Also known as a compost accelerator, the purpose of a compost starter, as the name implies, is to speed up or activate the decomposition process in a compost pile. Jobe's Organics Compost Starter or Espoma Organic are 2 of the best options on the market.
To understand how it works, all compost starters supply compost with decomposing bacteria and nitrogen. These two are like turbo on a scooter. The long composting process is reduced significantly.
But do you really need a compost starter?
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What Is a Compost Starter?
It’s an additive that initiates or accelerates the composting process in organic materials.
A compost starter contains two primary components:
- Beneficial microbes: bacteria or fungi
To understand the importance of these two (bacteria and nitrogen), let’s first zoom in on a compost pile and understand what exactly happens.
When you’ve set up your compost bin and added the composting materials in the right proportions, that’s the green (food wastes, kitchen scraps, etc.) and brown materials (grass clippings, garden waste, etc.), the waste causes microorganisms to form.
These microorganisms start to break down the organic materials into a finished product (compost) after 3 or 6 months.
However, before the bacteria can build up and start the decomposing process, a lot of time is taken – I call this period the “dormant period.”
Now, this’s where a compost accelerator makes the difference.
It cuts the dormant period by introducing bacteria to the compost and supplies the nitrogen needed to start the decomposition process.
Do You Need a Compost Starter?
No. You don’t really need one, especially if you have the brown and green materials in the right ratio. Decomposing is a natural process that will happen with or without a compost starter.
A composter starter only functions to speed up the decomposition process.
However, why spend more time and energy turning your compost while a small dose of compost accelerator can save you the hustle?
Plus, you don’t need to spend an extra coin to buy a compost starter. It’s easy to make one. You only need to select nitrogen-rich ingredients from your house (I’ll explain the “how” below).
Types of compost starters on the market
There’re two types of compost starters:
- Artificial activators
- Natural starters
Natural compost starters need no processing and can be added to compost as compost activators plus, they’re good for organic gardening.
- Alfalfa meal
- Soybeans meal
The Best Compost Starters You Can Buy
To identify the best compost starter, we need to highlight the must-have features:
1. It should be nitrogen-rich
For the microbes to break down the organic matter, they need lots of nitrogen. Therefore, the best compost starter should have the most nitrogen content.
Some manufacturers have improved their products by adding calcium, which benefits plants.
2. It should have active microbes
They’re the decomposers that start the composting process. So, the more they’re in a compost starter, the better it is.
Other features to consider include the product’s cost and genuineness; this applies if you purchase one from Amazon or your local garden center.
The Jobe’s Organics Compost Starter is rich in microbes such as archaea, bacteria, and mycorrhizal fungi.
DIY Starters (And How to Make One)
For a DIY starter, you need the following:
- Water, one gallon
- Ammonia liquid, about half a cup
- A bottle of beer (the cheapest in the store will do)
- A bottle of cola
- Pour the ingredients into a bucket. Stir the mixture to make a consistent liquid, then leave it to settle for an hour.
- Pour the liquid into the compost pile and then top it with 2-3 shaves of garden soil.
- Use a pitchfork to turn the compost so that the activator is well distributed in the compost. If it’s a compost tumbler, rotating the drum a couple of times will do.
Why the ingredients?
Beer contains yeast, which multiplies the population of fungi and bacteria in the compost.
Ammonia is a nitrogen-rich material that helps increase the compost’s pH, creating a favorable environment for bacteria.
Cola soda, on the other hand, supplies carbon for the microbes.
When and How to Use a Compost Starter
Using correctly a compost starter involves knowing when to use it and when not to.
Here’s when to use it:
- When there is a low population of microbes to kick-start the composting process
- When there’s poor aeration
- When there’s a low supply of nitrogen-rich materials
When not to use the compost accelerator
It’s not necessary to use an activator when the organic waste has a sufficient supply of:
- Nitrogen and carbon-rich materials