In all the time that I’ve spent looking into the subject of making compost, there’s one thing that remains constant. That is, there’s no problem getting things to rot. Anything that’s organic will rot down. The normal struggle is in trying to prevent things from rotting. The aim is to preserve food when stored and reduce general waste.
But when we decide that something has to be added to the compost pile, we want to give it the hurry-up. We want it to break down as fast as it can. Leaving it in a pile for one or two years isn’t quick enough, we want or compost now.
So, then we start looking around for ways to speed it up. There are materials that could loosely be called activators that will help to accelerate the composting process. But it’s not always obvious how to use them and we don’t always know what to expect.
It would be most convenient if we could put an assortment of materials together and throw it in on top of the compost pile and leave it to it. So, let’s look at how you could make a compost activator.
One simple activator that may be enough on its own is water. If a compost pile appears to be dormant and not doing anything, it may be that it isn’t moist enough. If your compost is looking dry, then the adding of water may be all that it needs. Nothing will rot if it isn’t damp.
I’ve been looking around to see what other ideas are out there. As you may expect, there are a number of interesting recipes for making a compost activator. They usually involve mixing up a brew that encourages microbes and fungi.
This can be achieved by using ready-made off-the-shelf commodities that can be stirred together to use as a compost activator. Here’s an activator mixture that I found, somewhere, which you may want to try.
Get a gallon of water. Apparently it needs to be warm but I can’t think that it really matters. Next, you need to add a can of beer, preferably flat. This may or may not be a comfortable thing for you to do. This is all about making use of the yeast-factor in the beer.
Yeast can make a compost activator
The advice is to use flat beer but I can’t think that it will make any difference. The yeast content will be the same, sparkling or flat. Then add a can of cola. This is for adding sugar. Sugar is an energy food to yeast.
Then the advice is to add ½ a cup of household ammonia. This will add a nitrate element to the brew. It will depend on what type of material is going into your compost. If it’s mainly kitchen waste, then there will be enough nitrates, you won’t need to add any more.
Mix the brew for a moment then slowly pour it over the compost heap, pile or bin contents. You need the mixture to soak in to the whole mass for it to work as a compost activator. Then throw in a shovel of soil on top of the compost. This will add more microbial life-forms just where you need them.
Then the advice is to stir the mass of the compost with a fork or shovel to distribute your compost activator mixture. This shouldn’t be necessary. A gallon of liquid will soak down through the compost pile enough to become sufficiently distributed.
I haven’t done any of this with the Rolypig composter. I happened to have some dried yeast granules that turned out to be a duff batch. I threw the whole lot into the Rolypig with a regular feed of kitchen waste. The result surprised me. The compost appeared to break down much faster than it had done previously.
This, to me, was a revelation. The improved performance was quite noticeable. The composting process always starts with fungi doing their thing, then everything else follows on. Yeast is a fungus. In the right conditions it will grow and spread. This is what appeared to happen in the Rolypig. It should work for any type of compost. Dried yeast, the ideal activator.
Is urine a good compost activator?
Looking around to see what others are saying about this, as I do, it seems that there is some confusion about the effect of adding urine to a compost pile and the effect of urine if it’s applied directly to the soil. Much is made about the fact that urine is a rich source of nitrates.
Some may say, too rich. It’s possible to kill vegetation if too much urine is applied in one place at one time. But we are looking here at making compost. Urine can’t be described as a good compost activator.
The high concentration of nitrates in urine doesn’t do anything extra for a compost pile that has a balanced input of nitrates from food-waste mixed with the required amount of carbon ‘browns’. Adding more nitrates to this wouldn’t serve as a good compost activator.
If you add more nitrates you would need to add more carbon ‘brown’ ingredients to correct what would be an imbalance from the nitrates in the urine.
Urine can be a good compost activator
There are circumstances where the addition of urine would have a positive affect when attempting to make compost. If you have a pile of dead leaves, dead grass or wood chips, this would be categorised as carbon ‘browns’. Ingredients like these would desperately need nitrates added to start the composting process.
Where this is the case, the adding of urine would make urine something of an activator in the sense that, if no other source of nitrates were available, urine would be doing it. But all you would be doing is correcting the balance of carbon and nitrates.
Should I add dirt to my compost?
Dirt, depending on where you are in the world, appears to have two meanings. Dirt to some is the soil in the ground. This is where the dirt that gets everywhere, comes from. Dirt to others is the result of soil-dirt, drying into dust and blowing around. Dirt from dust can and does go everywhere.
Yes you should add dirt to your compost. When we look at dirt, all we tend to think about is how to avoid it. We don’t want to get it on us and when we do, we want to get to a tap and wash it off as quickly as possible.
We’re taught from an early age that dirt has all the bad things in it. Everything around us has to be spotlessly clean, dirt must be banished to the margins.
You should add dirt to your compost
So, what is it that’s so bad about dirt? Dirt is that collection of earthly matter that comes to us all the time. When dry, it will blow around in the wind. This is what makes it so successful for dirt to get in everywhere. Wherever we see it it’s where we don’t want it to be.
What we see as the bad part about dirt is everything that it carries. Dirt carries every strain of bacteria that’s ever been created. Then, there’s the fungal spores, dirt is the ideal vehicle for carrying, holding and feeding every type of mould and fungus in creation.
Dirt, in a moistened state, is very successful at carrying a whole range of viruses. This needs mentioning, just to complete the picture of all that dirt brings. Dirt is our foe. We need to keep it at arm’s length.
But it’s a collector of microbial life-forms. Dirt is the sump of life where all the ingredients for the beginning of all life can be found.
We need to avoid it but understand it. In the composting world dirt could easily be described as ‘gold dust’. The adding of dirt to a compost pile can only help with the composting process.
There are few things that can be guaranteed in life but one of them that can is that a shovel full of dirt will have something in it that will feed on the bounty of waste in a compost pile. For a compost bin, what better addition could there be that contains such a mixed battery of fungal spores and diverse microbial life?
How often should you add dirt to compost?
In theory, one addition of dirt at the very beginning of your composting journey, should be enough. Make sure that you add enough to make it look as though it will do something. Make it a shovel full.
It’s no good sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of dried dirt dust on your compost, although this would be better than nothing.
The microbial life-forms that can be found in most dirt will take up residence in your compost. It will be reasonable to assume that they will colonise their way through the entire mass of compost that you have.
If you make a large addition of waste to a compost heap, then the addition of more dirt will be of use. Some will tell you to add a layer of waste, then add a layer of dirt.
You should add dirt to compost at least once
You need to consider what space you have in your composting receptacle. You need to avoid adding so much dirt that you’re taking up valuable space that’s meant for kitchen waste.
If your compost is looking good after having set it up with a meaningful addition of dirt right at the beginning, you will probably find that no further additions of dirt will be required.
A compost tumbler will work well with the dirt addition from the start. The advantage of a tumbler style composter is that everything is mixed around when you roll it over. One addition of dirt will be enough.
Can you add sugar to compost?
Sugar can be added to compost. It will break down along with everything else. Sugar is an energy food to us and to every microbial life-form out there. Of all the carbon ‘browns’ that we could add to compost, we would have to say that sugar would be the most potent. It would be immediately
available as a carbon source from the moment it’s added.
Sugar? On a compost pile?
But the question needs to be asked. Why does anyone want to add sugar to compost. Most people will have worked it out that, in sugar, we have a carbon ‘brown’ which would be highly effective when added to a source of nitrates in a composting mass.
Is it for the carbon factor? A refined form of carbon in the form of refined sugar seems to be an extravagant way of carbonising a compost pile.
Sugar is expensive. Particularly refined sugar. It takes a lot of energy to extract it from the raw sugar cane.
Unless you have a consignment of sugar that’s been contaminated in some way, there’s surely no reason to want to add sugar to a compost pile. There are other sources of carbon that will work on a compost pile. They will balance the nitrate factor just as well, to achieve the required outcome. There’s newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, sawdust and straw.
All of these will, in sufficient quantities, provide all the carbon that any compost pile would need. They may not work as quickly as refined sugar but you need to be aware that making compost isn’t a race. It will take the time that it needs to take. It doesn’t need the rocket-fuel of sugar.
Sugar will attract ants.
And another thing. You will be attracting, among other things, ants. They may want to construct a nest, either in or near your compost pile if there’s a regular supply of sugar likely to be turning up. But this may not be a problem if you’re adding small quantities of sugar that become quickly digested in the composting mass.
Instead of sugar, use molasses
If you’ve really committed to a life of using sugar, try molasses. This is a thick, black and liquid form of crude sugar. Molasses is black treacle. It has a lower value than refined sugar but would have the same effect as any of the other carbon ‘browns’.
How do you make wood chips compost faster?
The best way to make wood chips compost faster is to add nitrates from any source. If you have a good supply of wood chips and the plan is to make compost, there’s a couple of ways to do it.
Wood is a carbon ‘brown’. Wood chips are a convenient material to handle because it’s small particles of wood. A wooden log would have much less of a surface area to work on compared to the combined surface area of all the wood chips that would be generated from a complete wooden log. The expanded surface area of wood chips are ideal for encouraging the breakdown of the wood fibre.
One way to make compost from wood chips is to hoard it and use it a little at a time. An ideal situation would be to run a composting system where you have regular supplies of kitchen waste to be taken to the compost bin, pile or heap. With this you add a quantity of wood chip to match the kitchen waste that you load into the compost pile.
Kitchen waste is usually high in nitrates. This needs a carbon source to mix with it to make compost. Wood chips would make an ideal fit as a source of carbon.
Another way of composting wood chips would be to compost them as a pile. This would involve adding a nitrate source that would match the amount of carbon that the entire pile of wood chips contained. Here, we would be looking for a way of making compost faster by adding a nitrate-rich material that would be plentiful and powerful enough to make a difference.
Making wood chips compost faster
The occasional delivery of nitrate-rich kitchen waste wouldn’t be enough. We need something that will react faster. For this we need to resort to a chemical input. Ammonium nitrate is normally used as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. It will provide an ideal source of nitrates for the making of compost.
To make compost using ammonium nitrate on wood chips, you need to plan your procedure. It’s no good just throwing ammonium nitrate prills over a pile of wood chips and leaving to happen by itself.
To get the composting process off to a good start, you need to construct the pile in a way that will incorporate the ammonium nitrate prills throughout the pile. The best way to do this is by building the pile in layers. Make a layer of wood chips, then sprinkle on some ammonium nitrate prills. To help get the compost started, add a thin layer of soil or dirt. This will introduce microbes which will be needed later.
It’s very important to introduce moisture for this to work. Compost must be damp but not saturated. If it’s allowed to stay dry, then nothing will happen. So, use a watering can with a rose attachment, to sprinkle water over the compost pile as you build it. Don’t be too fierce with the water. We don’t want to wash the ammonium nitrate prills or dirt/soil away.
You will know if you’ve done a good job building the compost pile when it starts to show signs of heating. Make sure that the compost pile is moist at all times. After a few weeks you may see steam rising. This is a good sign. It means that everything is working as it should.
Can you keep adding to a compost pile?
Yes, you can keep adding to a compost pile. This is very convenient because you will be constantly looking for somewhere to dispose of the regular supply of kitchen waste that none of us can avoid.
A compost pile is the ideal place for whatever you want to throw out from the kitchen. Some will tell you that compost needs to become hot or it won’t convert into compost. A compost pile that you keep adding to is unlikely to become hot because the pile will be converting to compost at different stages.
The organic material at the bottom of the pile will be at a much more advanced state of composting than whatever will be at the top. This is a cold rot but it makes no difference. The pile will become compost but it will take longer for the pile, as a whole, to become compost, simply because the last addition must be allowed time to catch up with the rest.
When you keep adding waste, there will come a point when the compost vessel will become full. This is when a decision has to be made. Do we keep adding to the full compost pile or bin or do we start another pile.
You can keep adding to a compost pile
A full pile or bin is best left to rot down without adding any more waste to it. This will allow the most recent additions to rot and the compost mass will become a constant pile of compost throughout without any variation.
This could be termed as batching. With one compost pile being closed off, you can begin a new pile. You can then do as before and keep adding fresh kitchen waste to build a new compost pile. It really depends on the type of compost bin that you have.
If you’re constructing a compost pile in a bin that has a door at the base, then you can take compost away from this outlet. This will allow the material above to drop down.
The dropping action will help to stir the compost thus helping it on its way. The pile, as a whole will drop, which will make room for more fresh material to be added at the top.
The regular adding of kitchen waste presents an opportunity to mix in other ingredients. Kitchen waste tends to be a high-nitrate ‘green’ waste that needs to be accompanied by some carbon ‘brown’ material to achieve the right balance.
For a compost pile that we keep adding to, it would make sense to keep a stock-pile of carbon ‘brown’ material. Think about having plenty of cardboard, left over from packaging or gather lots of dead leaves so that you have something available to use every time you put kitchen waste on the compost pile.
Another ingredient that you may need to consider is hydrated white lime. This will reduce acidity in the growing compost pile. You don’t need to add lime every time you add kitchen waste. An occasional sprinkling should be enough.
There may be occasions when you will have a large pile of organic material. This may be a pile of lawn clippings, shredded woody garden waste or a huge abundance of dead leaves. This is best treated as a closed-off batch. It can be allowed to turn into a single compost pile. You won’t be adding any more material to it.