Last week I listed seven remarkable qualities of compost. And then, while standing at my desk (which I can hand-crank up and down, thank you, Marty!) typing on my keyboard, I admitted that I don’t mind sounding like an evangelist. It’s easy to be a cheerleader for something that does so much.

Today, I’m going to share the ultimate recipe for making hot compost — compost that is ready to use in six weeks. SIX WEEKS! For gardeners who long for a garden where weeds are easy to pull, pests are minimal, requires less work and no chemicals this is pure gold.

 So, let’s dig in...




Preparing to make compost is like getting ready to bake a cake: Once your ingredients are assembled, you’re ready to mix them up. And, like making a cake, you combine the ingredients all at once, not over the course of days or weeks. More on that in a bit.

 The goal is to present good nutrition to the bacteria and fungi, the unsung heroes that break stuff down while we sleep. And, like us, they require a diet of protein and carbs.

 • Protein (nitrogen or green) sources: Grass clippings, manure, fish meal.

• Carbon (carbs for energy, also known as browns): Shredded newspaper, cardboard egg cartons, leaves.

By the way, I created a master list called, “220 Things You Can Compost.” Email me at if you’d like a copy.

The precise amount of nitrogen and carbohydrates is not as important so long as the pile heats up. Here’s a general guideline: One part nitrogen to three parts carbon. Then let experience teach you. That’s the artistic part of making compost.

Here’s one of my recent recipes:

• Cottonwood and alder leaves

• Grass clippings

• Coffee grounds

• Seaweed and eelgrass

• Food scraps

• Cow, buffalo, and goat manure

• Local soil (mostly volcanic ash and organics deposited between eruptions)



 Think tossed salad, NOT layers because layers tend to block vertical and horizontal movement of air, heat and moisture. Remember, make your pile all at once. Don’t just toss stuff onto a pile in the corner of your yard and expect it to do much more than rot. “We don’t call that a compost pile,” says a fellow gardener in the UK. “That’s a rubbish heap.”

 Size matters: In order for your compost to heat up quickly, you need an enclosure that measures at least 3x3x3 feet square.

 As you build the pile, think “pulled pork.” Using a pitchfork, shred, break, bruise and groove the skin of the materials as much as possible in order to increase the number of “entry points” for bacteria and fungi.



 “Compost,” says Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes, ”is a whole universe of diverse soil food web organisms. Microbes require food, water, air; just like us. Give them what they need and your compost heats up and breaks down nicely.”

• Moisten ingredients as you add them to the pile.

• Keep a hose handy.

• Materials should sparkle with moisture, not sag with sogginess.

• Cover your pile to protect it from drenching rains.



Complete and frequent turning of your compost exposes materials to the air, speeds up activity, and keeps the compost process aerobic. Composting is akin to burning: Air is used up rapidly, especially in the beginning. So, grab a pitchfork. Turning the pile is not only key to successful composting, it’s a good upper-body workout.

Here is the recommended turning schedule:

• Day 2: Turn the pile

• Day 4: Turn it again

• Day 7: Turn

• Day 10: Turn 

When it comes to making compost, what’s my favorite tool? A long-stemmed compost thermometer. Why? The best sign of a properly made compost pile is the temperature. Readings of our compost piles at Day 3 average between 145 to 160 degrees F. When the temperature rises fast and maintains heat for a couple of weeks, your mixture is spot on. And you’re on your way to having finished compost in six weeks, and a garden (and lawn) that you can enjoy more with less work and no chemicals.

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