Garden Basics

Why Is My Compost So Slow?

Composting allows nature to take its course and takes some time - probably more time than you wanted. 

Nature can take decades to create beautiful topsoil under trees with help from microbial activity. Earthworms, microorganisms, and fungi build up the topsoil layers year after year. This soil amendment slowly nourishes the trees and plants around it.

You can put as much or as little effort as you choose into composting at home, depending on how quickly you want to use the finished product.

Slow cool compost is ideal if you do not have the time to tend to it.

Why Is My Compost So Slow?

turning compost

There could be many reasons why your compost is decomposing slowly.  Here are a few:

  • Hot composting is very much faster than cold composting but does require more work.
  • The carbon/nitrogen ratio may not be correct. Too much carbon material will slow down the composting process. Too much nitrogen will make the green material start rotting, and maggots will appear.
  • Only add grass clippings in thin layers as too much green grass clippings will clump and slow down the composting.
  • Get the correct combination of air and water. Turn regularly to incorporate air and keep the compost moist but not soggy.
  • In winter, composting is slower. Temperature, wind, and rainfall also play a part in the composting process. A larger compost heap in winter will reduce the heat loss.
  • There are no worms or mites in the compost macroorganisms.
  • No microbes or fungi in the compost which help break it down. Add completed or near-completed compost to introduce these needed microbes (microorganisms) and fungi. Microorganisms are vital in the process of composting.
  • Material is too bulky, especially hardwood sticks and branches. Break the bulky items into small portions.

PROBLEM

REMEDY

Soggy compost

Add dry material (carbon) and turn

Very dry compost

Add more greens and water

Leaves not composting

Add greens (nitrogen), water and turn

Compost has no macro-organisms /

microorganisms

Add garden soil or finished compost.  Add red wrigglers

Large particles not breaking down

Shred or chop larger browns

Compost not heating up

Add more nitrogen (greens) such as grass clippings or manure.  Turn regularly

How Long Does It Take For Compost Ingredients To Break Down To Usable Compost

In nature, fallen dry leaves, fallen trees, green material, organic matter, etc., take time to decay, sometimes even years. Depending on the fallen matter, it can take between 6 weeks and one year.

If you have the space for a large pile and the time to wait for it to compost with very little effort, then just let the organic material such as kitchen waste, leaves, branches, and yard trimmings stand for a year to 18 months, and the miracle of good compost will happen. Slow, cool composting is the easy way.

To speed up the process, the length of time it takes will depend on certain factors -

  • The size of the woody materials and correct ratio of greens and browns.
  • Air helps speed up the process, so turning the pile will help with aeration.
  • Which method of compost are you using - hot or cold? Cold composting takes the organic matter longer to break down.
  • If you are using a compost bin, keep the lid on or lay plastic on top of the compost material and tuck it in. The lid will help retain the heat.
  • Turning a hot compost pile every day will speed up the process - the longer the interval between turning, the longer the composting process will take. Check the temperature of the compost with a compost thermometer.
  • Add manure to help heat the compost heap.
Ingredients For Compost At Home

Compost can be made ready for use in as short a time as 14 to 21 days.

Another way to  speed up your compost, which isn't quite ready is to layer the almost completed compost with grass clippings in a lasagna compost.

Fresh grass clippings are a natural compost activator.

Cover and leave for three days to heat up, turn and add water if needed, every second day.

Each time you turn the compost heap, the fewer grass clippings you should be able to see, and once you can't see the grass clipping, it will be ready. The finished compost should be ready in 8-10 days. Weather dependent.

Also you may like to try the 18 day Berkley Method of hot composting.

How Can I Speed Up My Compost?

compost bin layers
  • Shred the large materials, then layer everything, then turn after it warms up.
  • Get the correct balance to speed up the process - 30 parts carbon (dried leaves, cardboard, dried plant material, coffee grounds, wood ash) to 1 part nitrogen (food scraps, fresh grass clippings, organic matter) - 30:1
  • Add finished compost or soil to include the bacteria from that compost.
  • Make sure the moisture ratio is correct. If the compost is too soggy, add dry material such as leaf mold or shredded paper to soak up the excess moisture.
  • If your compost is too dry, add organic waste, kitchen scraps, vegetable scraps, small layers of grass, plant material, or yard waste.
  • Spray water while turning the pile to make sure it is moist.
  • If your compost pile is small, try covering it with thick black plastic to keep the heat in - turn regularly. The heat will also kill weed seeds.
  • Place the compost pile in a sunny spot.
  • Turn the compost regularly to increase the oxygen, which encourages aerobic bacteria and faster decomposition.
  • Never let it dry out or get too wet.
  • Introduce worms to your compost.
  • Cover the pile.
  • Add a compost activator to start or speed up the composting process.
  • Use a compost tumbler, which makes it easier to turn the compost.
Why is my compost so slow

Takeaways

  • Hot composting is very much faster than cold composting but does require more work.
  • Fresh grass clippings are a natural compost activator.
  • Get the correct balance to speed up the process - 30 parts carbon (dried leaves, cardboard, dried plant material, coffee grounds, wood ash) to 1 part nitrogen (food scraps, fresh grass clippings, organic matter) - 30:1
  • Turn the compost regularly to increase the oxygen, which encourages aerobic bacteria and faster decomposition.
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