Would you like to compost properly at home and want to know how to make compost yourself? We’ll explain exactly how to do this and how to properly fill your composter. Real compost is a compilation (Latin compositum = “the compiled”) of various raw materials. The path from waste to valuable soil improver is not only wonderful and practical but also mysterious: the processes that lead to the formation of new humus after rotting have still not been completely unraveled.
However, humans have been making use of the special properties of humus for centuries by allowing organic material to rot on compost heaps and to be transformed. Nevertheless, many gardeners still ask themselves the question: What is allowed on the compost? And how does it work: compost correctly?
Properly composting tips
In this article, you will also learn everything you need to know to properly compost in the compost heap or composter. The necessary tools range from the choice of the right composter to the knowledge of the microorganisms involved and the decision when compost is ready for use. We’ll start in a very general way.
How does composting work?
During composting, organic materials from billions of small and tiny organisms are transferred into new humus. The first step is decomposition, which takes place quite stormily: the environment is noticeably warmed up due to the increased activity of the microorganisms that try to get to the inner nutrients. This phase is called the “main rotting” or “intensive rotting” – the result of which is the so-called fresh compost.
After the decomposition, which lasts for a few weeks, the phase of “post-rotting” follows. Now substances that were created during the main rotting are newly linked to form large biomolecules. These biomolecules are the humic acids that later give the compost its special properties. Its structure is extremely variable, which is why no scientist has so far been able to develop a general model of such a humic acid.
The new humus molecules are relatively stable – much more stable and less prone to breakdown than the product of the main rot. The compost is now called “finished compost”. Until then, composting has taken at least five months under the best of conditions. If composting is still not stopped, so-called mature compost is created. Many a patient gardener swears by the extremely soil-improving properties of two to three-year-old ripe compost – anyone who has reached this degree of rotting quickly has really done everything right when composting.
Hot and cold rot
There are several ways to properly compost and compost can be created in two different processes: in the cold or in the hot compost. In private gardens there is always cold rotting: when a compost heap is gradually piled up, the rotting processes don’t all take place at the same time, but one after the other, layer by layer.
The top layer in each case develops most of the heat as a result of the decomposition processes but quickly loses it to the environment because it is not insulated. As a result, the temperatures are not particularly high and pathogens and weed seeds, unfortunately, survive the rotting without any problems. For this reason, when composting in a private garden, you should make sure that no pathogens or seed-bearing plants get onto the compost.
Summary composting tips:
- During composting, organic materials are converted into compost or humus.
- The decomposition phase is called the main rotting, the build-up phase is called post-rotting.
- The main rotting product is fresh compost, which is rich in nutrients and unstable.
- The product of post-rotting is finished compost or mature compost, which is less rich in nutrients, but much more stable.
- In the vast majority of cases, composting in the private garden takes place in the cold compost.
- Pathogens and weed seeds are not killed in the cold compost – therefore the material to be composted should not come from diseased plants or carry unwanted seeds.
- You will find an informative list directly below on the question “What can be put on the compost”.
What belongs in the compost?
For the sake of simplicity, you will find a table below in which the most important suitable wastes are listed and compared with the unsuitable materials. Basically, the shredded material is composted faster. Chopping branches and hedge cuttings can therefore be worthwhile.
|Suitable kitchen waste||Suitable garden waste||Unsuitable
|Fruit and vegetable scraps||Lawn / green clippings||Glass|
|Coffee and tea residues||leaves||Metals|
|Meatless leftovers||Hedge/branch pruning||Root weeds|
|Peel of citrus fruits
and bananas (to a small extent
without seeds, sawdust, and wood shavings
|Leftover meat, bones, large amounts of dairy products|
|Pure wood ash||Plant residues such as
Perennial clippings or crop residues
|Shells of raw eggs|
|Bowls of boiled eggs||Roots and soil from old planters||Vacuum cleaner content|
Which compost is the best?
Before you start composting, you need to choose a suitable composter. We present some models and concepts for this. Which composter is the most suitable for you always depends on the amount of composted and the space available to you?
You can create a compost pile – also called a compost heap – in a protected, partially shaded location and on the healthy garden soil. This is basically a bunch that gets a little bigger layer by layer. To ensure adequate ventilation, it should have the following maximum dimensions:
|width||1.2 m – 2.5 m|
|height||0.8 m – 1.5 m|
You can also create this rent in a frame made of metal, wood, or plastic. These should of course be open at the bottom to let in microorganisms from the soil. The enclosure should also have enough slots or air holes to ensure ventilation. A two-chamber or two-pile system is always useful. You can use a space to collect material that you do not want to add to the compost yet due to the optimal mixing or use the second chamber when moving.
In any case, remember to cover the pile, for example with straw or mulch film. The compost rent generally requires a little more space than a composter and, in its simplest form – as a simple heap – is probably the cheapest option for composting even large amounts of waste. For those who love the flair of old farms, renting is probably the only real way to properly compost.
You need to read: Compost: Everything From Correct To Make Composting
Quick composters are basically boxes open at the bottom with ventilation slots, a flap for loading, and one for removing finished compost. They are designed to optimize humidity and temperature for microorganisms and enable the correct composting of smaller amounts of waste by holding the material together. However, because mixing and rearrangement are difficult or even impossible in such a container, a good layering of the most varied of materials must be carried out from the outset when operating a high-speed composter.
In addition, the compost material must never be compacted to avoid a lack of oxygen inside. Most quick composters are dark in color so that they warm up faster. When choosing one, make sure that there is adequate ventilation and a practical removal flap. The space required by high-speed composters is usually limited – depending on the volume – to around one square meter of floor space. The capacities available on the market are between 300 and 1600 liters.
The thermal composter represents a special form of the rapid composter described above and only adds good thermal insulation to it. This ensures a constant temperature that is as high as possible inside the composter. Thermal composters, therefore, represent an optimization of high-speed composters, because even little material can be heavily composted in them. Because of the insulation, their size is slightly larger than that of the high-speed composter, and they are usually more expensive. The available capacities are between 180 and 900 liters.
Rolling composters are a relatively new idea. A rollable container – usually made of plastic – has the great advantage that you can easily move it to where the compost falls. For stationary storage, the rolling composter usually includes a frame in which it is also rotatably mounted. In addition, the material inside is mixed and ventilated by rolling around, eliminating the need for layers and repositioning. The disadvantage is the often only small capacity of 70 to 180 liters. If necessary, this can be solved by purchasing several rolling composters.
Small composter for balconies and apartments
Even in the smallest of settings and without a garden, composting tips or recycling of compost is possible. With the worm box and the Bokashi bucket, we would like to introduce you to two possible ways of doing this. Surrendering the product from Bokashi or Wurmkiste if you should have an excess is in all likelihood no problem at all: someone in your circle of acquaintances is sure to be happy about some organic fertilizer.
With this compost trend from Japan, there is actually no composting at all, but fermentation. With a Bokashi bucket, you not only receive an organic liquid fertilizer after a very short time but also an organic fertilizer for potted plants or beds after two to six weeks (depending on the conditions). Basically, the material has been “pre-digested”, and subsequent decomposition takes place very quickly.
Unlike composting, fermentation takes place under the absolute exclusion of air and is carried out by lactic acid bacteria that are specially added for this purpose. Incidentally, the same bacteria turn white cabbage into delicious sauerkraut. You can read about the function and use of Bokashi buckets in detail in our Bokashi special article. A Bokashi bucket only takes up as much space as a normal organic waste bin and has a capacity of 15 to 20 liters.
A worm box uses the incredible abilities of various relatives of the earthworm to achieve odor-free composting indoors. Here is an example of worm boxes that you can purchase. In the meantime, however, there are also many do-it-yourself instructions on the Internet. The principle of the worm boxes is simple: Hundreds of worms live in a well-ventilated container and feed on the organic waste that you give them.
Worm boxes are always divided into at least two chambers. If a chamber is filled with composted material, the worms migrate through slits or holes to the next area where there is fresh food for them. They multiply in the box and usually only have to be purchased once. Worm box users often report that a strange smell is formed at the beginning, but disappears with good ventilation and after some time of use.
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The worm boxes can be set up at 15 to 25 ° C so that there should be a place in every apartment. Available capacities start at around 70 liters and can be expanded on some models. Because compost worms eat a lot, but not everything, it is important to deal with the question in advance: What can be put on the compost heap?
Summary: which composter is the best?
- Pile composting is cheap but takes up a lot of space; to allow adequate ventilation, the pile should not be too wide or too high
- Quick and thermal composters are suitable for the quick composting of smaller amounts of waste and are space-saving, but must be filled carefully in layers
- Rolling composters do not have to be layered or moved, but they have a very limited capacity
- Strictly speaking, fermentation takes place in the Bokashi bucket, but useful plant fertilizers are also produced from waste; they are the size of organic waste bins
- The worm box makes use of the properties of lungworms and composts kitchen waste on the surface of a stool
The right location for composters
To ensure the mildest and most constant temperatures possible, you should also consider a few things when choosing a location. A partially shaded location is ideal to ensure sufficiently, but not too strong, warming. If the location is protected, the compost can keep the temperature longer. Regulation of the humidity is also easiest in such a location.
There should also be healthy garden soil under the compost, which has been broken up as far as possible. In this way, the living beings involved in composting can move into the compost and migrate again after their task has been completed. If you want to run a compost heap, you should consider the later width of the heap: A heap about 150 cm high should be about 250 cm wide at the base to ensure adequate ventilation. You can read a little below why the above factors are important for correct composting.
Summary composter location:
- The location should be partially shaded and protected
- A healthy and loose garden soil allows the immigration of microorganisms
- Note the size of the finished rent or space you may need for sorting or moving
Compost correctly: tips for successful rotting
The processes taking place in the heap are carried out by microorganisms. To promote and perhaps even accelerate the rotting, it is important to optimize their living conditions. You can tackle this with a few adjusting screws:
Moisture in the composter
The bacteria and fungi involved in rotting require a sufficiently moist environment. This is achieved through a partially shaded location, covering the compost, or using a composter. During hot, dry periods, consider watering a compost heap.
The temperature in the composter
High temperatures allow the microorganisms to develop in top form and the rotting process is accelerated. The thermal or quick composter is based on this principle. Isolating and covering the compost can also go a long way, as can a sheltered location that occasionally gets a little sun.
Oxygen in the composter
The microorganisms involved are aerobic, so they need oxygen to breathe. A compost heap that is too dense or too wet makes their work difficult or even causes them to die. The use of sufficiently coarse, structurally stable material and frequent repositioning, on the other hand, ensure a good supply of important breathing air. If the oxygen supply is insufficient, anaerobic (i.e., non-air-breathing) microorganisms multiply. The products of their activity are, for example, unpleasant-smelling sulfur or methane compounds. So if your compost smells bad, you should ventilate it, for example by repositioning.
Nutrients in the composter
To reproduce and be active, the microorganisms need not only carbon-rich but also nutrient-rich substrates. To be adequately supplied with nitrogen, it can therefore be useful to mix in some nitrogen fertilizer. If there is enough nutrient-rich material – i.e. material with a small C / N ratio – this is not necessary. A colorful mix of different materials represents an optimal nutrient base.
The C / N ratio indicates the ratio of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to one another in a material. Materials with a low C / N ratio (e.g. liquid manure, C: N = 5: 1) decompose quickly, but then little humus is formed. Materials with a high C / N ratio (such as wood chips, C: N = 120: 1) are only decomposed very slowly and the microorganisms even remove nitrogen from the environment. To influence this, it is also important to know what is allowed on the compost.
pH value in the composter
The activity of microorganisms increases with increasing pH – at least up to a certain point. Conversely, their activity is inhibited at low pH values. If there is a lot of “acid” material (such as lawn clippings and leaves) on the compost, you should powder it with a little lime. Algae lime, for example, is well suited.
In the past, layering the compost was considered an indisputable condition for successful composting. However, you will find that you have more than just this one option.
Create compost correctly: move layers or compost?
The conversion of the compost material should improve the living conditions of the unseen working microorganisms through the oxygen input and the mixing of the material.
Basically, you have two options: you can build up your compost in perfect layers – or you can move it regularly. If you pile up your compost conscientiously and with sufficiently coarse material in such a way that there is no stagnant water, low-oxygen zones, or otherwise suboptimal rotting conditions, you can save yourself moving.
Rapid composters and thermal composters require this because they are difficult to mix. However, this makes it necessary to carefully sort all compostable waste. If you are against this regular discipline, you can also layer a compost carelessly, but you should then keep an eye on possible rot or dry spots. In this case, shifting is a must once a year and if you notice a slowed rotting and stench, you should also soon reach for the fork and turn the bottom up and the inside out.
On this occasion, also moisten the dry material and remove the putrid areas. If you operate a rolling composter, there is of course no need to mix the waste – you should only move the container a little regularly if it does not roll around. So that there is no rotting caused by incorrect rotting material such as dairy products or meat, it is better to deal with what is allowed on the compost in advance.
Summary: How to create compost correctly – layer it or move it?
- The conversion should bring oxygen into the rotting material and thus promote the conversion
- If you layer your compost very carefully and airy, there is no need to move it
- If the rotting material is not sorted so carefully, it is repositioned once a year or as required
- A rolling composter eliminates both moving and layering if it is moved occasionally
Filling the composter correctly: six golden rules for layering
- At the bottom of the compost belong sawdust, bark mulch, or wood chips
- Structurally stable material (e.g. branch cuttings, firm, dry shrub cuttings, leaves) and softer waste from the kitchen and garden are layered on top of this
- If necessary, you can sprinkle a very thin layer of lime or nitrogen fertilizer between the layers
- If you use other compost for inoculation, you can occasionally add a layer of this as well
- Material that is too dry should be moistened, material that is too wet should be dried before it goes onto the compost
- If you operate an open compost pile, it is finally covered with a thick layer of straw, hay, leaves, or climbing plants
How long does the compost take?
If you set up the compost correctly, it goes through different stages: The fresh compost that starts becomes ready-made compost and finally mature compost. Fresh compost is ready to use after about four to eight weeks, finished compost after five to six months. Longer composting does not damage the end product either, the newly built humus compounds become more resistant to degradation and act more and more as soil improvers the older they get. In principle, the following applies the more nutrient-rich the raw material, the faster the composting process, and the lower the yield of stable “permanent humus”.
When is the compost ready?
The times stated above are of course guide values: The rotting time can change depending on the working conditions of the microorganisms. It is best to trust what you can see, smell, and feel: When your waste has turned into fragrant, fragrant, crumbly material that is reminiscent of forest floor and whose origin can hardly be seen – then you can become a successful one Congratulate compost!
Summary: how long does the compost take?
- All times are only guidelines, depending on the living conditions of the microorganisms involved, the rotting times change
- Fresh compost can be used after four to eight weeks
- A ready-made compost can be used after five to six months; it is then crumbly, smells pleasant and the starting substances are barely recognizable
- The longer a finished compost is composted, the sooner it becomes a very stable, low-nutrient ripe compost that is ideally suited for soil improvement
- Compost is ready when it smells good, is dark and crumbly and you can no longer recognize the raw materials
Speed up compost
Compost starters or compost accelerators and even compost worms are offered to optimize composting. You don’t need any of these additives if you put well-mixed compost on a piece of healthy soil. All microorganisms and worms get into your compost from below and multiply there. Nitrogen or lime, as found in compost accelerators, are only necessary to a limited extent, as you learned above (in the section “Promoting composting”).
If you are starting a completely new compost, a simple trick can help you: Inoculate your new pile with mature compost from another compost owner if you can. So there is a basic stock of microorganisms that can continue to multiply. The next compost is then always inoculated with the previous one.
If you set up your new compost under the most unfavorable conditions (poor subsoil, no compost available for inoculation), you can of course fall back on offered compost worms and compost starters. You can also find everything about worm composting in our special article on compost worms. If composting is to be carried out quickly, optimizing the living conditions of the microorganisms involved is of course the most effective approach.
Summary of speeding up compost:
- If you diversify your compost on healthy soil, mix it and adjust the conditions according to the needs of the working organisms, you do not need any further tools
- Inoculating a new compost with ready-made compost from another pile is an effective trick to get the rotting processes going quickly
- If the conditions are too bad, the use of compost starters or accelerators is no longer of any use – but if there is only a lack of compost for inoculation, nothing speaks against the use of such products
Sifting the compost is common for fresh and finished compost. In this process, coarse, undecomposed material is separated from the finished compost. Fresh compost is generally sifted more coarsely than finished compost because it still contains many coarse pieces that are further broken down in the bed. Ripe compost does not necessarily have to be sieved, at this stage of rotting none of the original organic structures should be present. Compost used to mix potting soil should be extra fine. The corresponding mesh sizes for further use can be found in the following table.
|use||Mesh size of the sieve|
|Mulching of land||20-30 mm|
|Soil improvement with ready-made / ripe compost||5 – 20 mm|
|Annual maintenance with ready-made / ripe compost||5 – 20 mm|
|Part of potting soil||<15 mm|