Composting is a natural process of decay and it will happen to all organic matter whether you take action or not. If you do take action, you can assist or hinder the process. Composting works fastest when you combine the right mixture of carbon and nitrogen with oxygen at the right temperature. There are some chemicals, organic and man-made, that can help your materials break down more quickly into compost.
Adding a general lawn fertilizer to the compost mix will boost the nitrogen level in the compost. Home gardeners should work the materials they have at hand into their compost. Do not forgo adding carbon-rich materials because you do not have enough natural sources of nitrogen, such as, fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds or manure.
The biggest drawback to using lawn fertilizer will be that it will release its nitrogen faster than the rate of a natural source of nitrogen. Your composting efforts will be less efficient because adding a chemical compound will alter the ratio of carbon and nitrogen actively working on the decay process. Apply the fertilizer in small amounts over time to keep the level of nitrogen in proportion to the carbon levels.
Commercial Compost Activator
Commercial compost activators come in many forms. In general, they promise to be an easy way for gardeners to speed up the composting process with the addition of their special ingredients. There are no real regulations over what manufacturers can call a compost activator. Most add a source of nitrogen. Many simply make vague references to specially formulated organic compounds. Read the labels carefully.
Decide whether the specific activator can help you based on the elements it contributes to your compost. There is no single activator product that will help everyone. Look for an activator that will bring your carbon and nitrogen ratio into balance. If you cannot tell from the activator's ingredient list, omit adding it. You risk slowing down your composting time frame if you add the wrong elements at the wrong time in the process. There is little evidence that any of these products will give you better results than adding your own organic materials.
Ammonium phosphate, ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate will release nitrogen immediately after they are introduced to the compost pile. Any of these fertilizers will speed the process if you tend the compost frequently. Turn the pile to add oxygen. Observe the pile to monitor the release of nitrogen into the pile. Gardeners will get good results not so much because of the chemical, but rather because of the work they put into making sure that the chemical provides the proper elements at the proper time. Monitor the pile and correct for heat, moisture, oxygen and carbon to nitrogen ratios.
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