speed up composting

There are lots of ways to speed up composting so that you can use it quicker in your yard. Discover seven ways methods below, with expert tips for successful results.

1. Layer green and brown materials

Compost bin

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The key to success with composting comes down to using the right ingredients. Even if you've decided to use unusual compost ingredients, you need to make sure you are creating the right mixture to help your compost break down effectively.

'The four requirements of a compost pile are greens (nitrogen), browns (carbon), water and air,' says Kathi Rodgers, CEO of Oak Hill Homestead.

Having the right mixture of green and brown ingredients can make the difference in how quickly decomposition happens. 'Aim for about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen,' says Lauren Click, founder of Let's Go Compost.

Brown materials include things like straw and twigs, while green ingredients include food scraps and grass clippings. Not getting this balance right is a common composting mistake.

Kathi Rodgers
Kathi Rodgers

Kathi Rodgers is the CEO and writer at Oak Hill Homestead and the voice behind HOMEGROWN: Your Backyard Garden Podcast. Founded in 2006, Oak Hill Homestead is where Kathi teaches new gardeners, goat owners and folks interested in living a more self-reliant life how to dig in and grow their dreams.

Lauren Click
Lauren Click

Lauren is the founder of Let's Go Compost, a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to make composting free and accessible throughout the United States. Lauren works both in the dirt (literally) with public schools and community gardens, while also remaining focused on the big picture - working with large organizations and policymakers to ensure composting accessibility and affordability are kept front of mind as infrastructure is developed.

2. Make a larger compost heap

Compost heap

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The bigger your compost pile, the quicker it will break down. This is because it will warm up quicker and retain more moisture from its bigger size.

'The ideal size for a compost pile is 3x3x3 feet. The volume will decrease as the materials decompose, but this is the ideal size to begin with,' says Kathi.

The trick to having a large enough compost pile is ensuring you have a compost container large enough, like this compost bin from Amazon.

You can also build your own compost bin, using things like wooden pallets. Just make sure your DIY container is large enough and allows for air circulation.

3. Keep your pile moist and warm

Compost bin

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Not only is having the right mixture of ingredients important for quick decomposition, you also need to ensure your compost pile has plenty of moisture and warmth.

'Take care that it doesn't become too moist,' says Kathi. 'It should have the texture of a wrung-out sponge. If it's too dry and not working, watering the compost pile with the hose will definitely help. Warmth will be created inside the pile naturally,' she adds.

You can use something like this watering can from Amazon or this garden hose from Amazon to top up moisture levels in your compost bin.

Hot composting is a method of composting that focuses on keeping temperatures up to help speed up the process. You can even invest in a hot compost bin, like this hot compost bin from Amazon, to help keep your compost pile at a warmer temperature.

4. Shred your compost materials

Compost materials

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You can help your compost materials break down quicker by starting them off as smaller pieces. Simply shredding them up and adding smaller pieces to your compost pile will help them decompose quicker.

'The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose,' says Kathi. 'Run over fall leaves with the lawnmower to shred them and cut up vegetable scraps,' she suggests.

It can also be a good idea to invest in a kitchen composter, like this electric composter for kitchen from Amazon, which can help shred your food scraps more easily to add directly to your compost pile.

5. Add worms to your compost

Worms in compost

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If you haven't already heard of using a wormery for composting, it can be an effective way to speed up the process. Worms will help turn organic material into valuable fertilizer.

'Worms, especially red wigglers, consume organic waste and break it down faster than bacteria alone. Their digestive process produces nutrient-rich compost called worm castings,' says Lauren.

'Introduce red wigglers to your compost bin. Ensure the bin is kept in a cool, dark place and maintain a balance of moist bedding (like shredded newspaper) and food scraps,' she adds.

You can even buy worm castings to add into your compost pile or apply directly to your soil, like these worm castings from Amazon.

6. Turn your compost over regularly

Turning compost bin

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A key part of successful composting is air circulation as the materials need to break down in an aerobic environment. Turning your compost pile regularly can help improve the airflow and amount of oxygen the pile is exposed to.

'When you turn a pile more frequently, it does two things: It becomes re-oxygenated, supporting more microbial growth, especially bacteria who are the first actors in the decomposition process. It also exposes new surface areas to microbes, giving them a renewed source of food to consume,' says Christi Wilhelmi, founder at Gardenerd.

'That will kick up the heat again in the compost pile (which is a chemical reaction to the above mentioned biological activity) and your pile will reduce more quickly. Turn it once per week if you want to have compost sooner,' she adds.

You can turn your compost pile in a number of ways, including using essential gardening tools like a shovel, or investing in this tumbling composter from Amazon.

Christy Wilhelmi
Christy Wilhelmi

Christy has been growing her own food for almost 3 decades. She is a garden speaker, and offers classes, lectures, on-site consulting, and food garden design throughout Los Angeles with growing spaces for vegetables and fruits.

7. Use a compost activator

Composting

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An easy way to speed up composing is to add a compost activator. This is often in the form of a tablet that you dissolve in water and add to your compost pile. It contains a blend of nutrients and bacteria to help break down organic materials.

'These are commonly available at garden centers and stores. The product contains microbes, bacteria and fungi to get the decomposition process started,' says Kathi.

There are plenty of compost activators available online, like this compost starter from Amazon and this compost accelerator from Amazon. Always follow manufacturer instructions for the product you have.

FAQs

Why isn't my composting breaking down?

There are a few reasons why your composting may not be breaking down. This includes poor aeration or your compost pile being too wet. If your compost isn't made up of the right ingredients, it could also prevent it from breaking down effectively. Make sure you have a blend of green and brown materials and provide a moderate level of moisture and warmth with plenty of air circulation for successful results.

How long does cold composting take?

Cold composting involves gradually adding organic waste to a compost heap, unlike hot composting which focuses on maintaining higher temperatures to break down materials quicker. If you choose to add materials to your compost heap gradually, it can take around six months to a year for it to break down for use in your yard.


Composting is a great way to use up organic waste and give your plants a boost of nutrients. By following these methods, you can speed up composting and use your homemade compost in your yard sooner.

Discover other eco-friendly garden ideas for more ways to be sustainable in your yard.

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and the role gardening has to play in tackling the effects of climate change. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection. She has experience successfully propagating indoor plants and overcoming common houseplant problems.