Imagine this. You will be ready to plant your garden in three weeks, but your soil is poor and needs fertilizer. You’ve heard that compost is good fertilizer and will make your soil rich and your plants healthy.
But there’s a problem. It usually takes three months to make compost.
What can you do?
You might be interested to know that it is possible to make compost in just two or three weeks. It will mean some extra time and work for you – but if you want quick compost, it will be worth it.
Here’s how to make quick compost.
Find a flat piece of ground, as close as possible to your vegetable garden or the field where you will use your compost. It should also be at least 25 metres from where you get your drinking water. This is where you will make your compost pile.
To begin, you need to have enough materials to make a heap one-and-a-half metres high. One-and-a-half metres is about twice as long as your arm. It can be as wide and as long as you like. For quick compost you should start with a large pile, rather than adding a little bit at a time.
You will need two kinds of materials to make a compost pile: materials which have lots of carbon in them, and materials with lots of nitrogen.
Examples of materials which contain carbon are stalks from rice, maize and other grains, and dried leaves. Carbon-rich materials are usually brown and dry. Examples of materials which contain nitrogen are green weeds, green grass, vegetable and fruit wastes and manure. Nitrogen-rich materials are usually green and moist. Use two to three times more carbon-rich material than nitrogen-rich material in your compost pile.
Chop all your materials into little pieces with a machete or an axe.
After chopping, the pieces should be about five centimetres long — not more than that. Five centimetres is about the length of your thumb. Then partly crush all the thick, dry stalks with your machete or axe. When you crush the stalks, you speed up the composting process.
Mix the chopped materials together thoroughly, and build a pile that is one and a half metres high. It can be wider or longer than one and a half metres, but don’t make it smaller. If your pile is smaller, you will have to wait longer for your compost to be ready.
Now add enough water to make the pile damp. Everything in the pile should feel as damp as a squeezed-out sponge. Then cover the pile with banana leaves or old burlap sacks and leave it alone for a few days.
Covering the compost pile helps the materials break down more quickly because it stops the pile from cooling down.
After a few days, you will need to check the pile for heat, moisture, and smell. Here’s how.
By the end of the third or fourth day, the inside of the pile should be getting hot. You can check the temperature by putting a long metal rod or a wooden stick into the middle of the pile. Leave it for five minutes. When you take the stick out, it should feel hot. If it doesn’t, try adding a little more manure to the pile. Check the temperature again after a day or two. If it still isn’t hot, perhaps the pile is too small and you should make it bigger.
You should also check the pile for moisture. Again, place a stick into the centre of the pile. Remove it after five minutes. It should be damp, but not dripping with water. If it isn’t damp, add water to the pile.
If the stick is dripping, take the pile apart and allow the materials to dry. Then build the pile again.
You will also have to check the smell of the pile. If the pile has a bad smell, it probably means there isn’t enough air in the centre of the pile. Take it apart and rebuild it.
It is true that checking the moisture, temperature and odour may mean that you will have to rebuild your pile a few times, and that your compost will take longer than 2-3 weeks to be ready. But, with practice, you will be able to make compost in just a few weeks.
When the pile is hot, take it apart again and rebuild it. This is called ‘turning’ the pile. When you turn the pile, make sure that thematerials that were on the outside edges of the old pile are in the centre of the new one. Turn the pile every two days. For example, if your pile was hot enough to turn on day four, turn it again on day six. And then turn it again on the eighth, tenth, the twelfth and the fourteenth day.
After two to three weeks, your compost should be ready.
You will know your compost is ready when it is dark brown or black in colour and crumbles in your hands. You won’t be able to recognize any of the materials in the pile. And the pile will be much smaller than when you first made it. When you see these signs, your compost is ready to use!
When it’s ready, you can mix it into the top six inches of your garden, or you can use it to cover the soil between your plants. You can also put a handful of compost into planting holes for field crops such as corn and wheat.
- This script was written by Vijay Cuddeford, writer/researcher at the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. It was reviewed by Cary Oshins, composting specialist, Rodale Farm, Kutztown, PA, U.S.A.
- “14-day compost success story“, Robert Rodale, Organic Gardening, February 1984, pages 30-33. Published by Rodale Press Inc., Emmaus, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
- The 14-day method of composting, 1 page factsheet. International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Y.C. James Yen Centre, Silang, Cavite 4118, Philippines.
- For the gardener: two weeks to finished compost, by Karen Schmidt, The Cultivar, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1991, pages 9-10. Agroecology Program, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.