So you’re a happy with your garden composter. You’ve got your garden compost bin slowly filling with garden waste and kitchen scraps.
But you keep hearing mention of using a Compost Activator, accelerator or starter. Do you need one? What is it? Should you buy it? Is the compost bin doomed to failure if you don’t have one?
What do Compost Accelerators do?
Compost accelerators (compost activators) speed up the first stage of garden composting. A mixture of bacteria, fungus and nitrogen give you compost bin a little spurt of activity to get your garden composter going. Maybe you use a compost accelerator already without even thinking about it.
You might not use much but I bet you do use some. Sometimes called compost activators or compost starters too, these materials are designed to introduce helpful micro-organisms and nitrogen to your garden compost.
The organisms are the things that get the whole miraculous process of decompostion going. So without them, yes the garden compost bin would fail to give you lots of lovely hummus. Nitrogen is needed by the organisms which process the compost.
But those microbes are all around us. The chances are some will have made their way into your compost bin already. But will the naturally occurring compost activators be enough to get the bin going? That depends! Sorry, but it does.
If you have lots of dry, stable matter in your garden composter (like straw or cardboard), it is unlikely to degrade quickly without the addition of some quicker acting ingredient.
Do I Need a Compost Activator?
Whether there are enough of these microbes to get your garden compost bin acting quickly is for you to decide. The easiest way is to see how long it takes for your garden compost to become a pile of hummus.
Once you stop adding new matter to the compost bin, you can gauge how well it is working. The compost pile should sink considerably as bulk is reduced and the composition will become less obvious as the whole pile turns into brown hummus.
You should see a noticeable change after three months. But, after six months the garden compost should really be ready to use. It should be rich, crumbly and smelling faintly of damp woodland!
One thing to remember is that Compost Activators are not expensive and most are organic so maybe its worth trying one if you are undecided!
What Kind of Compost Accelerator?
Compost accelerator’s can be bought easily. Usually they are pellets of animal manure, fish, blood or Bone Meal.
- Manure is probably the greatest activator for your garden compost bin.
- Pellets are more manageable and indeed less smelly for small scale garden composting.
- You can even find pellets made from organic manures which is great for the organic gardeners out there.
They are safe to handle, but they are compressed manure so I would still thoroughly recommend a good scrub of the hands after using them!
Personally I like the Liquid Compost Starter because they are tidier and more convenient to use.
In fact, that brings me on to something lots of people are concerned with. Basically a compost heap is a pile of old rotting stuff that you normally wouldn’t want to touch with a barge pole!
So is garden compost safe? Well, of course during the process of decomposition the heap may contain all sorts of nasty organisms. Indeed if you add manure to the heap there may be pathogens, veterinarian chemical residues and harmful bacteria or parasites in the heap. But as the heap decays so too, do all these problems.
The key to garden compost safety is not to handle it until it has decayed. If you do want to turn the compost, which in cooler climates can speed up the process, make sure you clean yourself up afterwards.
Don’t use a shovel on the heap you are then going to use in the chicken shed without cleaning it thoroughly. Or, you could transfer organisms from the garden compost bin to the chicken house.
The garden composter is not a dangerous thing
The garden composter is not a dangerous thing but it makes sense to keep it contained where children and animals cannot get at it. Once the compost has broken down into hummus it is no more dangerous than garden soil.
Just as garden soil contains lots of bacteria (most benign), so too will the hummus. Nothing to worry about though, just wash your hands after handling compost. Just the same as you would after doing a spot of weeding or anything else. Lets face it, you shouldn’t be planning on eating the compost so its perfectly safe!
If you have room for a pile of animal manure this could be the very best compost accelerator. Manure is hot, it breaks down quickly and contains lots and lots of goodness.
So adding a shovel of poultry manure every week to a garden composter will make the whole thing work hotter and quicker. You could think about composting pet bedding (from gerbils to goats) too as this tends to be covered in animal urine and faeces so provides a little bit of manure along with some bulk. Just make sure the bedding material is of an organic nature. And, I don’t mean ‘knit your own yogurt’ organic, I mean made of things that were once alive, natural and not synthetic!
To compost pet waste is a good compost accelerator or activator
To compost pet waste is a good compost accelerator or activator. And, again it will save on landfill. But omnivores and carnivores do produce waste with possible risks to our health. So any such pet waste should be buried deep in the compost heap.
In fact human manure is excellent as a compost activator but must be handled with care in a similar way. All manures may contain pathogens to some degree. They need to be buried deep in the compost heap and there should be care taken that excess rainwater run-off doesn’t flow anywhere sensitive such as towards animal housing or highly used areas of the garden.
A more simple way to activate the compost heap, used by many is simply to get a friendly male to pee on it for you! Urine activates the heap but is a much safer product than faeces. We all know you can survive drinking urine, if you have too (I really would rather not). The same cannot be said for faeces which are full of things it is best to avoid!
How Compost Accelerators Works ? High nitrogen additions
All compost accelerators are high nitrogen additions to the heap. The nitrogen helps everything break down as it fuels the micro-organisms in the heap. Blood, fish and bone meal are all great nitrogen rich fertilisers which could be added to the heap as comost accelerators.
If you were really desperate you could add a non-organic fertiliser but the introduction of artificial chemicals to the heap is not something I would recommend.
A sprinkling of soil or manure every so often, will introduce the microbes the heap needs. That’s why I thought you probably already introduce them without even thinking about it. We’re forever putting bits of soil in the garden composter, attached to the roots of plants we’ve dug up!