Compost Starters

Using compost starters are additives that can help increase the composting process of your compost pile into useable organic material for your gardening needs. Composting is an excellent way to organically and sustainably nourish your garden and improve soil quality. If you are still trying to figure out the benefits of composting or need more information about starting your compost pile, reference this article for a step-by-step process for starting your compost pile. 

However, getting the composting process started and functioning well can be difficult, and this is where compost starters can be beneficial. In this article, we will cover the what, why, and when of compost starters and how they can help you succeed in your composting endeavors and decrease the time it takes to produce usable compost for your gardening needs.

What are Compost Starters?

Also known as compost accelerators or compost activators, compost starters are designed to jump-start the composting process of your compost pile or bin. Typically they contain a blend of organic material and microorganisms that work together to augment the breakdown of the organic matter in your compost pile/bin. Typically compost starters are made of various materials, generally organic materials such as manure, composted soil, or worm castings, and usually are available in liquid or dry form. Look for compost starters made from high-quality, organic materials and free from harmful chemicals and additives.

Why use Compost Starters?

The goal for every compost pile is to create the best condition for microorganisms to develop and do their thing or start decomposing your pile. Creating this optimal environment sounds simple but can be tricky and frustrating. All organic matter will eventually begin to decompose, but we want to jump-start this process so we can use your compost in your garden. First, you must ensure your pile is balanced with green and brown materials and provide the correct amount of water and oxygen. Adding a compost starter to an unhealthy compost pile or bin will not have the ideal results. 

Faster composting time: 

One of the more popular reasons for using a compost starter is to speed up the composting process of your pile/bin. As mentioned, successful composting takes time and, depending on the materials used, typically 6-12 months. To speed this process up, adding compost starters introduces a mix of microorganisms to your young compost pile, which helps jump-start the breakdown of your organic matter. Doing correctly in a healthy compost pile can significantly shorten the time it takes to produce your compost. 

Better quality compost:

In addition to speeding up the composting process, compost starters can also help improve your compost quality. Adding this mix of beneficial microorganisms will help break down the materials you have added to your compost pile entirely in less time. This will increase your compost’s richness, adding nutrients and improving soil quality. 

Reduced Odors:

When most think of composting, they immediately think of rotting food and associate that with foul smells. If done correctly, your compost pile should not have this foul smell, and if it does, that tells you that you have adjustments that you have to make to improve the breakdown of your organic materials. Compost starters can help reduce these foul smells by adding microorganisms that break down your pile quicker. Of course, compost starters will not solve your issues if you have a foul-smelling compost pile. You still need to maintain it correctly and aerate it as required, but adding compost starters to a healthy compost pile can reduce the likelihood of odors developing. 

Pest control:

Pests can also be an issue when composting, as food scraps and smells can attach flies or rodents. Once again, the benefit here is the increased speed at which the compost pile composts or breaks down the components. By quickly breaking down the components you have added to your pile, pests have less time to feed and/or reproduce. 

Environmental benefits:

Composting is a great way to reduce your waste and increase the sustainability of your garden. Unfortunately, many can get frustrated by the slow progress of their compost pile or its unpleasant smells, leading to them giving up on their composting. Using a compost starter can help speed up the process and reduce smell, and when added to your garden adds nutrients and improves your soil quality, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

How to Use Compost Starters

There are several types of compost starters; the most common are sold as liquid or dry granules. Liquis starter can be sprayed/applied to your time. The dehydrated granules sometimes need to be hydrated, added or sprinkled on, and watered in. Follow the directions on the packaging for the best results. Finally, once applied, mix your pile or bin for even distribution. 

Choosing a Compost Starter

There are several options to consider when grabbing a compost starter. Some artificial starters contain nitrogen-rich material, inert bacteria, or even some with both. 

Finished compost works wonders as a starter, containing all the nitrogen and microorganisms from a mature compost pile. However, finished compost may not be available for someone just starting their own composting. 

Finally, organic starters are typically nitrogen-rich and added to feed composting microbes. 

Popular Types of Organic Compost Starters

  1. Manure-based compost starters – These compost starters are made from composted animal manure and are rich in nutrients and microorganisms. Chicken, horse, and sheep manure are the most prevalent and are usually purchased as pellets. They can be used with various organic materials and are especially effective at breaking down woody or fibrous materials. Manure can be found at your local hobby farm, but be careful not to add the freshest manure to your pile as it can overload the bacterial activity in your pile, and fresh manure water content is relatively high, which can unbalance the moisture content of your compost.
  2. Compost tea – Compost tea is a liquid compost starter made by steeping composted material in water. It can be applied directly to plants or added to a compost pile to help speed up composting.
  3. Bone or Blood meal – Commonly used as a garden fertilizer, it can also be repurposed as a compost starter and adds a healthy dose of nitrogen to your pile. Blood meal, in particular, has a high nitrogen level. Both typically come in a powder form that is early to apply with minimal smell.
  4. Worm castings – Worm castings, also known as vermicompost, are made from the waste produced by worms. They are rich in beneficial microorganisms and nutrients, which can be added directly to the soil as a fertilizer or added to your compost pile/bin as a compost starter.

Tips for Compost starters

  1. Start with a healthy compost pile – Ensure your compost pile is healthy and active before adding a compost starter. This means it should be well-aerated, moist but not too wet, and contain a mix of green and brown materials. If your compost pile is not healthy, adding a compost starter may not be effective.
  2. How much compost stater should you use: This is dependent on several different factors, such as the size of your pile/ bin, how much material you are adding, etc. A general of thumb is to add about 1 part starter to 9 parts of organic material. An example would be adding a 5-gallon bucket of organic material to add about 1/2 gallon of the compost starter. This may include mixing the compost starter with water, sprinkling it over the compost pile, or adding it to a compost tea brew.
  3. Mix well: When you add a compost starter to your compost pile, mix it well into the compost so it is evenly distributed. This will ensure that all the organic material in your compost pile is equally exposed to the beneficial microorganisms in the compost starter.
  4. Be patient: Adding a compost starter won’t magically turn your organic material into compost overnight. Composting takes time, so be patient and allow your compost pile to break down. You should be able to see results in weeks as opposed to months. 

Composting is a great way to turn waste and other organic materials into a product that can enhance your soil and growing plants. However, composting is slow play and takes planning and time. Compost starters are perfect for giving your compost pile/bin that jump-starts to decomposition. Using compost starters will set you up for successful composting in an accelerated time frame, so you don’t spend all your time turning your pile but putting it to work in your garden!

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