Quick Cook Compost Method

I wanted to get this post out to you now as this may be a project you’d like to start before the main business of sowing in earnest gets underway in a few weeks time. I am hoping to start a really viable composting regime off this year. My ‘council bin’ is OK but quickly fills up and takes a good year to turn the mixture of kitchen/garden waste and cardboard into a compost that is usable for the veg plot. I need something quicker that makes compost good enough for sowing and potting on. I’m trying Ray Broughton’s method which I first heard at a free talk on growing veg that my local Horticultural Society hosted last year that around 80 people attended. So no pictures as yet, but when I get this up and running I’ll post them to let you see how I get on.

The advantages of the quick cook method are:
1) Pretty much all plant material can be placed on the heap including woody material up to a diameter of 1cm.
2) No turning needed.
3) Due to the heat generated plant pests, diseases and weeds will be killed by this method.
4) Vermin will not be attracted to this heap (I’ve had rats in my black council bin before so this will be interesting to test out).
5) Compost should be ready in 3 to 4 months – just what I’m looking for!

The heap can be built up over a period of time but for optimum efficiency it should be no longer than 3 months. Now here’s the important bit – the heap has to have a solid base of paving slabs, we don’t want nutrient loss or worm activity with this method which is what you do get with a standard black council bin-type method.

Bacteria and fungi will break down the plant material into humus which will hold onto the plant nutrients. The heap should reach temperatures of 80 degress centigrade killing off pests, weed seeds, rhizomes etc.

You need to construct the sides out of wood or other suitable material to contain your heap, the best size is 1.5 metre by 1.5 metre. It is important that oxygen is present but you only need a relatively small amount as the material going into the heap is bulky and will trap air. So drill some small holes into the sides. Remember this must be on a solid base. I am going to use old pallets and plywood offcuts for mine and construct two bins side-by-side so I can start filling the second one whilst the first ‘cooks’.

Ok once you’ve built your compost bin, start filling with plant material, you can put pretty much anything in from the garden up to 1cm diameter, including weeds, lawn clippings, and the usual kitchen peelings etc. Fill to 1/3 of the height of the bin. At this stage place two shovel loads of good quality soil over the heap and two handfuls of nitrogen fertiliser (e.g. hoof and horn). If you use organic fertiliser make sure it is ground into a fine powder (amounts quoted are for a 1.5 x 1.5m heap).

Add more material until you are up to the 2/3rds mark. Then add one shovel load of ground limestone (calcium carbonate). This is essential as it prevents the heap from becoming too acidic which is a common problem. Carry on filling and when you reach the top add soil and fertiliser in exactly the same way as you did at the 1/3rd stage. That’s it, there’s no need to cover the heap, and then it’s just a waiting game until the heap cooks down.

This method should be fast and efficient but it’s important you follow the instructions above. If you’re adding your compost directly to a clay soil use your compost before it’s completely broken down to help with aeration and drainage. Sandy soils will prefer well rotted compost containing a high proportion of humus which will help attract water and nutrients to these soils. See my earlier post on soil type, structure and pH for more info. I am hoping this will give me good enough compost for potting on my plants and save me money each year that I would normally waste on shop bought multi-purpose.

Best of luck, happy composting!

12 responses to “Quick Cook Compost Method

  1. This is interesting. I look forward to following your progress and seeing the results.

    • One of my projects for 2010, the first problem is where I want to site the bins is a huge pile of logs so I need to muster the energy to move them. Need a nice sunny day!

  2. I’m trying to decide how to approach the compost thing.

    Our council bin at home is over a year old and nowhere being compost, but is proving a great attraction for worms. My veg plot (a friend’s garden) has space but would involve having to slab an area to try the quick cook method. Hmmm, still procrastinating.
    I could make space there; there’s a huge decked area that he says I can rip up and then use the space and the timber, but thats a future project not for now. I’ll let you know what I decide to do.
    Does your council bin work well, have you had to do anything to get it working?

  3. The council bin is fine to be honest, you can just keep filling and filling it. I assume this is because all the water (and I guess a fair amount of the nutrients) are leaching out of the bottom. I filled mine from spring to summer last year and have just dug it out now. The bottom 2/3rds was pretty well rotted with the top 1/3 half rotted which I just dug straight into the plot. I didn’t do anything really just made sure there was a good mix of greens and cardboard going in. Taking on a bigger project is a hassle but I find myself spending a fair amount on multi-purpose which I want to get away from.

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  10. Hi Damo – thanks for the coaching here. Obviously you built this composter a few seasons ago….so whats you long term view now? Does it make a big difference? I have a 3 bay composting system at my allotment (not so far from you in Salisbury – we are Chandlers Ford). So I converted one to a cooker version and will keep you updated. BTW my wife Julie is doing an RHS course at Sparsholt in Winchester and Ray that you comment on here is her tutor. Small world! All the best – happy digging. Doug (@cloudstuff)

    • Hi Doug, thanks for stopping by and good luck with the quick compost method. I don’t have much space so it works for me; gives me two usuable loads of compost per year which goes straight on the plot plus a £30 load of well rotted manure from Stanley’s in Pitton every Autumn and that does me for the season. I’m happy with that, if I could give more space to give over to composting I would go to a 3 bay set up, but like I say it serves me well as is. I’ve attended about half a dozen of Ray’s talks and he is the best speaker I’ve seen and I always come away having learnt something so your wife will have many very useful tips from him I am sure! All the best, Damo.

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