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Compost Activators-what are they, have you tried it, do they work?

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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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This old thread on the "Quick Return Method" of compost making caught my idea last week. I read the whole tedious thing. The claim is that a special activator makes faster, better, compost. Does anyone here know what's in a compost activator? Has anyone had spectacular results (wins or fails?) using it? Any DIY recipes?
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Hi Ann,
I remember Paul talking about the toilets at Wheaton Lab and activating the piles of compost,
but I went googling to make sure I was right. I found this useful site that talks in detail
about compost piles and the "magical activator" that gets the ball rolling. The person
goes into detail about the importance of the mix ratio of browns to greens and not
getting it to compacted.aeration. And they talk about drier is better, pretty useful
information. "Magical Activator"
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If you want fast, hot (to kill weed seeds and pathogens) traditional compost, you need 4 things in appropriate ratios:




appropriate microbiology

If you don't have enough carbon to dance with all the nitrogen, your pile could start to smell like ammonia, and for sure it will outgass nitrogen compounds into the air and waste them. Carbon is often referred to as browns, wood chips, dry brown leaves, corn stalks, any stable cellulose product qualifies as a brown.

If you don't have enough nitrogen, the pile won't heat up well, it won't kill weed seeds or pathogens, and it will take a long time. Nitrogen feedstocks are the primary fuel that the microbiology uses to digest the carbon. This is often referred to as greens. fresh grass out of the mower bag, fresh leaves, "fresh" rotting vegetable, fresh manure, and urine are common examples. If your pile isn't going good/fast/hot, dump some dilute urine on it. (3:1, water to urine)

If you don't have enough water, the bacteria and other wildlife won't thrive. If you have too much water, it will exclude the oxygen and the pile will go anaerobic and stinky.

And finally, the right biology. If you don't have enough bacteria and fungi and invertebrates, it won't work--at all.

If you've never made compost before, it's not wrong to buy some activator to get the process off to a good start.

If a friend has a good compost pile, just bring home a 5 gallon bucket of their compost--terrific activator.

Or...you could borrow a few shovel fulls of nice loamy dirt and leaves in a forest. The forest figured out composting while we were still swinging from the trees.

If the pile isn't working fast enough, add some dilute urine, great activator, if you have sufficient biology there to start with. Ordinary human urine is sterile, so it's great at feeding the biology, but it won't supply the biology.

But as a regular addition to a compost pile, nobody needs store bought "magic" activators.

As a side note, if you are not in a hurry to make compost in 6 weeks, you can just bury it in trenches where you want better fertility next year. No turning, no watering, little outgassing, less work, much less fussy about the carbon to nitrogen ratio. But not as fast. You also don't lose nearly as much nutrient to the atmosphere with trench composting.

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Great post! Absolutely no need for 'magic activators'!!! This is from Washington State University. http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/fundamentals/inocula.htm

I'd like to add that the 'ideal' compost will have close to a 30:1 C:N ratio. I used to have a chart that gave the ratio for specific materials.

Chicken manure
Horse manure
Coffee grounds

Those are listed in order. Fish being the highest N source. Coffee grounds the weakest. Be very careful with fish. It might be something you try when you have more experience or in very small amounts. Have some extra C materials around!


Again leaves weakest C source. Sawdust highest. Although sawdust can very greatly.

I try to add biodynamic nutrient accumulators to my piles ie. dandelions, comfrey, stinging nettles, borage, yarrow, burdock etc. I gather rock dust from time to time from the mtns and rivers too. I also make my own bio-char and add this to my piles as well.

Good Luck on your compost pile. Compost happens!
Mike Feddersen
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It looks like you have gotten some great advice here.

I don't know why I didn't mention my favorite youtube gardener's videos, "One Yard Revolution"
before. The compost videos he has our some of my favorites of his, I love how he took free
leaves, mulch from the free city site, and coffee grounds plus his and neighborhood green
waste and created great compost for his backyard garden.

Here is his activator method for warming up a pile.

More Compost Videos from ONEYARDREVOLUTION

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