Compost Quantity: How Much and How Long Does It Take

How much compost can you make and how long does it take?  It’s a reasonable question but not an easy one to answer.  Most sources cite a duration of six weeks to up to 2 years as the typical duration for  composting.  Keep a few things in mind this this range. 

Critical Variables

It’s a huge range because there are a lot of variables to consider including:

  • Aeration – you must have sufficient airflow through your compost to ensure aerobic decomposition. 
  • Moisture – recommended moisture content of 30%-60% RH or in other words, the pile needs to remain very damp but not soaking wet.
  • Carbon : Nitrogen ratio – This roughly equates to your browns vs greens ratio that is so often talked about in the forums.  You want to maintain a C:N ratio of roughly 30:1 for optimum compost rates.  From what I’ve been able to discern, this correlates fairly well to the recommendation of a 2:1 ratio of browns to greens.
  • Particle size – The larger the waste and scraps you put into your composter, the longer it takes to break down.  Keep things under 1″ in diameter at a maximum. 

Composting Rates

As much as I’d like to provide an equation to give you an idea of your compost rate, I think the better use of my time and less problematic solution is to give guidance to optimize your compost rate so that you can get as close as possible to that low end of the time scale.

To speed up your compost, keep a check on its health.  Check things like moisture and temperature.  If you’re able to maintain 140F – 160F through out your pile, it’s a good indicator that everything is breaking down at optimal rates.  Keep the compost pile damp and aerate the compost if it is getting too warm or drying out too much.  You want the conditions to be uniform as possible,  hence the recommendation to regularly turn the compost and add moisture. 

Optimizing these variables, you’re going to have the best compost rates in the warmer months.  As winter comes, you can still compost but you’ll have new challenges to deal with.  Learn how to keep your composter active in the winter months with a few critical tips.

So How Much Compost Can I Make?

So how much food scraps does it take to generate a 1 cu ft of compost?

Well, this also depends some on what you’re putting into your compost pile, but you can expect a shrinkage rate of 70-80% in volume!  So if you want 1 cu ft of compost, you’re putting 3-5 cu ft of scraps and browns into your composter. 

So if you’re generating compost, you are in it for the long game.  Aim to be consistent with your maintenance.  You want high quality compost, which takes time. 

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