What? Did you even realize there were two different types of composting? Well there are, and they each require a slightly different process, yielding different benefits. One takes more effort but yields faster compost (which will be free of disease and weeds), and the other is mostly hands-free but takes a while to get results. Let’s go over the basics.
1. Hot Composting
Hot composting will produce compost faster than cold composting, but it still takes several weeks to months. With hot composting, you must use enough high-nitrogen organic matter to cause the pile to actually get hot. The ratio of your compost should be 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Your mixture will need to be damp (like a sponge you have wrung out well), but not wet. Use straw or hay, twigs, stalks, and other variable-sized materials to create air pockets.
A properly-built hot compost pile will begin to heat up within 24-36 hours. The ideal temperature is 141-155 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes weed seeds and disease-causing pathogens to die. You’ll want to track the temperature with a compost thermometer, and ensure the temperature is maintained several days, to a week or more. If the heat drops or it gets hotter than 160F, turn the pile and add some water. You’ll need to keep an eye on the temperature and go through this turning process several times. Find step-by-step instructions here.
If you want a faster process and are willing to put in some effort, hot composting is a good choice.
2. Cold Composting
If you want compost with minimal effort, cold composting is the method for you. However, be warned that it can take a year or two before you can use the compost. Basically, you just put your waste into a pile and wait it out. How long it takes will depend on your materials and how big the particles are (the smaller the particles, the faster the breakdown process). Never add weeds that have seeded, or plants that are diseased. This is because temperatures will be too low to kill disease pathogens or weed seeds, and they’ll wind up being spread in your garden.