Hot Composting

First, I am a useless gardener, one thing I did not inherit was the natural ability my forebears had. I have the basic compost bin and it usually ends up a smelly slimey mess.

As well as no garden refuse collections, the food waste is being reduced so I have to do something.

I have read glowing reports of insulated bins and in normal circumstances would try to make my own.

There appear to be a couple of options. Has anybody experience please?

We’ve had a Hotbin since 2012. Brilliant thing. We put all our food and garden waste in and every 3 months or so the bottom section gets emptied. It has a removable front panel and so about a third of the bin is emptied each time. It cools down in the winter as less waste goes in and the worms take over (runs at about 20’C) and the as more waste goes in through spring and summer it runs much hotter (it was at 65’C earlier this week) and the worms head to the cooler base. No smells, no pest problems and the compost it produces has really made a big difference to our garden.


First, the trick with composting is get the ratio between carbon © and nitrogen (N) correct. So if you mainly put in kitchen waste I would add torn up cardboard. Start with a 1:1 ratio by volume. If you don’t have cardboard torn up newspaper will do. Don’t forget to give it a hose every now and then too. If it becomes too slimy add more C, if too dry add more N.
Second, hot bins. I don’t have one but I have researched the matter carefully and discussed with a friend on Sark. Sark is relevant because waste collection is predominantly for recycling. My friend uses two hot bins, solely for kitchen scraps as his kitchen garden and hens contribute to the garden compost heap. His bins can compost meat scraps, cat and dog litter, as well as tea leaves and coffee grinds. However, some of the cheaper models don’t perform very well; in any event you need to balance N and C.
Third, worms. There are specific composting worms that speed up the process. These can be bought and added to your scraps but they are fussy.
In short I would persevere with you composting, but add more C and perhaps a handful of worms (available online).


If you can insulate the compost bin, it definitely helps the organic matter inside to break down quicker. I accidentally found a good little trick when I’d emptied one of my old plastic bins (as supplied by our council) and temporarily stacked it on top of a half-full one, giving a double-layer of plastic with a slight gap between.

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It was the version that james_n shows that got my interest, it appears they are not currently available.
It is the ability to add cooked food, bones and cat litter (wood pellet, not clay) that interested me.
I have more garden waste from beech and hawthorn hedge than grass, I used to put that through a shredder and use it as mulch until gold that it depletes nitrogen in the soil. Putting it in the home compost bin doesn’t seem to do much to break it down, I’ve tried Garotta and bought worms with no particular improvement.
Then during warmer months I might produce a bin full of shavings from woodturning each month.
I used to take the shredding an shavings to a community compost site until that was closed down.
When the rain stops, I’ll go and top to bottom the simple bin, check the worms and see if there is any change.

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I’ve had a home made version of the HotBin for many years & it worked very well up to a point, that being very fast & it does compost everything I’ve put into it, I’ve not tried bones.
Problem is it does not have the easy access bottom removal opening & its seen better days & duct tape doesn’t look nice; so James post prompted me to replace it with a real one, but no-can-do as the company is shut down with the virus thing.


With shavings and shreddings I put them all together into a 1000 litre delivery bags, damp them down with a hose, cover and leave for a year then use as mulch, or put as is on paths.

We were provided with bins by our council some years ago. With a garden the size of ours we need more. Very interested by @Camphuw’s comments. Not sure what provided the N. I do cut the comfrey down when it gets to big and bees have had a good feed. I try to keep grass and good clean greens separate from the weeds we have to clear. I have barrow loads of composted weeds. We bonfire coarser material including prunings over winter.

Our council collects kitchen waste weekly for its digester. We also get our electric from the local recycling incinerator.


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The grass heap with a section for leaves. We also discovered that the slow worms liked the bins so we stopped putting stuff in and drew the compost from the bottom.

I could also add that my wife heaps the hazel and other larger prunings which provide a wildlife habitat and do gradually break down just as they would in a wood. From time to time she tramples on the heap to speed up the rate at which it sinks. The decomposed material is very light. If you have space nothing needs be taken to the council recycling centre.


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I believe the ratio of C:N can be expressed more precisely, but as an old inorganic chemist I like to suck it and see. I’ve seen it expressed as the ratio of browns to greens, with N coming from vegetable matter and the browns from cardboard, etc. But woody material is a mixture of both and that’s where the ratio needs adjusting. Attached is some information I ferreted out some time ago that I use as my guide.

The art of turning death into life
In nature, animal and plant life die on the forest floor, and decay with time, water, decomposers, sun and air. This produces a layer of humus on which plants thrive.
Building soil by composting follows the same process. It is neither letting nature take its course, nor is it violating it’s principles. It is simply speeding things up a bit.
Compost is the key to growing. It suppresses most plant diseases and pathogens in the process, increases water retention, improves soil structure, retains nutrients, help absorb heat, balances the pH, traps soil.
The ingredients
Any organic substance can be composted.
A simple recipe is to mix kitchen scraps, weeds, leaves, paper, grass…
The main thing to look out for is the carbon-nitrogen ratio.
Materials such as sawdust, paper, straw or dead leaves, have a high carbon content. (Usually brown)
Manure, fresh plants, guano, blood meal, urine, slurry are high in nitrogen. In the garden, anything green will do the trick.
Print out to the table of composition, to get a better idea of the properties of different materials. As a general rule aim for half carbon, half nitrogen.
Find out the compositions of a variety of materials, ordered alphabetically or by nutrients
Other ingredients
• Earth (5% to 10%) can be mixed in to aid the earthworms and humus formation.
• Lime or calcium will keep the compost from souring and discourages flies.
• Wood ash supplies potassium and minerals. Avoid large clumps, as it forms caustic lye when moistened. (Ashes from coal fire, plastics, coloured, glossy paper, and chemical stuff are toxic).
Kick starting your compost
To get the rotting process started you need to add a blend of the bacteria and spores of microorganisms. They are everywhere in the ground, air and water. The compost starter recipes below provide a perfect breeding ground.
• Old compost.
• ‘Russian tea’, fermented cow dung in ten parts water.
• ‘Chairman Mao’s’, made from a four to one dilution of urine.
• Nettle tea, made by brewing nettles or fermenting them in rainwater. (Try also comfrey leaves, horse tail).

Building the pile
Keep a permanent composting area, centrally located in the garden for easy transport of materials.
Place it on the bare ground to allow the bacteria from previous piles to infect it and earthworms to travel to it.
Don’t put it into a pit or trample it down, as it would cause anaerobic decomposition. Nitrate-producing bacteria need plenty of oxygen, since they are aerobic. The composts should be loosely piled and kept moist, but not water-logged.
In warmer, drier localities, elderberry, hazelnut, birch and alder make ideal compost shade trees as their leaf and root aid in the decomposition processes.
In cooler climates, composts should be put into wind-sheltered, sunny areas. It is worth protecting the compost with a layer of black plastic, which keeps the compost from drying out during a dry spell, and during a rainy season keeps the nutrients from leaching out. Evaporating moisture will condense underneath the plastic and percolate and circulate through the pile. A roof also protects from drying or leaching.
Windrows about four feet high, six-feet wide, and as long as necessary, are the best shape to give to the compost. In this way, a “critical mass” is achieved, for the biochemical reactions to take place.
If the compost pile is too small, it will not heat and decompose properly; if it is too large the inner layers will remain raw and deprived of air, while the outside mantle will have already broken down. Like any living organism, the compost must have a skin to keep gases and other products of metabolism, such as ammonia and methane, from being dissipated. Peat, sawdust, straw or other nitrogen-poor substance will not let the odours through. Underneath, the compost might be bedded upon straw, hay, peat or a similar absorbent substance if there is a chance of liquid runoff.
For smaller gardens, a wooden composting bin, or a roll of wire mesh, make good composting devices. Fresh material is pitched into the top, while finished compost can be scooped out of the bottom.
For fast results, use a barrel to turn the compost. This technique aerates the compost and mixes the ingredients for greater carbon / nitrogen contact.
Special Compost

  • Legume compost can be made from clover or some other legume sod mixed together with manure and lime for a year. It produces a special virulence among the rhizobia and will stimulate nitrogen fixation.
  • Tomato compost can be made from old tomato plants, together with soil and manure. Tomatoes have a narcissistic predilection for growing on their own rotted remains.
  • Special earthworm compost is made from shredded paper, straw, and manure with added clay powder.
    Animal manure

Compost can be made for specific purposes from various animal droppings. In general, it can be said that the part of the plant upon which an animal characteristically feeds, is best fertilised by the manure of that species.

  • Pig manure is rich in potash, and when well humified, is best applied to root crops, especially potassium-hungry leeks, celeriac and potatoes. Pigs are primarily rooting animals, feeding on roots they dig up.
  • Horse manure is light and will lighten heavy clay soils. Horses feed primarily on foliage and grass; consequently, their manure aids leaf and foliage development. Horse manure, which is rich in ammonia, will heat steadily for a long time. This makes it ideal for use in hot beds for raising seedlings in the spring. For a home garden, or even a larger garden where no greenhouse is available, this is a good way to start plants.
  • Cow manure is best for composting purposes, as the nutrients have been stabilised in the long digestive process of the animal.
  • Rabbit manure, rich in nitrogen, is good for foliage, stem and shrubbery development.
  • Chicken, pigeon, and other bird manure is good for seeds, flowers and fruits, because their manure is rich in phosphorus. Chicken manure, which is sticky, wet, and odorous, is hard to compost. It is best made into a liquid compost by mixing it into ten parts water and letting it ferment in a barrel (stir regularly for 6-8 weeks).
  • Sheep and goat manure are excellent for increasing the quality and aroma of fruits and the oil content of herbs.

Manure is composted like other substances, with the addition of small amounts of earth, clay, lime, wood ash, rock flours, as well as straw, hay, weeds, or other vegetable matter. For heavier manure, such as cow or pig manure, special care has to be taken to bring air into the compost pile. This can be done by mixing it with straw and other light materials, tossing it with manure forks into a pile so it does not clump as much, or, on farms, setting the manure spreader on “stationary” and running it through onto a pile.

Liquid manure, used in the watering of the heavy feeders during the growing season or as compost activators, can be made from a number of substances. These are placed into a barrel of water at a ratio of 10:1 and left to ferment for few of weeks.

  • Stinging nettle liquid manure is rich in iron needed for the chlorophyll formation of green leaves and helps in the humus buildup of the soil.
  • Cabbage leaf slurry aids the sulfur metabolism of the soil.
  • Comfrey and horsetails are rich in various minerals (Ca, K, P, Ma) and vitamins, and make an effective liquid manure.
  • Chicken and pigeon dung, as well as cow pies can be fermented in water and used for special feeding purposes; the bird slurry for flowers and fruits, the cow manure for aiding root development in general.
    Liquid manure, which involves anaerobic fermentation, produces strong odours (sulfur, ammonia and swamp gas smells). To keep the odours at a minimum, it is advisable to stir daily to bring air into the brew and to inoculate with compost starter, or shredded stinging nettle to help guide the fermentation processes. Putting a floating layer of peat moss, chopped straw, or sawdust on the slurry absorbs the fumes. In the summer, the inch-long sluggish, fat rat-tailed maggots of the hovering flies, which feed upon decaying liquid substances, will develop in these potent brews as an indication that the liquid is biologically ready to be used.
    Reading the compost
    If the compost is balanced the smell should be earthy and sweet, the colour rich brown and full of manure worms.
    Too close a C/N ratio at the beginning of composting leads to nitrogen losses. This can be noticed by the smell of ammonia and flies. Turn your pile and add carbon rich material.
    Too wide a C/N ratio slows the composting. The lack of sufficient nitrogen coupled with low temperatures and too much moisture will produce an acid, peat-like soil.
    The initial heating process of the compost, should reach temperatures of up to 140° to 180° Fahrenheit. Add water to prevent it from drying up. Lack of moisture will develop a musty smell, white mildew, and an unusually large number of pill bugs or sow bugs.
    If it is too wet and too compacted, the heap will putrefy, developing strong odours, turning black and slimy, and maggots will appear.
    What really happens
    The compost carries out life functions and goes through three distinct stages.
    The bacteria-fungus stage
    This is part of the overall breakdown cycle. Proteins are broken down by bacteria into amino acids and finally ammonia. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars’ organic acids, and carbon dioxide. Other compounds are similarly broken down. The buildup cycle proceeds with fungi, which eagerly ingest the free ammonia and rebuild amino acids in their mycelia. This stage is characterised by the generation of much heat, given off by energy liberated during the metabolism of thermophilic organisms. The bacteria eat their way into the centre of the pile, and are followed immediately by the whitish mycelia of the fungi which absorb the gases given off.
    The earthworm stage
    The heating reduces, the heat-loving bacteria have formed spores and the fungi have predigested the organic substances for the earthworms and actinomycetes to work on. If stage 1 has not gone completely satisfactorily, with undigested, putrid or dry sections, turn the pile for a brief re-heating. The earthworms now proceed to mix the organic substances (which the fungi have predigested) with small amounts of clay and calcium within their bodies. In doing so, the polymerised carbon-chains are reconstituted in the form of clay-humus complexes, which absorb cations such as calcium, ammonium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and others. There is as yet little understood of the clay- humus molecule. It is more than a simple anion, but also coats itself with phosphates, sulfates and nitrates - in other words, this macromolecule becomes a sponge for nutrients. At this stage the compost can already be used as mulch or as fertiliser for heavy feeders such as cabbages, corn, okra, pumpkins, squashes and melons. At this point of development a number of arthropods, such as centipedes, millipedes and predatory metallic looking carbide beetles start to settle the compost. For young seedlings and for root crops such as carrots, beets, oyster plants or parsnips, it is better to wait for the compost to reach…

The stage of ripeness
It is during this stage that the compost turns into good, crumbly fragrant, humus earth. Nitrates and saltpeter, which are needed by root crops and young sprouting plants are made available by organisms that further oxidise the nitrogen substances. The speed at which the compost reaches maturity depends upon extraneous factors such as climate, the size of the pile and the kind of ingredients. Compost can be made in two weeks under ideal conditions. (Quick-rotting shredded materials, narrow C/N ratio supplied by grass clippings, legumes, manure and amendments such as bird manure, blood meal, and maintenance of the right moisture and air by frequent turning). The product basically only goes to stage 2, before the earthworms enter. It is doubtful that the clay humus molecules that account for creating permanent fertility result from this speeded-up process. Quick composts seem to be symptomatic of our age of instant success and instant gratification. The quick composts make good top dressings, and food for heavy feeders, but like sheet composting, they do not lead to a permanent buildup of fertility. Ripened composts that have taken six months to a year are more stable.
Good compost
It’s easy to make good compost. Quite a lot of people make some kind of compost, but you couldn’t say it’s “good”. It’s no more trouble making a really good product – in fact it’s less trouble, because good compost reduces almost every other kind of gardening problem. So why not get it right in the first place? This guide is about
How not to fail
It’s a common mistake to use too much water – it’s probably the most common reason for failures. (Others are not enough nitrogen, and, more rarely, no aeration.) The overall moisture content of the assembled pile should be about 60–65%. They say it should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, which is a good guide if you’ve put everything through a shredder so it’s homogenized and the particle-size is small, but with the usual rough compost materials it’s not very useful.
This is typical advice: “Spray the mixed materials with a hose until wet like a sponge but not soggy. Fork it into the bin, spray more water to make sure it is wet enough.”
When the stuff starts to decay it disintegrates into a slimy, stinking sludge, like what happens to grass clippings if you leave them in a big pile: it gets very hot, and then it dies into a dark green gunge – much worse if there’s manure and kitchen scraps in it! And it’s difficult to repair the damage and get it working properly. That’s often the end of that particular beginner’s composting efforts.
Compost materials are often much wetter than they look at first. Fresh green leaves can be 95% water, but they don’t look wet. Kitchen wastes are usually more than 85% water. Spreading fresh greens out and letting them wilt for a day loses a lot of the water, and probably quite a lot of the nitrogen too, unfortunately. Manure is a lot easier to handle if it’s on the dry side, which also loses a bit of the nitrogen.
There’s another way of going about this.

Greens and browns
Compost materials are assembled in the correct proportion of “Greens” (nitrogen-rich) and “Browns” (carbon-rich) to achieve an overall carbon/nitrogen ratio of 25-30:1 (Virtual composter, and Compost Calculations from Rodale). Put simply, fresh green matter such as grass clippings, vegetable wastes, fresh leaves, etc, contain a lot of nitrogen. So does manure, bloodmeal, kitchen scraps, alfalfa meal, and hay. Fallen leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded newspaper and cardboard, wood chips – browns – contain high proportions of carbon.
Instead of thinking in “greens” and “browns”, think in terms of “wets” and dries". In fact wets are usually green, and browns are often dry. You can make sure the browns are dry – collect fallen leaves when the weather’s dry, for instance. Presume your compost materials will always be too wet, and always have lots of dry browns on hand to balance it with. Too much carbon? We’ll deal with that in a minute.
The advantage of dry browns is that you can store them indefinitely, unlike wet greens. With a bit of foresight and effort you can always have a few garbage bags filled with dries ready for when you need them. Make a big effort in autumn – collect enough leaves for the whole year.

  1. Not enough water is better than too much water. Too much water is a usually a disaster, but if there’s not enough, the pile will heat up and then stop. Empty it out, loosen it all up with the compost fork, add more moisture, and put it back in the box again, no big deal. Soon you’ll learn how much water is enough. If your pile is too wet, try emptying it, fluff it out, add more dry stuff, and some dry greens if you have such a thing (bloodmeal, peanut cake, alfalfa meal), and rebuild it. It might work.
  2. Too much nitrogen is better than not enough nitrogen. If there’s not enough the pile will just sit there forever, nothing happens for a year or two. If there’s too much the pile will heat up well and simply blow off the excess with the steam in the form of ammonia gas, until the balance is right. But isn’t that a waste of precious nitrogen? No –
    nitrogen’s only precious if you’re dumb enough to buy it from a chemical company (see below, Adding liquids). Again, this way you’ll soon learn how much is enough.
  3. Roots: shake as much soil as you can off clumped roots before putting them in the compost. Many people put much too much soil in the compost with the roots, and it clogs everything up. But always have some soil sprinkled throughout the pile. It helps to inoculate the compost with the beneficial soil microorganisms that make the process happen, especially if you’re not using animal manure, and clay particles in the soil help to spread a thin film of moisture throughout the pile, which is just what you want.
  4. Useful additions: Lime, or, better, ground limestone, the finer ground the better. Liquid seaweed emulsion,-- all the minerals for all the soilbugs, in easily digestible forms. Compost or compost siftings from the previous batch to inoculate the pile. Sprinklings of ground rock powders are useful.
  5. Newsprint: Modern printing inks are almost always non-toxic and biodegradeable, particularly black ink, so don’t be shy of using shredded newspaper (very “brown”).
    Compost containers
    If you have really big supplies of organic wastes, make windrows, 8ft at the base, 5-6ft high, with sloping sides, and as long as you like. Otherwise prefer boxes or bins to heaps.
    Boxes and bins have sheer sides, and protect the compost from the elements. There are endless different designs – see HDRA – Building a compost bin for instructions on making a simple, flexible box system.
    A chickenwire compost bin (Beach House style) on the left. When cooked, you can open the wire mesh and work on the pile (centre). Cardboard boxes (right) also make a good compost bin
    Here’s how to make a wire mesh bin.
    Make a “tube” of chickenwire, 3ft in diameter. Leave about 8-10" overlap, and connect the ends with four twists of wire each. You’ll need about 10.5ft of 3ft-wide mesh, and two more pieces each 3ft long – total 16.5ft.
    Line the bin with a garbage bag, or two bags, with the bottoms cut off, to keep the moisture in. Have the liner flush with one end, and overlapping the other (that’s the top).
    Make a 3ft square of four bricks, one at each corner, with a fifth in the middle, and put a 3ft square of tough wire grille such as pig fencing on the bricks. Put one of the two 3ft-square pieces of chickenwire on top of that. Stand the mesh bin on end on top of this aerated base. Now you can fill it with compost material.
    When it’s full, depending on the weather, you can close it loosely with the garbage bag overlap, again to keep the moisture in; when it starts steaming, open the bag, if it seems to be getting dry, close it again.
    Cover the top with the second 3ft-square piece of chickenwire, and clip it on, to dissuade wildlife. If it’s in the open, cover the top with a garbage bag to keep the rain out.
    You’ll need two of these bins – you always need at least two compost bins/boxes: when one’s full, you start filling the next one. By the time that one’s full, the first one is finished and can be emptied.
    Assembling the materials
    It’s easier to make good compost if you have enough materials to fill the box at one go. If not, see below, Batches. See HDRA – How to make compost, for good information on which materials to use and how to use them. Basically, anything that was once alive or part of something alive can be composted. This is the recipe: the assembled pile should have 60–65% moisture content, good aeration, acid-alkaline level about neutral (pH 7) or slightly acid (pH 6-6.5), carbon/nitrogen ration 25-30:1 (Virtual composter, and Compost Calculations from Rodale).
    First, collect all the greens together and mix them thoroughly with a compost fork. If anything’s too big to mix, chop it up into 4-6" lengths with the edge of a spade or a chopper.
    A compost fork – the perfect tool for composting, 4-tined or 5-tined
    Up to 10% of the material can be rough material like small sticks and prunings – they probably won’t break down but they’ll help with aeration and prevent the material packing down and clogging up too much.
    Assemble all the ingredients in a sort of big pancake (5-6ft diameter) in front of the open box (leave yourself enough room around it to work).

Put wet greens on top of dry browns. Use a 5-gallon bucket or a basket. Spread out two buckets of browns (pack it in) and then one bucket of greens on top.
Do that twice, then add some sprinklings: a handful of ground limestone or wood ash (sprinkle it like icing sugar on a sponge cake), some bonemeal if you have it, a handful or two of soil, and a couple of handsful of compost (unless you’re using the siftings from the previous batch – mix with the browns if they’re dry enough). Scuff over the surface to bury the sprinklings a bit, then add liquid (see below, Adding liquids) – 1-2 litres, with a sprinkling can. If you must use a hose, set the nozzle to a fine mist.
Mixing the layered material before putting it in the bin
Repeat this whole layering process two or three more times or until you’ve used all the materials.
Now work from the edge of the layered pancake: rake off about 1ft with the compost fork, mix it up well, and fork it into the box, spreading it evenly and tamping it down firmly (but not too tight). Layering it and then mixing vertical slices this way gets it thoroughly mixed and evenly distributed. Then do the next foot, and continue until it’s all in. Sweep up fines as you go, sprinkling them into the box with a shovel.
Compost needs air from underneath. You can put the box on the soil, if it’s good soil that breathes well. Even then, loosen it well with a fork to a depth of about 12 inches. An advantage of this is that if the pile is too wet some of the excess water might drain off into the soil. (Or it might not.)
Turning the pile aerates and mixes it thoroughly to burn a second time
Alternatively make a base like that for the wire mesh bin described above: make a 3ft square of four bricks, one at each corner, with a fifth in the middle, and put a 3ft square of tough wire grille such as pig fencing on the bricks. Put a 3ft-square piece of chicken wire on top of that, and stand the box on this base.
When filling the box, stand a 5ft length of bamboo or a broomstick upright in the middle until the box is full. Then shake it from side to side a bit (an inch or two) and pull it out. Or make vertical holes every 6" or so across the top with a piece of rebar, push it right down until you hit the wire mesh at the bottom. Now your compost can breathe easily.
Put a lid on the box when it’s full, not airtight, but wildlife-proof, and waterproof if it’s in the open.
That’s it. By the next day the temperature should be above 50 deg C, and it should climb to 60 deg or higher. You can turn it after a week or two when the temperature’s fallen to about 40 deg, or just leave it for another couple of weeks instead.
Get a soil thermometer, or any long thermometer that will reach the centre of the pile to monitor the temperature. Or just put your hand in – if it’s too hot to keep it there, it’s fine.
Adding liquids
The best form of liquid addition for compost is what some composters primly call Household Compost Activator. Other people call it urine. Don’t be coy about it – this is what should happen to urine rather than wasting it by flushing it down the toilet. Develop a self-righteous attitude about not wasting it – but don’t shout about it too loud, modern city people like neighbours and so on can be funny about these things, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

First, urine is sterile. Second, it contains the drainage of every cell in the body – it’s crammed with minerals and vitamins. Third, it contains a lot of nitrogen – that’s one reason that it’s silly to buy nitrogen (there are others).
It shouldn’t prove too difficult to arrange to have a few litres of Household Compost Activator set by when it’s time to make the compost. You can use it neat, or mix it 50-50 with water, and add a capful of seaweed emulsion while you’re at it. Use a sprinkling can.
More about nitrogen: well-made compost piles often end up containing more nitrogen than they started off with – up to 25% more. It’s provided by free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria that thrive in a compost pile and “fix” nitrogen from the copious supplies in the air.
Smaller gardens won’t provide enough material to fill a 15 cub ft compost unit at one go, it comes in dribs and drabs. So do kitchen scraps. You could just throw it all in a compost bin as it comes, but it’ll probably be too wet and clog up, or it won’t get hot, or only quite hot (mesophilic) rather than very hot (thermophilic), which is better than nothing. It’s worth organizing the process by gearing garden wastes to kitchen scraps and then processing it all in batches until the bin is full.
Kitchen scraps
Get a smallish (10-12") plastic bucket with a lid, and a tray that it can stand in. Drill some holes in the bottom. Put 3" of dry stuff in the bottom, add your kitchen scraps on top as they’re produced. Keep the bucket in the kitchen. No meat/fish etc or cooked food until you’re more experienced (eggshells are fine). If you’re a big family you might need a bigger bucket.
Don’t let it get too wet, don’t let it go rotten – if liquid starts coming out the bottom, empty it (every few days, depending how much you cook).
Meanwhile collect garden wastes and odds and ends of greens – they’ll keep for a while if you spread them out somewhere dry in a layer a few inches deep.
For the first batch, put 4" inches of dry stuff in the bottom of the compost bin. Mix up greens and kitchen wastes, add some manure if you have it. Then mix it up with twice the quantity of browns/dries, add sprinklings of lime or wood ash, bonemeal, some dry compost, as above (“Assembling the pile”), and a bit of liquid if necessary, and dump it in the bin, spreading it evenly. Pack it down quite tightly.
Add an inch or two of browns plus a sprinkling of compost or topsoil on top. The first batch might not have the bulk to get hot, which normally eradicates the smell of the kitchen scraps (and anything else), and a layer of browns on top will help keep flies away. As further batches increase the bulk it should heat up well. Put a lid on the bin.
Once it cools down it should be turned – empty the bin, fluff everything up thoroughly with the compost fork, add liquid if necessary, and put it back in the bin. If it doesn’t get that hot the second time, never mind, just leave it there for a few weeks.

Animal manure

Many people say it’s not essential to use animal manure to make good compost, and that’s true. Some people actively avoid it. But it’s better to use manure, if you can get it. All natural topsoil is derived from a mixture of animal and plant matter – nature never attempts to raise plants without animals. It’s important that some portion of what’s recycled into the soil should have passed through animals. This is one of the reasons we recommend using urine as an activator.
Manure from any animal that’s not a carnivore will do, plus poultry. The Biodynamic school of organic growing – ace compost makers – swears by cowdung, ascribing special qualities to it. In Hong Kong we used manure from the herd of feral water buffalo who were our neighbours, and it was excellent. A fifth of the total amount of compost material is enough manure, don’t use more than a quarter.
Beware of manure from factory-farmed livestock that’s fed commercial feed laced with antibiotics. You can use it, it’ll probably work okay, and the antibiotics will break down in the heat, but why put stuff in your compost that’ll kill the very critters that do all the work for you?
If you’ve got a shredder, you can shred the materials before you load the box, shred them again a week later, and maybe again a week after that, and then you won’t need to sift the compost. Otherwise it’ll need screening.
There are many different screening systems. Simplest is a 5ft x 3ft-wide piece of 5/8th- inch or 3/4-inch wire screen wire-stapled to a light wooden frame. Stand it at an angle against a wall and throw the compost at it with a shovel (aim high). Or use it horizontal to the ground, supported at each end at a height of 3-4ft, shovel the compost onto it and rub it through the screen with your hands (use gardening gloves) or with the back of a garden rake.
Store what goes through the screen for a few weeks to let it cure before using it in the soil. When applying it to the soil, hoe it lightly into the top few inches where it’ll do the most good. The earthworms will do the rest. No earthworms? Don’t worry, there soon will be!
You’ll be left with up to a quarter of the pile in siftings. It makes a very good mulch, or you can add it to the browns for the next lot, or mix it with kitchen scraps and greens for batch composting.
Cold weather
A person who said he’d made “lots of compost” wrote: “In northern climes especially, you’re more in need of adding heat to the pile some of the year… The problem here in Wisconsin is it just gets too cold in winter. I know, I’ve tried it, it froze solid in the winter. Somewhere I’ve seen plans for a solar heated outhouse, and solar heated compost bin, which would probably be the ticket.”
That’s just not how compost works. If it’s correctly prepared, the biological activity will heat it up, no matter how cold the weather is. Adding extra heat from outside is no use.
Finally he admitted: “I don’t think my compost piles ever heat up much. Not enough nitrogen for one thing, here in town. I suppose if you had a large batch of materials mixed up properly with the correct ratios, it might have a chance, but you can’t do that with the daily wastes.” Yes you can.
As for not enough nitrogen, a strange statement indeed, he then read this: Container Farming – Organic food production in the slums of Mexico City. He’ll be trying “Household Compost Activator” next year.

Elaine Ingham, wrote: “The definition of properly composted material, when applied to thermal compost, is that it has reached temperature throughout the material for long enough that weed seed, human pathogens and most of the plant pathogens and pests have been killed… Many people do not understand that the bacteria and fungi growing in organic matter raise the temperature. If all you do is physically heat compost, you don’t get the same reduction in [pathogens]. This is a biological process. Competition with aerobic bacteria and fungi, inhibition by other bacteria and fungi, and consumption of disease-organisms by protozoa and nematodes are all part of the process of making good compost, getting rid of the pathogens. If you just steam heat organic matter, you don’t get the same benefits of the growth of the competitive, inhibitory and consuming interactions that happen when the full food web is present.” -Source:- Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group, 5 November 2002


That has to be the longest post ever on the forum!!!


Incredibly informative, much appreciated.

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Agree with that, I didn’t realise what I do without thinking could be so complicated - I joke but am an emoji free zone.
My success is obviously in need of further study (not) but chicken muck & pig pee from the farm up the road seem to do it well & faster than anything else I’ve tried.


One of my neighbours uses several large hot bins for composting and they swear by them… most organic things can be broken down…
The only consideration I am aware you have to keep them constantly on the go

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Thank you for this, it gives me some answers, too much brown and a variety of grass that sticks together, hence the slime.
I’ve looked again at making my own hot bin, it starts to add up, three sheets of sterling board, bituminous paint, rockwool slabs…
I did this because my garden is small, 20 x 40 feet, the waste is disproportionate mainly woody hedge trimmings. I’m going to have to dig out my existing bin, seems that the people who put in a new fence stacked the earth from the post holes around it, about 12 inches deep. No wonder I am not keen on the garden.

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