9 Tips From Our Experience To Make Great Compost

(This is the third article in the Sustainability Champion series. While this article can be read independently, we recommend that you read the first and the second article on what the program is about. The last article talked about how to set up your compost. )

We are all used to thinking of composting as a long and complicated process. I’d like to tell you that the idea is far from the truth. We all go through, what I now call, the “trial and error” period with our compost.

This is the period where we are trying to see if it is going well, or trying to troubleshoot through the problems we face. In fact, some of my colleagues are going through the trial and error period as I write this. What helps them is to have a group of people to share their respective composting journeys and brainstorm ideas with.

This is exactly what helped me smooth over my trial and error period – interacting with struggling and seasoned composters alike.  They armed with me with some pro-tips that helped them, and subsequently me, make excellent compost quickly and efficiently.

These tips will surely give your compost the kick it needs! So here we go.

1. Choose the right container size

One of the easiest ways to ensure a good compost is choosing the right container for your compost.  When we started composting, many of us started with multiple smaller containers while some of us choose a big blue drum.  We noticed that the organic waste in the smaller containers was composting much better than in the big blue drum.

The advantage of a smaller container is many. With big containers, the waste gets dense over time making it hard for air to circulate over time.  With small containers, this problem is avoided.

Secondly, with small containers, it becomes easy to start composting as the container fills up quickly than the big containers.

A small container is better to ensure that the compost is well aerated.

So, how do you decide what is a good small container for you?

These are my recommendations:

  • For a single person living, 20L containers are good
  • For a small family of 2-3, 25L containers are good
  • For a family of 4-5, 40L containers are good

You can choose to go for a bigger or a smaller size depending on the quantum of waste you will generate.

How many containers to go for?  I recommend 3. You fill one container while the rest of the two can compost the filled organic waste in peace.

2. Do not add dry leaves that are not yet dry enough

Many of us in the office had big trees around our houses that provided a lot of leaves.  Many of us chose to use them instead of saw dust or cocopeat for the compost. We realized that the compost was smelling bad and was not doing well.

The problem was that the dry leaves were not dry enough.  So, instead of them adding carbon to the mix, they were adding to the nitrogen. This was disrupting the balance in the compost.

To avoid this, keep the fallen leaves separately and dry them out in the sun until you are able to completely crush them with your hands.

Add this to the compost pile.

If you add dry leaves as part of your carbon element, make sure that it is completely dry.

3. Cut your peels into as small pieces as possible

A very easy way to speed up the composting is to keep the organic waste as small in size as possible.  The smaller the pieces, the smaller the surface area for the microbes to work on them.

If you cannot cut each of your organic waste smaller, then choose to do for the harder ones like cabbage rind, cauliflower rinds, etc.  I noticed that what used to take two months to compost would reduce half in time, if I take the effort to cut it into smaller pieces before adding it to the bin.

Make sure to cut your food waste into smaller pieces, for faster composting.

4. Do not add paper and cardboard in your compost

When I started composting, I noticed that I had a cardboard delivery box at home. I decided to use it instead of cocopeat.  I tore it down into small pieces and added them to the compost.

Once, the cardboard pieces were done, I moved back to cocopeat again.

Four months down the line, I noticed that my compost is completely done – except for the cardboard pieces. They are still whole. That is when I realized that all cardboard or paper do not breakdown.  Most of them are chemically treated and are difficult to break down.

“When I order cocopeat online for my compost, it comes in this cardboard box. To reduce the waste I generated by order the cocopeat,I ended up shredding the cardboard I got  and mixed into my compost. I found that this doesn’t decompose too easily” says Sreelakshmi, former Trek coordinator.

I decided to stop adding cardboard or paper to my compost.  Rather, I reuse it or give it to kabbadiwala for recycling.

The only paper waste I would recommend adding to the compost would be used tissues.  They cannot be recycled and hence best composted.

5. Do add jaggery to speed up your compost

A great trick, I realized to give a boost to the compost is to add jaggery powder mixed with water.  The microbes love them. They go on hyperdrive like how children function on a sugar rush. Rather than spending money on compost accelerators, I found this to be an easy way to speed up the compost.

6. Add Buttermilk and cow dung slurry to accelerate composting

After I came back from a long trip, I noticed that my compost had gone quite dry and was a bit cold. I knew that I needed to kick start it again.

Immediately, I borrowed some old buttermilk that my friend had at home and put it in the compost.  I left it to compost after adding enough moisture. Two days later, I checked on how the compost was doing and could see the mixcomposting well again.  A good sign that my compost has come to life again.

Just like buttermilk, cow dung slurry does the same work.  This is because both of them are rich in active bacterial culture.

7. Add old compost to your new mix to give it a kick

While I was researching other ways to accelerate compost, another simple solution came up – adding finished compost to the new bin.

Adding this, I learnt is as similar to adding buttermilk or cow dung slurry.  It provides additional rich bacteria for the mix to start.

You can add a small amount of completed compost (pictured above) to accelerate the process of composting. Picture by Suhas Saya.

8. Do not forget to give your compost a mix once a week

Arjun, who was initially composting in a big blue drum, once got his bin to office to empty it into a pit in our backyard as it was getting hard to give it a good mix.

What we noticed was quite surprising.  The waste in the top was smelling fresh and of earth.  It was the part that he was able to give a good mix every once a week.

The part that was in the bottom, was smelling putrid.  This was the part, he was unable to reach out to.

Emptying it out in the bin, he was able to get the bottom part to compost properly.

This made all of us realize the importance of giving it a good mix and aerating the mixture regularly.  Without regular aeration, the bottom part of the mix can start to decompose without oxygen and that is not good for the compost.

So, the simple rule we all started to follow was to give it a mix once a week.

Do mix and aerate the compost once in a while to ensure even composting. Picture by Prathima Chabbria.

9. Keep your compost moist at all times

One of my colleagues mentioned to me that keeping the compost moist at all times is the key to a good compost. I did not buy it then.

But over the last two months, I noticed that indeed, when the compost had the right amount of moisture and is not going through dry and moist cycles, the time it took to compost came down drastically.

So, that is the last tip, keep your compost moist at all times.  A good way to do this, I found was to sprinkle a tumbler of water every two days.


So there you go! These are 9 ways to make a kickass compost. Do let me know whether these tips worked for you or if you have some of your own tips to add on to this list!  I would love to learn something new.

If you have questions, stories, and other things you do to be a Sustainability Champion,  share your thoughts with me at lakshmi@indiahikes.com or drop in a comment below!

(This article was authored by Lakshmi and edited with inputs by Aswati Anand. Read the fourth article in Sustainability Champion series here. )

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran is the Green Trails Lead at Indiahikes. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She's currently working towards making trekking a more sustainable sport by bringing in fresh innovations and ideas that leave no carbon footprint in the mountains.

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