The Power of Hot Composting

In the world of gardening and sustainable practices, there is nothing quite as transformative as hot composting. This age-old technique allows us to convert our garden waste into nutrient-rich compost, breathing life into our soil and fostering a thriving garden. In this blog post, we will delve into the art of hot composting, explore the benefits of this technique, and emphasize the importance of cultivating a rich, organic, and living soil for a vibrant and flourishing garden.

How does hot composting work?
Hot Composting is so powerful compared to a traditional compost heap because it transforms your garden waste within 3 to 4 weeks into fantastic compost while the traditional method of composting (add material and don’t look after) takes a year. Off course nothing comes for free! The time savings you achieve with hot composting come at a price. It requires physical exercise and science to produce compost within 3 to 4 weeks. Below, I will explain the process of hot composting so that you can cancel your gym membership and start creating your own compost fast.

Hot composting thrives on heat, moisture, oxygen, and a balanced ratio (between 25/1 and 35/1) of carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens). By understanding these components, we can harness the power of decomposition and transform organic matter into our own “black gold” – a nutrient-dense compost that supercharges soil.

  1. Steaming hot compost!
    Heat plays a pivotal role in accelerating the decomposition process. As the compost pile begins to break down, the microorganisms present in the organic matter generate heat as they consume the nitrogen-rich materials. This rise in temperature, often reaching between 50 to 70°C), is the hallmark of hot composting. The heat speeds up the composting process and the high temperatures create an environment that is hostile to weed seeds and harmful pathogens, effectively sterilizing the compost and making it safe to use in the garden.
  2. Moisture: crucial to activate decomposition microorganisms
    Moisture and heat go hand in hand to create an optimal environment for the microorganisms to break down the organic matter. It is essential to maintain a moisture level of about 40% to 60% within the compost pile. Too little moisture slows down the composting process, while too much can lead to oxygen poor conditions and unpleasant odors. To ensure proper moisture levels, regularly check the compost pile and adjust as needed. You can test the moisture level by squeezing a handful of compost material. If water drips out, it’s moist enough; if not, add some water. If the compost material appears very wet without squeezing, it is too wet. Add some dry materials, like cardboard if it’s to wet.
  3. Frequent Turning for Enhanced Oxygen Supply
    To facilitate the composting process, frequent turning (every other day) is essential. Turning the compost pile introduces oxygen, creating an oxygen rich environment that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria responsible for decomposition. Regularly mixing the materials ensures that all parts of the pile receive adequate oxygen, minimizing the risk of oxygen poor conditions and unpleasant odors.
  4. Carbon: fundamental for structure and stability
    Carbon (Often referred to as “browns” ) plays a vital role in achieving a balanced compost mix. Carbon-rich materials such as dry leaves, straw, woody prunings, and cardboard are excellent sources of carbon. Browns provide a source of energy for the microorganisms responsible for decomposing organic matter, and they help to absorb excess moisture in the compost pile, preventing it from becoming too soggy.
  5. Nitrogen: A Crucial Ingredient for Composting Success
    Nitrogen is an essential element for composting, as it fuels the activity of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and contributes to the breakdown of organic matter. Nitrogen-rich materials, often referred to as “greens,” include fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and nitrogen-rich plants.
  6. Kickstarting the Process with Nitrogen Boost
    To expedite the composting process, consider introducing a nitrogen boost at the beginning. A nitrogen boost will stimulate microbial activity and heat up the compost pile. One effective method is adding nitrogen-rich materials, such as urine or high-nitrogen plants, to the middle of the compost heap. Urine, diluted with water, provides a readily available source of nitrogen, while nitrogen-rich plants like comfrey or nettles can be chopped and added to the mix. Bird droppings (like chicken manure) are “the top of the heap” to kickstart the process since these are very rich in Nitrogen.
  7. Balancing the Compost Mix
    To achieve optimal composting conditions, strike a balance between carbon-rich “browns” and nitrogen-rich “greens.” Browns include dry leaves, straw, and pruned branches, providing structure and absorbing excess moisture. Greens, such as grass clippings and fresh kitchen scraps, infuse the pile with nitrogen and promote microbial activity. Aim for a ratio of roughly three parts browns to one part greens to maintain an ideal compost mix ensuring a well balanced ratio of 25 parts to 35 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.
  8. Size does matter!
    A good size for a pile is at least 1 cubic meter. In general, bigger is better, but 1 by 1 by 1 meter is a manageable size for most gardeners. The pile should be placed in a sunny place to maximize the penetration of heat. You can just heap the materials up, or create a bin with wood or wire fence. Ensure you build a construction that’s open enough to keep the heap aerated sufficiently.
  9. What not to compost?
    While composting is an excellent way to recycle organic waste and nourish your garden, there are certain items you should avoid adding to your compost pile. Processed and cooked food, for instance, should be kept out of the compost bin. These items contain oils, fats, and preservatives that can disrupt the composting process and attract pests (like rats). Citrus peels are another no-go when it comes to composting. Their high acidity can upset the pH balance of the compost, inhibiting the activity of beneficial microorganisms. Additionally, conifer materials, such as pine needles and cedar leaves are not recommended to add to the compost heap since they take a long time to decompose and can make the compost too acidic for many plants. Last but not least: never add materials to your compost pile that contaminate your compost with chemicals or materials that don’t break down easily.

Compost as an important source for a Rich, Organic, and Living Soil
A healthy garden (and healthy nutrition) starts with the soil beneath our feet. A rich, organic, and living soil is the foundation for vibrant plant growth, disease resistance, and ecological balance. Compost created through hot composting infuses the soil with essential nutrients, improves soil structure, enhances water retention, and promotes the growth of beneficial soil organisms. This living soil acts as a natural symbiotic ecosystem, fostering the exchange of nutrients, improving root development, and boosting overall plant vitality. I always ensure the ground is covered with a layer of 5 to 10 cm of compost. If I use compost as a top layer mulch I don’t sift my compost through a sieve or screen to remove coarse, unprocessed pieces and retain only the fine, mature compost. If I use compost to mix with a sandy soil for use in containers I always sieve out all coarse and unprocessed materials.

Horse Manure: A Valuable Resource
Horse manure is an exceptional component for composting due to its rich nutrient profile and beneficial microorganism content. As horses digest plant material, their manure becomes a natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, essential elements for healthy plant growth. Additionally, the presence of beneficial microbes in horse manure helps break down organic matter, enhancing the composting process. Horse manure has the perfect Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of 30/1 and is rich in fibers. You can add it in endless amounts to your compost heap. Composted horse manure is an excellent soil conditioner and a valuable resource for gardeners.

The cycle of nourishment
By embracing the art of hot composting we can unlock the potential of our soil, fostering a garden that teems with life and vitality. This sustainable practice not only minimizes waste but also creates a cycle of nourishment, as our garden waste becomes the raw material for rich, organic compost. So, let’s dive into the world of hot composting, enrich your soil, and witness the incredible transformation that occurs when nature’s cycles are honored and harnessed in our own backyard.