Composting is a slow process, taking time and effort to yield results. But what happens when it’s taking too long? Or you’re not prepared to wait? There’s no shortage of compost activators, starters, boosters & accelerators on the market that can speed the process up.
Below we look at how you can use these products and natural alternatives that can help you speed up your compost without having to break the bank.
Compost Starters vs. Activators vs. Boosters vs. Accelerators – Is There a Difference?
Starters, Boosters, Accelerators, Activators – as far as we can tell, there’s little difference, and many businesses and gardeners use the terms interchangeably. Some commercial accelerator manufacturers will say there’s a huge difference between compost accelerators and compost activators, but this may be a marketing strategy more than anything!
Whichever name you use for the product, you can see that the idea is to accelerate, or speed up, the rate at which your organic material composts. Because there are no set definitions, the important thing is to understand what these products do and when and if you need to buy some for your own compost pile. We’ll be using these terms interchangeably for the rest of the article.
How Do Compost Accelerators Work?
Compost accelerators, compost starters, and other similar products work by adding more nitrogen to your composting pile. Nitrogen is vital for the bacteria that are needed for aerobic decomposition. Most products also include other nutrients, plus bacteria and fungi, that help accelerate the composting process and increase compost quality.
The ingredients contained in these products can be and will be created naturally if you have set your compost up correctly. What these products do, particularly those that add bacteria and fungi, is that they add components that would otherwise take much longer to build up in your compost bin.
Do You Need Compost Starter?
No, you don’t need a compost starter or accelerator (or any other product) to make great compost. As long as you have the right ratio of 3 or 4 parts carbon content (e.g., leaves) to 1 part nitrogen content (e.g., grass clippings) and you follow other best practice, such as turning it over regularly and using a decent compost bin, your compost should be just fine.
Having said that, there are a few scenarios where you might find a compost activator useful:
- You’ve just started a compost pile for the first time and want to get it going quicker than normal.
- You’re a beginner, and your compost pile doesn’t seem to be making much progress.
- You lack organic material such as grass clippings that contain nitrogen to add to your compost and want an extra source to keep it going.
If your compost does need a kickstart, there are plenty of ways to naturally speed up the composting process without purchasing anything. There are also many commercial products to choose from. Your choice depends on what you want from your compost pile and how quickly you want to speed up the process.
How to Choose a Commercial Compost Accelerator
If you do choose to purchase a commercial compost accelerator, we recommend that you choose one that is natural and includes the bacteria necessary for the decomposition process to occur.
Natural Alternatives to Compost Activators
While you can choose to kickstart your compost pile by purchasing a commercial product, it’s often just as easy to make your own. These aren’t always quite as quick as purchased compost starters, but they are just as effective, and in most cases, they’re going to be either free or very cheap. The key is adding nitrogen and, if possible, a source for the right type of bacteria needed to create great compost.
Natural compost starters include finished compost, soil, seaweed, alfalfa hay, & animal manure. You can even brew your own compost activator using beer and cola!
Let’s take a look at your options in more detail:
Using Finished Compost as a Starter
Finished or near-finished compost makes a great starter for another heap. It has all the bacteria needed for your new pile and is completely organic, making it the perfect starter. Put it in the center of your compost bin, mix in the right ratio of nitrogen and carbon materials, and your compost will soon be on its way. This method is ideal if you have multiple compost piles.
Soil: A Compost Accelerator Every Garden Already Has
Soil is a great compost accelerator: Everything your compost heap needs to break down plant matter is already present. Look for healthy soil where your plants are thriving. That way, you know there’s a healthy balance of microbes, beneficial bacteria, and organic material.
How to Use Animal Manure as a Compost Starter
Animals, particularly those who live on a vegetable-only diet, have guts filled with the kinds of microbes and microorganisms that work perfectly as composting microbes. It means that what would usually be viewed as waste products will now make amazing compost boosters.
Horse manure, chicken manure, and even human urine are beneficial to a compost pile. Animal manure is a natural nitrogen fertilizer: it’s full of bacteria and is nitrogen-rich, which is exactly what your compost pile needs. Human urine contains ammonia, which is one of the most natural pH balancers you can find. Too large an amount of nitrogen sources can make the contents of compost bins and piles too acidic, whereas ammonia, found in urine, raises the pH to a more alkaline state.
How to Make Your Own Compost Accelerator From Beer & Cola
If you want to really flex your inner scientist, make your own compost starter with some everyday household items. Most of these would only be waste products anyway, so you don’t need to start spending a fortune on what should be a huge recycling exercise.
A mixture of warm water mixed with warm, flat beer should form your base. Pour about a gallon of the first and a can of the second into a large bucket, preferably one with a lid. The beneficial bacteria you’re going to grow likes things to be moist and dark. Once that’s sat for 24 hours and the yeast in the beer is starting to become active, add a sugar source. For this, some cola is best. The sugary kind is the vital ingredient, so no diet brands, otherwise this won’t work.
So you have yeast, sugar which will be used as a carbon source, and water. The mixture might be a little acidic at this time, so now add half a cup of ammonia. Regular ammonia found in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket will do fine.
And that’s it! This mixture can now be poured throughout your compost pile. Make sure it’s evenly distributed throughout and that you have plenty of carbon-rich, brown woody materials in there. Some soil added to the pile works well at adding extra nutrients. Then, put in some kitchen scraps, such as vegetable or fruit peelings, and voila! You’ve just made your own compost starter.
Even if you’ve had the pile going for some time, but all seems a little dead in the composting bin, you can use this formula as a compost booster or compost accelerator. The science is the same, no matter when in the composting process you’re introducing the booster.
Other Natural Compost Accelerators
Other natural composting starters include seaweed and alfalfa hay.
What Will Make Compost Break Down Faster?
The right kind of bacteria is key. If you’re in a hurry to get your compost broken down quickly in order to get hold of the finished product quicker, then add the ingredients that will up the production of the bacteria you need for decomposition.
Nitrogen will speed up the composting process, so add more organic matter, such as food scraps, grass clippings, kitchen waste, and coffee grounds.
Worms are a gardener’s best friend. You can either dig them up from your own garden soil or buy them to throw onto the heap, and they’ll work their way through plenty of organic matter without you having to add more activators or chemicals. It’s one reason some choose not to use a closed compost maker because the worms need oxygen to survive.
Bone meal and blood meal are two kinds of fertilizer that can also boost your composting time. Both bone and blood meal are animal waste products but have been specially selected and treated for use as a fertilizer. This doesn’t mean you should put meat or pet waste on your compost heap, as this can cause it to smell and mess up the delicate pH balance.