For some reason I’ve always had a bit of a block against making quick compost. I’ve made slow compost, many times. Piles that sit there for months or years, doing their thing without much poking and prodding, kitchen scraps occasionally being tossed on top. I’ve read books on quick compost, I’ve talked about quick compost. I’ve just never had too much success actually making it, quickly.
This all changed after a workshop I attended on my neighbor Bruce Davison’s place (candelosalers.com). He showed me that making quick compost is pretty simple. And it’s quick. Ready to go in a matter of weeks.
First you need to collect all of your materials for the whole pile. This was always a major stumbling block for me. Where do I get all of this material? (your pile needs to be at least a cubic metre, two is actually better to start with, and it will compost down). And what are those pesky carbon/nitrogen ratios again?
Let’s get this out of the way first. Someone discovered that if you have around 30 bits carbon (generally brown plant matter, dry grass, woodchips and straw etc) to 1 bit nitrogen (green materials, meats etc) then the pile will be in just the right C:N ratio for composting organisms to thrive.
So, step one. Collect manure (nitrogen).
If you have animals this will be fairly simple. Take a trip to the paddock with your wheelbarrow and start shoveling. Put all your poo in a pile. If your animals come to you or a central place (for feeding, husbandry, milking, beddingetc.) then this will be even simpler.
If you’re on a small urban block, you might have chickens, therefore you have chicken manure. However for quick compost you need a fairly decent pile, all at once, so you might want to visit some of your farmer friends, and gather manure at their place. They’ll probably be delighted to get rid of some of it.
You don’t need manure, it’s just an easy option. Instead, you might visit your local café or restaurant and ask them if you can have all of their food scraps and coffee grounds. I had a friend who would visit his local juicing shop after work once a week to gather their green waste. You could ask at a seafood co-op for their fish off-cuts, a great source of sea minerals for your heap. Fresh grass clippings, seaweed, and urine also work.
Another easy way to gather materials quickly is by using roadkill. Not for the faint hearted, but what better way to make use of those deceased creatures than put them back into the earth in the noblest of ways.
So, now you need to gather some carbon materials.
In your backyard you might have fallen leaves, pine needles, straw, wood chips. You could visit a local saw mill and ask for some sawdust. Hook up with a lawn mowing company and take some of their dry waste off their hands. Visit a newsagent and gather newspaper and cardboard and rip it up. Ashes from your fire also work.
Don’t let the ratio thing put you off. Just aim to use 1/3 manure type materials and 2/3 straw type stuff (they actually have varying ratios within them). Once you have gathered all the materials, the rest is easy.
Put your pile together by simply layering all of your ingredients, piling them up as high as you can. Water in between the layers (until you see water dripping out at the bottom). Then leave your heap alone for three or four days.
Heat is important. It needs to be above 55degC (to compost properly, and kill weed seeds and pathogens), but not over 70degC (or it might self combust). A probe temperature gauge might be a handy tool to fork out for, so you know you’re making your compost in the ideal way. Not hot enough? Add more nitrogen. Too hot? Then turn more and add water.
After the initial four days you need to turn your compost, inside out, and do this every two days. A great yard stick for moisture is grab up a luscious handful and squeeze, if water just drips through your fingers its working. If it’s sloppy it might be too wet so add more carbon. Its an art form, so just have a go.
A bit of love and in a matter of weeks, maybe three, maybe four, up to ten, you’ll have great compost. Rich, fertilizing, quick, organic compost. It didn’t take you all year, and your garden and paddocks will thank you for it.