What Can I Add To My Compost To Speed The Breakdown?

Do I need to add anything besides garden soil to my countertop compost pail in order to speed up breakdown process? Is the charcoal in my compost replacement filters only used to decrease odor? My compost pail seems too small. I have to empty it into to my backyard compost bin at least once a week. Is there something I should be adding to my backyard compost bin and my countertop compost pail to aid in the composting process?

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Dec 15, 2011
Have You Mastered The Basics? Part 1/2
by: Compost Junkie Dave

I've interspersed my answers between your questions to help with the flow of my reply. Original questions are in italics.

Do I need to add anything besides garden soil to my countertop compost pail in order to speed up breakdown process?

You never need to add anything to your compost pail. Your countertop pail acts as a temporary storage container before you transfer it's contents into your larger compost pile/bin/tumbler, or into a larger bin for your municipality to collect. Please note, I rarely endorse handing your organic waste over to your municipality, unless, you are incredibly limited in both indoor and outdoor space - even an apartment with a really efficient worm bin can process almost all organic wastes on-site.

I originally suggested adding garden soil to your countertop compost pail because it does several things...helps control odor, adds some additional microbes to your organic wastes, and gets you in the mental habit to "layer" your compost ingredients.

As for adding something to your compost container to speed up the composting process, I'd tend to avoid that at this stage in the collection process.

Is the charcoal in my compost replacement filters only used to decrease odor?

This is one of the main functions of the charcoal filter. Did you come up with another use for it?

My compost pail seems too small. I have to empty it into to my backyard compost bin at least once a week.

I wish I was fortunate enough to only have to empty my compost pail once a week. Currently, we're emptying ours every couple days...depending on how much we blend up and feed to the worms.

Have you considered a larger pail? Or possibly using two?

Part 2 of 2 is posted below...

Dec 15, 2011
Have You Mastered The Basics? Part 2/2
by: Compost Junkie Dave

...continued from above.

Is there something I should be adding to my backyard compost bin and my countertop compost pail to aid in the composting process?

The best thing we can all do to ensure our compost ingredients break down as quickly as possible is to ensure we've mastered The Basics. That is, we have the proper ingredients, in the proper ratios, with the ideal amount of moisture and aeration. Once the basics are covered, you can speed up the process by turning the compost as frequently as your temperature reading indicate.

Oftentimes, in a backyard composting situation, our piles build slowly, and that leads to our ingredients taking a little longer, than we may like, to break down. The composting process would happen a lot more quickly if you had access to several yards of ingredients at a time. The added volume of these materials would allow for your pile to reach the thermophilic stage much more quickly.

Another alternative to faster composting is to use composting worms. As I mentioned above, you'd be amazed how quickly a well-managed worm bin can process your organic wastes.

There are products on the market that claim to speed up the breakdown of your compost pile, and we'll be reviewing those in the upcoming months. At this time, we just stick to The Basics and allow Mother Nature to take care of the rest.

Any other suggestions from The Tribe? Has anyone tried any useful compost additives?

Dec 16, 2011
Compost Additives, Starters and Innoculants
by: Greg Traver

When we talk about “speeding up a compost pile” we are for all practical purposes talking about speeding up the propagation of microorganisms. These little guys are the real miracle workers, they are the ones doing all the work. All we need to do is provide the best conditions for them to flourish.

In it’s most basic definition a compost accelerant is a food source that provides rapid propagation of microorganisms. One of the most popular accelerants is black strap molasses. Readily available in most grocery stores, molasses is high in carbohydrates and it is an inexpensive food source for increasing microbe populations. This is why we like to use it in brewing compost teas.

Inoculants on the other hand, are products that already contain vast populations of microbes. The most popular and arguably superior inoculants in the industry is EM-1 otherwise known as Effective Microorganisms. EM-1 is a single culture containing species of purple bacteria, photosythetic bacteria, and lactic acid Bacteria that work synergistically. EM-1 has been in used worldwide for over 40 years and represents the greatest diversity of mutually beneficial microorganisms ever assembled. EM-1 will also help keep your pile from turning anaerobic (rancid) and stinking. I have been very impressed with the performance of this product and it is the only one that I will personally recommend. I started using EM-1 with Bokashi composting because it best suits my particular situation. To say that it is versatile is an understatement at best.

I mix 3 gallons of distilled water, 1/3 cup molasses and 1/3 cup of EM-1 and then pour it over a 50lb bag of wheat bran on a tarp and mix it together. Then I ferment it in black plastic bags for two weeks then spread it out on a tarp to dry it out. The result is the wheat bran becomes inoculated with the Effective Microorganisms. It can then be used as a compost starter or you can use it for Bokashi Bucket composting. I also use it in containers and my raised bed gardens as well.

Don’t forget however, that once you have a compost that is decomposed well into a workable consistency you can always save a portion to inoculate a new compost pile. This is probably the most efficient use of your resources, rather than having to start from scratch every time.

Dec 17, 2011
Effective Microorganisms Plus Mother Culture
by: Compost Junkie Dave

Thanks for the super informative post Greg. You're wonderful!

After reading it, I remembered I had bought an Effective Microorganisms (EM) kit about two years ago, but never opened it.

The label reads SCD EM Plus (Phototrophic Enhanced Mother Culture) - 1 gallon. The best before is in mid-2010, but I'm still going to give this stuff a go. I'll keep everyone posted.

I assume I can use this product to create the starter culture that you mentioned in your article?

Where did you find your 50lbs of wheat bran? I was thinking I'd try our local chain of bulk food stores.

As an aside, in one of the classes I took on organic soil management several years ago, I remember a woman in the class touting the miracles of consuming EM herself. I'm well aware of the benefits of fermented/cultured foods (we actually made kefir and yogurt with raw milk this past week), and taking pre- and pro-biotics for gut health, but I'm curious if you have had any experience consuming this product yourself? Has anyone else tried this?

You just gotta love those microbes!

Dec 29, 2011
Speeding Up Compost With Effective Microorganisms
by: Greg Traver

Hello again Dave and the rest of the Tribe!

When I was in the process of researching this whole topic I found that Dr. Terueo Higa pioneered this field back in the 60’s while a professor at Okinawa, Japan. He found a way to combine Lactobacillus casei (Lactic Acid), Rhodopseudomonas palustris (Photosynthetic bacteria) and Saccharomyces cerevisae (yeast) and other naturally occurring microorganisms in one liquid culture. It is called Effective Microorganisms (EM). The rest, as they say, is history.

Agriculture was the primary focus of the research, but through the years it became obvious that the synergistic workings of these friendly bacteria could be used in many other applications as well. I use one variation (Pro EM-1) It is a food grade mixture of pro-biotics for human consumption and I have been quite satisfied in the results.

These products are only available from facilities who are licensed by the parent company, EMRO Japan. There are licensed facilities in every continent and over 140 countries. In the United Stated it is available exclusively through Teraganix in Tucson Arizona. There are a few companies who have tried to reverse engineer these products,those who have been successful have been sued for patent infringement. Other companies just focus on a culture that does not contain all the same bacteria at Dr. Higa’s.

I have always been fascinated at intricate workings of Nature and how it all is interconnected. The term, synergistic workings of Nature, was first coined by Sir Albert Howard “The Father of Organic Farming.” His best known work is, “An Agricultural Testament” India Press 1940. Sir Albert and many of his peers proved in numerous field studies over several decades that the use of green manuring (the use of green cover crops which are plowed under to supply nitrogen and other nutrients) and composting are the only way to grow healthy crops that are free from disease and insect infestation. Ergo - Consuming healthy crops are the only way to maintain health in human population.

Unfortunately in today’s world of genetically altered plants, synthetic chemical fertilizer and a medical industry focused on drugs to treat the symptoms of every physical malady imaginable, this fact is largely ignored. I would go ahead an try the formula that you got from SCD, it couldn’t hurt. As long as it has been sealed it might just be aright. If you get that tell tale white colored mold on the top then you will know for sure it’s working.

I had to do some looking, but I finally found the wheat bran at a cattle feed store that was 30 miles outside the city. It cost under $13 for a fifty pound bag. You can also use rice bran but it is about double the cost.

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