Secrets on How to Make Compost in 14 Days 

We'll show you how to make compost, the best ingredients for making compost, how to treat your compost pile, and general composting tips for success.

Not everyone is successful. Not that composting is difficult to make, but you have to get the right ingredients in the right balance. That is the key to success.

There are 6 essential compost ingredients needed:

1) Heat
2) Moisture
3) The correct carbon to nitrogen ratio in the organic material
4) Getting air to the compost heap
5) Insects and micro-organisms
6) Time!

What is Compost?

Compost is the breaking down of organic material such as grass clippings, leaves, flowers, vegetable and fruit peelings and stems, roots and hedge trimmings.

Once the organic material has broken down you end up with a rich, friable material that can be added back into the soil to add nutrients and goodness that is needed by plants for good growth and development.

Compost is a complete plant food and soil conditioner that has been practiced for around 4000 years. It's great for soil structures, root grow, soil water-holding capacities and worms. It turns everything from vacuum cleaner dust to eggshells into great fertilizer.

Why Compost?

More importantly, composting diverts your green waste back into the garden instead of ending up in a landfill, which also helps to reduce the production of damaging greenhouses gases and allows as to reduce our ecological footprint in a small way.

With half of what we throw away as domestic waste coming from kitchen waste and our gardens, it really does pay to try and recycle this waste, make compost and put it back into your soil. Therefore it is good to know how to make compost properly.

People sometimes have problems putting a compost heap together, they really don't have a clue on how to make compost and muddle along and become disappointed with the end result. They choose too much of one material, and the compost heap either doesn't break down as quick as it should, or they end up with a smelly mess. 

Follow our simple instructions on how to compost, what and what not to put in your compost heap to take the stress out of compost making and get some composting know how. We will look at what should go into a compost heap so that it doesn't end up smelly and it does break down into friable compost.

                The compost heap

                              Making Compost In a Compost Bin

How to Make Compost and Looking after the Compost Heap

1) How to Make Compost - Getting the Right Heat and Temperature

When suitable material is collected in a loose heap, naturally occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae start to feed on the softer, more succulent ingredients in the composting process. At this stage, the heap should heat up to between 40 - 60°C. This heat speeds the rate of breakdown and can kill diseases and weed seeds. It should also be too hot for cockroaches and flies to breed.

2) How to Make Compost - Correct Moisture Content

Your compost heap should be moist, but never soggy. When it is soggy it will become smelly. This is when you need to balance it out a bit by adding either dry lawn clippings, shredded paper, sawdust or leaves to your compost when there is too much moisture.

Moisture – should be between 40 and 60%. Take a handful of the composting material from 15–20 cm deep into the heap/mound of composting material, and squeeze it. It should be about as moist as a moderately squeezed wet sponge. If it is too dry, add water to the heap. If it is too wet you may need to cover the heap with plastic, or turn it over regularly to allow for more evaporation to occur.

Once tender material is consumed, the rate of activity slows as the organisms work on tougher material. As the heap cools, worms, centipedes and beetles move in to help. By the end of the composting process, most of the ingredients have been broken down, mixed together and rebuilt into a balanced soil food.

3) How to Make Compost - Ingredients for the Right Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

When mixing materials for your compost bin, the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio is important. Micro-organisms in compost consume carbon for energy, and absorb nitrogen to help them use protein efficiently. The proportion of carbon and nitrogen should be approximately 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by weight.

Most materials for composting do not meet the ideal 25:1 ratio, so different materials can be mixed to achieve the ratio required.

In general, the coarse, dried out “brown” material contains little nitrogen but is high in carbon. “Green” materials such as lawn clippings, vegetable scraps and manure contain high levels of nitrogen. Brown lawn clippings from a dry lawn will have less nitrogen than lush, green clippings. Clippings from lawns that have been extensively fertilized will have an even higher nitrogen content.

The correct blending of carbon and nitrogen helps ensure composting temperatures remain high long enough for the process to work efficiently.

Given a steady diet of around 25:1, micro-organisms can decompose compost rapidly. When the C:N ratio is too high, insufficient nitrogen slows decomposition. When the ratio is low, too much nitrogen leads to odor problems.

Blending materials to achieve a good C:N ratio is important to home composting. If you are composting high nitrogen materials such as lawn clippings, they should be blended with a high carbon material such as chopped leaves or mulched branches and twigs.

When you add material to your compost bin make sure that you have a balance between wet and dry, nitrogen-rich materials such as your fruit peelings, lawn clippings and then your carbon-rich materials such as your dry leaves, sawdust, paper, straw etc.

Try and add this all in layers, of 5 - 10 cm deep.  I am not often able to layer things as I would like, just because of what I throw into the compost bin at the time, however, I do watch it and if it becomes too dry I add some more kitchen scraps, and if too wet, I add more paper etc.

It also helps to add a thin layer of soil to your layers, as well as adding oxygen to it by turning the top layers regularly.

compost layers

              The Ideal way of Layering Materials in a Compost Pile

4) How to Make Compost - Getting Oxygen to the Compost

Getting enough air to your compost pile is very important. Open pockets not only open up the pile to air which helps in the decompostion, but it also creates the homes for the insects and microorganisms so necessary to help break down the material even further.

Keep turning your compost heap over every week to get air to it. You can do this with a garden fork allowing the vegetation that is lying on the bottom to enjoy the heat in the middle too.

If your compost pile includes a lot of lawn cuttings, which are high in nitrogen, then you probably won't have to worry about add an activator to get your pile to start decomposing. 

If you think your compost heap could do with a little help, pop into your local garden center and pick up a commercial activator. This will aid in getting your compost heap jump-started again and the composting process back into action.

Otherwise, a homemade compost activator is using urine on it from time to time or else add a few bunches of nettles to the heap or some comfrey leaves.

A compost heap will mature quicker if it is at least one cubic meter.

ideal composting conditions

5) How to Make Compost using Insects

The insects and microorganisms in the compost pile are essential for the material to break down into the friable material you want at the end.

You want to encourage mites, worms, springtails, wood lice etc. In addition to insects and worms, successful composting also needs bacteria and fungi.

6) How to Make Compost over Time

Under the right conditions compost can be made fairly quickly - within 3- 4 months, although there is a way of making compost withing 2-3 weeks.

How to Make Compost in 3-4 Months

1. Choose an area that is partially protected from the rain.

2. Place a layer of vegetable matter at the base of your compost pile to a depth of about 6 inches. Make sure that you have the right mixture of nitrogen to carbon.

3. Spread a layer of animal manure on top to a depth of about 3 inches.

4. Pile another layer of the materials in the same way and repeat until the compost heap reaches about 4 feet.

5. Water the compost heap so that it is moist, but not soggy. Water regularly, particularly if the weather is hot.

6. Turn over the heap with a fork after 3 weeks, and then again after 5 weeks.

7. Your compost should be ready within 3-4 months.

How to Make Compost in 2-3 Weeks

1. Chop all the vegetation being used into very small pieces.

2. Mix equal parts of vegetation with equal parts of fresh farmyard manure.

3. Pile the mixture into a heap measuring 3ft × 3ft × 3ft. 

4. Cover the heap with banana leaves or old burlap sacks.

5. By the third or fourth day, the inside of the heap should be heating up quite nicely. If you find that the pile is not heating up mix more manure into it.

6. On the same day turn the compost heap so that the material from the center is now on the outside.

7. Turn the heap every two days after that.

8. In 14 - 18 days, the compost should be ready for use.

Know How to Make Compost and WHAT Ingredients to Add to your Compost Heap

First of all, to learn how to make compost,  you need to be patient. Good compost can take months to break down until it is usable. However, if you have the right nitrogen/carbon ratio, your compost heap will break down very fast and will heat up enough to kill off any diseases that have entered your compost heap from diseased plants, or will also kill off any weed seeds that have entered your heap.

To aid your compost heap start off making sure that whatever you put into your heap is as small as possible.  One reader send us an article about how she makes compost using her juicer.

Hair in the Compost Pile

My little tip on how to make compost is to get valuable nitrogen into the heap by using hair. It is something I throw into my compost bin all the time. When I cut my husband's hair, it goes into the compost heap, along with the dog's hair after a brushing and all the contents of my vacuum cleaner. All of these are high in nitrogen and will add value to your compost heap.

Vegetable Matter and Kitchen Scraps in the Compost Pile

comfrey for compostingI also put in all the grass clippings, leaves and vegetable peelings, skins and scraps from my kitchen. Tea and coffee grounds are also put in, including my used nettle tea bags.

Paper is torn up and added to the bin, along with any animal farmyard manure, weeds, straw, nut shells, stale bread and olive pips. Most nut shells can be added, but stay away from walnut shells.

 Add egg shells from eggs that haven't been cooked and any seaweed that has been washed up on the beach.

Chop up a couple leaves of comfrey, yarrow including the flowers, valerian, chamomile with the flowers and nettle leaves are all very good additions.
      Comfrey for Composting

Young plants break down a lot quicker than plants that are woody or dry as they have a higher water content and a higher sugar content.

The smaller the pieces placed into the compost heap the better. This provides a greater surface area for the insects and bugs to work on. If large pieces are added to the heap then the break down process will be very slow. Therefore any large branches and plants should be cut up and made smaller.

Avoid anything with thorns.

Dry Matter in the Compost Pile

Other additions you could put in your heap would be sawdust, spent hops, coconut fiber is great for retaining moisture in your heap, and a little bit of sweet lime to keep your heap sweet.

Finally, if you have a fireplace or woodstove, this is the place to add your wood fire ash.

Farmyard Manure in the Compost Pile

Farmyard manure is an essential component to add to your compost pile. If you are raising rabbits their droppings are very valuable as they can be added to your compost and directly to your flower and vegetable beds without a waiting period. However, when you are using other animal manures you do have to be more cautious.

One should wait a minimum of six weeks to prevent problems such as burning of leaves and roots from the presence of high levels of ammonium ions in the fresh manure. This is particularly important when composting with chicken manure, as it is very strong.

Free or Cheap Resources for Composting Material

If you don't have a farm and you are looking for cheap sources of composting material get woodshavings from timber production, spoiled hay/unwanted feed at the end of an exceptionally good season; or compostable factory wastes (e.g. rice hulls, poppy straw, sugar cane waste etc.). Just make sure that the wood hasn't been treated with any toxic applications, including your straw and hay.

How to Make Compost and What Ingredients NOT to add to your Compost Heap

In learning how to make compost you need to know that although you can throw in most kitchen scraps, some things you just can't throw in, and that is any meat or fats. However, you can throw in fish, fish bones and fish skin.

Avoid Fat and Meat Scraps

Another reason not to add meat scraps and fat is vermin. If you don't want the rats to invade your compost heap and form a colony then don't add any meat and fat. Fat, along with oil, salt, disinfectants, antibiotics, herbicides, and waste sprayed with pesticides will destroy any of the good bacteria that should be present to help with the breaking down of the material to form friable compost.

Avoid Weeds and Diseased Plants

Also don't add weeds that have formed seed heads and weed with bulbs as these are not always destroyed in the heating process, and you could end up weeding your next flower beds far more than usual, which is not what you want!

Avoid adding any diseased plants to your compost heap. Rather put these in the rubbish bin or better still, burn them.

Diseased plant material should not be used in compost as it may contaminate new areas when the compost is spread around at a later date.

Avoid Dead Animal Products

If you have access to dead animal products such as bone, skins, offal or similar, it is important to consider health regulations. Such products also tend to attract vermin and insects to the compost site, and so are best avoided. I have to say that I prefer to buy commercial packets of blood and bone; something I consider mandatory when growing vegetables.

Avoid Pet Poo

You raising chickens, goats, cows, horses, alpacas or sheep all their manure is good for composting, but stay away from your pet droppings, especially cat and dog droppings as these can spread disease.

Avoid anything that is Non-Biodegradable

Finally, don't add anything that won't decompose such as glass, metal and plastic.

Make a Cheap Compost Bin

A homemade compost bin is a lot cheaper to make than anything that you would buy commercially.

Take a roll of tightly meshed chicken wire and tie 4, 6 or 8 posts sharpened at one end to the wire. Place them at 9 inch intervals. Push the sharpened ends into the ground. Place a few small rocks on the ground to form aeration.

Compost likes heat to break down all the material, so cut a piece of old carpet, the same size as the diameter of the homemade compost bin and place it on the top after you have layered the chicken wire round with vegetation and farmyard manure.

Placing the carpet on the top will prevent any goodness being leached out of the composter when it rains.

There is more information on how to make a wooden compost bin.

How to Make Compost and Compost Troubleshooting

Getting the right proportion of moisture and the right combination of ingredients in your compost may take a little practice, but most problems can usually be overcome. Find the solutions here to your problem.

Composting Problem: My Compost Heap is too Wet

Solution: Add sawdust or shredded newspaper to help absorb moisture, and turn regularly

Composting Problem: My Compost Heap is too Dry

Solution: Water lightly.

Composting Problem: My Compost Heap is Not Heating Up

Solution: Add a source of nitrogen, such as animal manure or blood and bone meal or vegetable scraps.

Composting Problem: My Compost Heap is Too Hot

Solution: If the mixture goes grey and smokes, turn and spread it out to cool the compost down.

Composting Problem: My Compost Heap is Smelly

Solution: All compost releases some smell when it is turned. Reduce smell by keeping the compost damp but not wet.

Composting Solution: My Compost Heap has Flies and Cockroaches

Solution: Fully enclose the compost. Make sure the compost is hot in the center and turn regularly to ‘cook’ fly and cockroach eggs. Add some ducks to your homestead or garden. They are great fly catchers!

How to Make Compost - Now that I have my Compost how do I use it?

Dig the compost into flower and vegetable gardens to a depth of about 5cm. It can be applied to the surface of garden beds as mulch or used as top dressing for lawns. When using compost on the garden, take care to keep it away from roots and stems to avoid burning.

No single chemical fertilizer or animal manure by itself can match the goodness of nutrient-rich, homemade compost. It boosts nutrient levels in the soil, helps control diseases in garden wastes, saves trips to the tip and backyard burning, and reduces garbage output significantly. Healthy, chemical-free flowers, fruit and vegetables are a bonus.

Even if you can't use the compost on your own garden, it will almost certainly find a welcome home with a ‘green-thumbed’ neighbor.

How to Make Compost: Additional Information and Resources

Countryfarm Lifestyles Tip on How to Make Compost

Urine is an excellent source of nitrogen, including human urine, and  therefore  worth saving as it a free source and very useful for activating your compost heap.

For those of you who are interested in knowing how to make compost and what materials contain which of the three necessary elements; nitrogen, potash and phosphates, you can see a quick list below:

        How to Make Compost by Adding Nitrogen:

  • urine
  • raw bone meal
  • feathers
  • hair
  • tea and coffee grounds

    How to make Compost by Adding Potash:
  • hay
  • wood ash
  • wool waste
  • banana waste
  • rock dust

    How to Make Compost by Adding Phosphate:
  • fish
  • hoof and horn meal
  • sugar waste

When you are making compost, of course you will need a compost bin. We have some information on how to make a compost bin, along with some plans, including one set of plans to make a log compost bin.

One subject we didn't touch on here is worm farming. With worm farming you can make good compost fairly quickly which will give you an added dimension to your composting know how and learning how to make compost.

Video on How to Make Compost

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