Composting Timetable

kirstyhall/FlickrEveryone knows that composting your fruit and vegetable scraps and other biological material is much better than sending those scraps to the city dump, where they would turn into methane gas. Instead, they're recycled as "food" for your garden. One thing people usually don't consider when starting a compost pile is how long it will actually take to turn into ripe, usable compost. Here is a simple guide to the composting timetable, depending on which method you use.

Hot Turn: 21 Days

Hot turn piles are the most labor intensive with highly demanding basic requirements, but they produce finished compost much faster than other methods. Your compost pile must measure at least 3'x3' and have the proper proportions of carbon to nitrogen (brown stuff to green stuff), which should be about 30:1. Break or chop whatever material you add to your pile into 1” pieces. Let sit for a couple of days. Then rotate every day for a week and finally, rotate every other day for another 12 days. This way, you can have finished compost in just 3 weeks.

Slow No Turn: 3-12 Months

The easiest way to compost is to set up a pile in your yard where you dump food scraps, leaves, and lawn and yard clippings, then simply let them decompose naturally. The amount of time this takes will fluctuate depending on factors like temperature, moisture, and pile composition. When the weather is hot and the pile is moist with a 20:1-30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen, a three month decomposition is possible. But outside those parameters, it may take up to a year. Also, a family of five tends to  produce much more compost material than a person living alone. The single person's pile will take longer simply because it needs to build up a critical mass. Either way, the bottom, or oldest part, of the pile will be ready first.

Worm Bin: 1-3 Months

With worm bin composting, the better-established the worms are in numbers, the quicker they are able to process food scraps. In the beginning, when the worms are first establishing themselves, a three month period to completion is normal, and once they grow in number (which can take up to nine months), they should be able to finish a “batch” in about a month. But of course, this will depend on your worm bin setup.

Black Soldier Fly: 3 Weeks

Black soldier fly larvae are gaining popularity. They're able to survive more temperature variance than worms, work quickly, and devour foods such as rotting meat and dairy products which have a tendency to bother worms. They are not a nuisance like the housefly or other types of flies. It seems the only reason black soldier flies are not more popular is that they're better at turning food scraps into protein (body mass) than into soil amendment. In other words, the larvae eat your waste and get fat. This makes them perfect feed for chickens, fish, or exotic pets like reptiles, but they won't do too much for your garden, and many more people have gardens than chickens and snakes to feed. Although they take about three weeks to work their magic, the time frame will really depend on how many larvae you're working with, and the amount of food scraps.

Jordan Laio writes for

Updated July 15, 2018.

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