Composting is just like cooking. All you need is a recipe, the right ingredients, and a proper temperature to produce the perfect compost. Read on to see how long this takes.
Mother Nature composts dry leaves in 5-6 months naturally, from winter through to spring. Faster methods can produce compost in as little as 8 weeks, but this is quite unusual.
Organic standards state that 60 days is the minimum, whereas most gardeners prefer to allow a compost heap 1 year to decompose fully. This allows for rotation and re-settling and lastly sieving this homemade resource as a soil improver for their beloved plants.
How long does it take for compost to be ready?
Compost is composed of your household vegetable waste, fallen leaves, certain natural leftovers such as wood cuttings and woodchip, as well as paper waste. The compost will only be ready when the ingredients have decomposed.
Materials such as wood take longer to rot, while fresh leaves decompose fast. Dried leaves, on the other hand, decompose slowly. Mown, cut grass decomposes quickly and is almost a natural compost activator.
Having the correct mix is the key to how long it takes. Some fast-rotting, green prunings should be covered with a layer of slower-rotting material, such as cut branches, woody material, shredded paper, or dry leaves.
Factors that can slow down or speed up the composting process
1. The ingredients
They must be a mixture of layers, so-called green and brown layers. The idea is to add them in alternate layers. That way, the fast decomposers hit the layer underneath and wildlife causes heat to be generated, and the mixture to work well.
2. The temperature is a crucial factor in the decomposition
Compost bins often feel hot to the touch. This means the process of decomposition is working.
You also need an oxygen supply in the heap, in order to produce healthy compost. Learn how you can improve air circulation in the FAQs below.
Too much and the compost is slushy, too little and it is too dry, and not very fertile.
Earthworms and fungi break up the organic ingredients of your compost whereas anaerobic bacteria and fungi covert your ingredients to heat, carbon dioxide, and ammonium.
How can I speed up my compost?
- Ensure you add equal amounts of ingredients. Add a green layer, then a brown layer, followed by another green layer.
- Turn the pile frequently to increase oxygen in the heap. This also encourages more wildlife and fungi into the mix. This aerates the mixture, which helps the material to decompose faster. If you take compost from the bottom which does not look rotted, just add it back into the top and then add a green layer after this. As you do, mix the ingredients with a stick. Think of it as a big pot you are stirring!
- Water is essential, but only if there is a really dry period. You do not want slushy compost! If the texture of the heap seems really dry to the touch, then pour watering can full of saved rainwater into the heap now and then.
- Add some worms. A healthy compost heap will naturally attract worms but you can find some by leaving a damp piece of cardboard on the soil. Lift the whole thing and add this to your help and let nature help our heap along.
- A human additive (human pee). Older gardeners will often tell you tales of being told to urinate on compost when they were little. There are still some gardeners who swear by this method. So, if somebody in your household is willing to store it in a bucket to add to the heap, this is a very self-sufficient free compost activator!
How do you know when compost is ready?
Basically, think back to what you put in. If it looks nothing like the ingredients you added, then check the following.
- Color: Is it a deep, rich, chocolatey brown?
- Moisture: It is not wet, it should appear like potting compost. If it is too wet, just wait a few more weeks and try again.
- Smell: How does it smell? If it smells lovely – earthy, healthy soil smell, then it is ready to go. If it smells bad, put it back at the top of the pile and let it sit a bit more.
- Texture: Crumbly, light soil, like breadcrumbs, is what you are after.
- Lots of life! Earthworms normally tip out with the compost. You can add these to your very large pots to keep the soil aerated, or put the compost through a sieve with large holes. The worms will remain behind and you can simply add them back to the top of your compost bin/heap to continue their good work.
How long does compost take to turn into soil?
This depends on several factors including which ingredients you add, the temperature you “cook” it at and the length of time you leave it.
- If it is a plastic bin it usually takes about 6 to 12 months. However, the texture may not be as crumbly as you would like if you remove it at 6 months. Leave to rot on if it does not pass the list of 5 questions above.
- If it is a wormery, it usually takes a minimum of 6 and up to 9 months.
- If it is a very large, well-aerated, outside heap on the ground that is in a protected, sheltered area, and then it can be faster. Big volumes of waste decompose quicker. The key is volume, air, heat, and a mixture of materials.
- If you use a compost activator, this also helps to speed things up.
Can I add moldy food to the compost heap?
There is absolutely no problem adding fruit that has already started the process of decomposing for you. Best not to add dairy, fish, or meat though. See why below.
Can I add cooked food to my compost?
No. The main reason is that this causes the nasty smells associated with composting. Also, you will attract lots of flies, who come because they sniff meat products or leftover flesh. Therefore, no fish, no leftovers from the barbecue, except the veg.
Meat products also tend to attract vermin-like rats, which you do not want in your home. Anything that grew once like apples, fruit, vegetables, mushroom stalks, tree cuttings, etc. can be added.
What will happen if you left the compost too long?
There really is no such thing as too long. The compost will continue to decompose in your bin or heap no matter what you do. It usually just drops to the bottom of the bin or heap so you know it’s ready when that happens.
Making the ingredients smaller when you add them to a compost heap helps them to decompose quicker. Therefore, tear up egg boxes, envelopes, and paper waste. Shred larger pieces of wood and cut down branch prunings into smaller pieces
It is a nice task to do and you can watch the garden at the same time. Notice any birds that are visiting and maybe spot some new emerging plant life. Enjoy!