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How Long Does Composting Take?

Composting has become a big trend in America. 

It’s easy to see why; it saves money, time & water, environmentally friendly, and regenerates poor soil. Also, it reduces the impact of wasted food and other organics by feeding the soil.

So, how long does composting take? There is no definite answer to this question. A lot of factors come into play, for example, the method used, the compost ingredients, and how much effort you’re willing to put into your pile. It can take anywhere from three months to even two years.

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into composting, the different kinds of methods involved, how to speed up the process, and more.

Composting Process

Composting is not as complicated as some people perceive. It’s relatively easy to manage. You can carry it out almost anywhere in the globe.

The effectiveness of the composting process mainly depends on oxygen, moisture, temperature, organic matter, and bacteria.

Oxygen

Oxygen is needed for composting to take place. Aerobic microorganisms, just like any living thing, need air to sustain themselves. Unlike humans, they require oxygen levels of at least 5 percent to oxidize carbon, which provides them with energy.

However, if your compost pile is oxygen-deprived, it becomes anaerobic. Anaerobic microbes produce methane gas, highly odorous gas, and hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for unpleasant odors. So if your compost pile starts to stink, anaerobes are the likely culprits.

Ensuring your pile has adequate oxygen supply is essential. To do so, turn the materials on the outside of the pile into the center at least once a week. You can use a compost turner, hayfork, or a shovel.

Moisture

Moisture content is another important component in the composting process. Having too much or too little moisture can harm your compost one way or the other. At higher levels, your pile becomes anaerobic and foul-smelling while lower levels slow or stop the biological activity for compositing.

According to experts, the optimum moisture level is between 40 to 60 percent. There are three different methods you can use to measure the moisture content of your pile:

1.   Squeeze test. This is the easiest and most common. Take a small sample of the compost and squeeze to see how much water drips out. If nothing comes out of it or the sample doesn’t form a ball, it’s too dry. If water drips, the moisture levels are too high. The sample of the compost should have the consistency of a damp sponge, forming small droplets.

2.   Compost Moisture Meter. They are not quite as accurate, but they can give you a rough estimate. However, there are expensive and more accurate options with digital recordings. These are mostly used in commercial composting.

3.   Oven Drying. It’s the most accurate, but some people may find it too much of a hassle. But in a real sense, it’s not that complex. Get a sample, weigh then place it in a 70- 80 Degrees Celsius oven for three to four days. Reweigh the sample. The difference in weight determines the moisture content.

Temperature

Temperature is another interrelated factor involved in the composting process. The microbes metabolic activity generates heat as they decompose waste. So when the temperature falls below a specific limit, 90° F, the composting process slows down. And anything over 140° F can kill off the beneficial microorganisms.

To maintain the required temperature, turn your pile every one to two days. Closely monitor the temperatures during hot and cold months.

Organic Matter

These are materials that feed the soil organisms. While just about any organic material can be used in composting, a mixture of brown and green materials are preferred.

Brown materials are rich in carbon while greens supply nitrogen. Carbon-rich materials include wood chips, dried leaves, straw, or twigs, while green materials include lawn clippings, grass, or fruit waste. You need to have the right proportions of both materials to keep your pile well balanced. The recommended carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30 to 1.

Bacteria/microorganisms

These organisms work hard to break down organic materials in the compost pile. Different kinds of microorganisms thrive in different composting cycles.

The first cycle involves mesophilic microorganisms that flourish in moderate temperatures of between 68° F and 113°F. These microbes break down the organic materials into proteins and carbohydrates.

The mesophilic bacteria are replaced by thermophilic microorganisms that thrive at relatively high temperatures. During this stage, these microbes accelerate the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also at this stage that the temperature continues to climb and kill the useful microorganisms. So you have to keep the temperature below by turning the pile.

The final stage sees the disappearance of the thermophilic bacteria and the reemergence of the mesophilic microbes. This happens when the supply of high energy is used up, and the temperatures begin to drop; hence, the resurfacing of the mesophilic bacteria. In collaboration with fungi and actinomycetes, the bacteria break down the remaining organic matter into nutrient-rich compost.

Compost Methods

There are traditional and modern methods of home composting. The method you choose basically depends on the space you have, the materials you want to use for composting, and the effort you’re willing to put in the process. Keep in mind they each have their pros and cons.

Hot Composting

This traditional method produces compost relatively faster than other methods. Additionally, it can kill the troublesome weed seeds and pathogens. However, it’s very demanding compared to other methods. So if you’re not ready to put in the work, this might not be the best option for you.

To start things off, your pile needs to be at least 3 feet by 3 feet. It should also have a good mix of browns and greens. The recommended carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30:1. Bear in mind some browns have higher levels of carbon than others while some greens are higher in nitrogen than others. So you may have to adjust your mix for a well-balanced compost pile.

Break or chop each material into pieces of one inch. Let it sit for a few days to allow the temperature to peak. Then rotate the pile daily for a week. After that, try and rotate every other day for the next two weeks or so. Don’t allow your pile to get too dry or too wet for the reasons mentioned earlier in the segment. Your compost should be ready by then.

Slow No Turn

Also referred to as no fuss composting, this is the easiest method of composting. If you don’t have time to attend to hot compost pile, this is a great alternative. It also doesn’t require much garden space. However, the amount it takes largely depends on environmental factors like temperature, oxygen, moisture, and could take a year or even more.

This process involves setting a pile in the yard and dumping everything you can from your household, including yard clippings, food scraps, leaves, and letting them decompose naturally.

Vegetable scraps and fruits can attract rodents and raccoons. To keep them out of your pile, bury these materials at the center of the pile or use rodent resistant compost bins.

Here’s an article that compares hot composting and slow no turn composting.

Worm Composting

Using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic materials is rising in popularity. It takes less amount of time compared to no fuss composting. Setting up the worm is also very simple and straightforward. All you need is a shallow box, some moist newspaper strips, and of course, worms. The material of the container doesn’t matter; you can use any.

What happens is the worms eat vegetables and fruit scraps, then extract nutrient-rich compost via their tail end. Meat, dairy products, oils, cooked food are not recommended for use in this process. They not only take longer to break down but also attract pests and rodents. Acidic fruits and vegetables with a strong smell like broccoli should also be avoided.

Consequently, you should not turn your pile as you might kill the worms or drive them away because of discomfort. It usually takes three to five months to get usable compost.

Read more on worm composting.

Trench Composting

Another bright and simple method that requires little to no effort at all. It’s practically invisible, and no turning or checking moisture/temperature levels is needed.

Dig a trench, 8 to 12 inches deep, add about 4 to 6 inches of organic material and bury them with the soil you dugout. Wait for a few weeks, then plant on top of the trench or hole.

There are no restrictions when it comes to trench composting. You can even use the smelliest kitchen waste along with pet waste, and it won’t cause any problems or produce odors.

Black Soldier Fly

This is another method that’s quickly gaining popularity. These greyish-brown species are capable of effectively breaking down organic material into usable compost. They thrive in moist conditions and piles with plenty of green materials.

Black soldier flies lay their eggs in these damp conditions, and the larvae feed on pretty much anything green; coffee grounds, kitchen waste, etc. They break down green materials much quicker than worms. After eating your waste for roughly two weeks, they crawl out of the compost pile and into dry matter.

Besides being harmless to humans and pets, the larvae are a good source of protein. You can feed them to earthworms, red worms, as well as your chickens and birds.

How Long Does Composting Take?

The method used, level of management, the size of the compost pile, the types of materials used, and other factors contribute to the rate of decomposition.

As mentioned in the hot composting method, the ideal size measure 3 feet by 3 feet. It allows the internal spaces to create the right conditions to break down the organic materials.

A smaller pile might take longer to decompose, while large piles might pose challenges when it comes to turning. There are compost turners that assist with turning the mixture but are suitable for commercial use. So if you’re composting in the home garden, take heed of the pile size.

The type of materials you use directly affects the speed of the decomposition process. 

If your pile is brown concentrated, it will slow down the composting process. A well-balanced pile should contain 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. This ratio is measured on a dry weight basis.

Organic materials have different carbon to nitrogen ratio, so it’s important to know how to balance the numbers. Wheat straw, for example, has a carbon/nitrogen ratio of about 80:1, whereas fruit wastes has 35:1. So if you have a bag of fruit waste and 3 bags of wheat straw, the carbon to nitrogen ratio would be; (80:1 + 80:1 + 80:1 + 35:1)/4 = 68.75

The size of the material also plays a role in the decomposing rate. Cutting or chopping the materials into smaller parts allows the microbes to break down the materials more quickly. 

The level of management means how well you monitor the process. Regularly checking the moisture & temperature level while making some necessary adjustments like turning the pile or adding water can accelerate the process. 

Your compost can even be ready within a month.

Copyright protected content owner: ReadyToDIY.com and was initially posted on 2019-12-21.

While you can start your composting any time of the year, some seasons are more favorable than others. In summer, the weather warms up, and the organic materials can break down quickly. You should, however, monitor the situation as the rise in temperatures may dry out the contents.

During winter, the compost pile starts to slow down and may even stop if temperatures drop below freezing for a couple of days in a row. It is recommended that you do not turn or aerate the pile as the much-needed heat might escape. You should instead continue adding materials to help generate heat and keep the microbes active.

Spring is the best time for composting as there is a rise in temperature, while fall provides an excellent opportunity to collect the leaves and use them for later.

How to Keep Rodents and Flies Away from Your Pile

Rodents, flies, and other pests can be a nuisance unless you take preventative measures. To keep rodents off your compost pile, avoid creating conditions that serve to attract and sustain them. 

Odors and smells attract these pests. Hence you should avoid placing cooked food, meat, dairy products, fruit, and vegetable scraps on top of the pile. Instead, bury them deep within the compost pile.

As of flies, kitchen scraps and other greens should always be covered with a brown layer material. It makes it hard for the flies to get to the waste. If it’s the rainy season, always keep your pile covered. If it gets too wet, it attracts flies.

It’s also a good idea to have some shrubs around your compost bin to attract flies-eating birds. Another creative way to trap these flies is to use a soda bottle and apple cider vinegar. 

Cut the bottle into two parts, pour a small amount of vinegar, an inch or so into the bottom half. Then form a funnel by inverting the top section into the bottom part. These tiny flies cannot resist the aroma vinegar and will get trapped as it would be difficult for them to get out.

Even when using worm bins, keep the fruits and vegetable scraps buried beneath the surface to avoid attracting the flies.

How to Use Compost in Your Garden

Once your compost is finished, it’s time to incorporate it into the yard and garden. But first, ensure the compost is mature and ready to avoid harming your plants. Besides the compost having a pleasant earthy smell, you can also do a bag test to determine if it’s ready for use.

Copyright article owner is ReadyToDiy.com for this article. This post was first published on 2019-12-21.

Pour a sample of the compost into a zip-lock bag, push air out of the bag, and seal it. Open the bag after three days. If it gives off a sharp or ammonia-like odor, your compost hasn’t fully decomposed. Allow the compost to cure and retest after a week or so.

You can use compost as a soil amendment, mulch, lawn top dressing, and compost tea. For soil amendment, dig 3 to 5 inches, add compost to the soil, then mix with the soil you dug up.

As of mulch, just spread it around flower beds, vegetable gardens, trees, plants as you would do with any mulch. Apply 2 to 3 inches on the surface. Do not apply mulch close to the trunk of the plant or main stem.

If you’re planning to use it as compost tea, mix a shovel of compost with water in a 5-gallon bucket. Let it sit for a few days, then pour the contents on whatever you wanted to use it on.

When it comes to top dressing, just add 1 to 3 inches of compost to the lawn and water it. Give it a few weeks, and it will disappear into the soil, making it healthy and rich in nutrients.

ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on 2019-12-21.

Final Thoughts

It’s evident a lot of factors come into when determining the amount of time needed for the compost to be ready. But for the best results, you should let the compost ‘cure’ for a few months after it appears finished.