Have you searched for composting hacks before?
Many of the ones you will see online are pretty basic.
They typically include advice like adding a mixture of browns and greens and using bulking agents to trap oxygen in the pile.
This is perfectly valid advice, but not hacks – instead, they’re the basics of composting.
I’m assuming that if you are searching for hacks, you’ve got the basics of composting down and you’re looking for tips and tricks that can either help you speed up composting or improve the final result.
Or perhaps you’re like me, and you really like experimenting with new techniques!
The hacks below are lesser-used methods. Some have come from reading the latest studies on composting, and others I have picked up from other composters.
While I think they all have a good chance of working, I’ve added a confidence level below each hack.
Let’s get started!
Things you can add to improve composting:
Cooking oil to increase heat and compost quality
A Japanese study found that adding cooking oil can reduce nitrogen loss, reduce emissions and increase compost heat.
When I queried the researchers, they weren’t sure if it sped up the process, but it seems likely that if it’s hotter it will speed up the composting process.
However, even if it doesn’t speed up the process, you can be satisfied that you’re improving the quality of your compost and reducing emissions.
You don’t need a huge amount of oil either!
The study used just 3% cooking oil, and used cooking oil is fine.
Confidence level: 7/10
The research seemed solid, and when I queried the researchers they were pretty confident it would work in home composting as long as the compost heap was hot.
However, I’ve only seen one study so far, so it would be nice to see this replicated.
Biochar to increase composting speed
Several studies have found that adding biochar to compost can increase composting speed.
One of these studies found that the amount that needs to be added is just 3%.
The benefits don’t end there, either!
Biochar reduces nutrient leaking from compost, helps reduces odors and likely decreases the availability of heavy metals.
Confidence level: 9.5
There are multiple studies that show biochar is beneficial for making compost, which means we can be more confident of the results.
Learn more: How Biochar Can Improve Composting
Add ash for multiple benefits
Ash also carries many benefits for composting.
In fact, one study found multiple benefits. These included:
- increased oxygen levels
- increased heat
- reduced nitrogen loss
- reduced Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
- increased decomposition speed
- better plant growth in ash-amended compost
Adding a lot of ash can make compost too hot – a good rule of thumb is to max out at about 10%.
Confidence level: 7.5
Ash can contain heavy metals, although this doesn’t usually seem to be a problem if you use wood ash – avoid ash from coal and briquettes.
However, one study found that ash compost was more suitable for use with tropical acid soil and woods than with other soils.
Ash is alkaline, and might not work well with alkaline soils.
I haven’t used ash in compost much, as I tend to use it more as a component of homemade fertilizer and as a slug deterrent around tender young plants.
Learn more with our guide to using Ash In Compost.
Urine for a nitrogen boost
Humanure, including urine, has been used as a fertilizer for thousands of years.
It contains essential nutrients for composting and for plants.
In fact, last year I experimented with using urine, mixed with ash and diluted with water, on half my garlic plants, leaving the other half to grow in compost.
After a few weeks, the plants treated with my homemade fertilizer were so much bigger I stopped experimenting and applied the mixture to all my plants.
Urine is commonly used in composting too, and as it’s high in nitrogen it should be a good balance to high carbon materials.
Confidence level: 10
As long as your compost doesn’t already have too much nitrogen (and you don’t insist on putting your nutrient-laden pee into the drinking-quality water in your toilet!), it makes absolute sense to add urine.
Urine is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and research by the Rodale Institute (mentioned in their book on composting, although I don’t have the link to the study) shows that it speeds up the composting process.
However, some sources suggest you should avoid using urine from people who are ill or who have a urinary tract infection.
Also see: An Introduction to Humanure.
Mature compost (or soil) to add microbes
Many composters add layers of compost or soil to their compost heap.
The idea here is to ensure that a large amount of the right types of microbes are introduced.
An easy way to do this is to include a small layer of soil or compost in between your layers of Greens and Browns.
Confidence level: 8
This is one of the more controversial points here.
Naysayers will point out there are huge amounts of bacteria in the air, and these bacteria will land on the compost.
However, one study found that adding mature compost can speed up the composting process.*
What’s more, Biocycle, the online magazine for professional composters, also concluded that adding mature compost increased composting speed.
I certainly add some soil or mature compost to my bins – it’s free and takes very little extra effort to add!
Seaweed for water retention and compost quality
Adding seaweed to your compost may help improve the quality of your finished compost.
Seaweed may be low in nitrogen, but it contains both beneficial trace elements and hormones that can help plants grow.
One study found that seaweed increases the ability of compost to hold water AND improved the growth rate of tomatoes.
Still, another study by Cole et al found that only composts that contain high levels of seaweed and had a low carbon-nitrogen ratio can accelerate plant growth.
Confidence level: 6
Seaweed does seem to improve the compost quality. However, as we saw one study suggests you need to be very precise in the amount of seaweed you add.
However, that study used green seaweed, while other sources state brown seaweed provides more value.
I haven’t experimented with composting it myself.
While I do collect seaweed for the garden, I tend to use it straight on the vegetable garden, where it also makes an excellent slug deterrent!
Worms for multiple benefits
They create tunnels in the compost which helps aerate it. They make the nutrients in compost more available to plants, help eliminate pathogens and reduce the availability of heavy metals.
While worms are commonly used for vermicomposting, some composters choose to add worms to a regular bin to speed up the maturation process.
If you do this, ensure that you add worms only AFTER the compost has cooled down.
Confidence level: 7
Why not a higher confidence level? I’ve no doubt that worms improve the composting process.
However, in most cases, worms will appear in the compost heap whether you add them or not. What’s more, they’ll come at exactly the right time for worms!
If your conditions are right for worms, and you have plenty of them in your area, you could be wasting your time and money by adding them.
You can also take measures to attract more worms to the compost heap – see our guide on worms in compost bins for details!
Turn the compost? That’s so 1980s!
Nowadays, we have a complete toolkit of methods to aerate the compost heap without having to turn it every other day.
Here are a couple of them…
Perforated PVC pipe for passive aeration
Turning compost regularly can take ages if you have a large pile.
Plus, if you follow traditional composting advice, you need to do it repeatedly.
In contrast, drilling a hole in a PVC pipe takes just minutes.
You then create a hole in the middle of the compost pile, insert the PVC pipe and hey presto – you have some passive aeration going on!
Confidence level: 7/10
I’ve currently experimenting here with a DIY garbage bin composter.
While the compost has stayed aerated and the compost has shown no sign of anaerobic (without air) composting, the compost hasn’t got above 35C. Meanwhile, my pallet bin pile, with the same materials (and no PVC aerator), reached 63C.
I think that in a garbage bin composter, with its small volume, a PVC pipe that extends through the bottom of the bin provides so much aeration that the heat escapes.
Still, I think this would work better in a larger compost pile.
Use an aerator to decrease effort
Instead of turning the compost heap, you can use a compost aerator to reintroduce oxygen.
This still requires a bit of effort – but it takes a fraction of the time it does to turn the compost.
I would still recommend at least one compost turn, though. It’s still important to check moisture levels inside the compost heap, and it allows you to move material from the outer part of the heap to the middle (and vice versa!)
Confidence level: 10
This is a technique I’ve been using for a couple of years, first with the Dalec aerator and now with the Ejwox aerator.
I’ve found it a great way to maintain heat after the compost has already got hot.
Again, it’s also basic science – bacteria need oxygen to break down compost material.
Combined hack: Aeration, Nitrogen and Water
Here’s one hack I ran across recently on the One Yard Revolution You Tube channel.
You simply make holes in your compost heap with a rebar, and add water and a high nitrogen material like grass or urine.
You can see the full explanation in the video below:
Confidence level: 10
This method makes perfect sense, as it adds three crucial ingredients – nitrogen, air and water.
Of course, all three should only be applied if your compost has a lot of brown materials and is rather dry.
You can also choose to add water and high nitrogen materials while you remix the compost. I’ve found this to be highly effective. In fact, recently I added some grass to my garbage bin composter and it increased the temperature by 10 °C in just a couple of days.
Layers of straw to keep warmth in the compost heap or bin
This one is very simple!
Pile up straw around the side of your compost heap. Every time you need to add more material, push the straw on the top to the side and add more straw as needed.
Confidence level: 10
This is sound – we know that the more heat is trapped inside a compost heap, the quicker thermophilic bacteria will break down the compost.
I’ve also used this method several times, mostly at the end of winter or in early spring, and found it a great way to keep compost warmer for longer before the weather warms up.
As the weather gets hotter, I find there’s less need for it.
Trench composting hack
Add worm cocoons
Most composters use live worms to break down compost material, but some composters simply add worm cocoons to trenches.
For details on this one, I am going to refer you to a more in-depth post!
Red Worms Composting does a great job of describing how they created a trench with straw and food scraps before adding cocoons.
Confidence level: 7
While I would love to try this hack, I simply can’t find worm cocoons for sale in my area.
However, it does seem to make sense. I am planning to experiment with live worms when I have some bare space in my vegetable garden for more trenches!
Learn more: 6 Trench Composting Methods
Don’t forget the basics
These are all fun ways to improve composting, but don’t forget it’s important to get the basics of composting right first!
There are not many things you need to right, but if you need to remind yourself, check out the Five Rules of Composting.
Other than that, do experiment and have fun!
Plus, if you have experimented with any composting hacks, please do let us know how you got on in the comments!
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