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What is Compost?

Benefits of Composting

Using Finished Compost

Compost & Nutrition


Composting Systems

Siting Your Compost Area



What to Compost

Stages of Composting

The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio

Compost Activators

Turning Your Compost


Quick Start Guide

The Add-as-you-go Pile

The Batch Pile

Grass Clippings

Food Scraps

Leaves, Weeds &
Garden Debris

Compost Tea

Worm Composting


Troubleshooting Guide

Ask Professor Rot



Professor Rot says:

Occassionally you may need to kick-start your compost pile to heat it up.

A potent nitrogen source called an activator is just the trick!

Why Use an Activator?

A well-made compost pile will heat up naturally on its own. The reason is because it has a balance of materials according to their carbon and nitrogen make-up. (See The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio to better understand the chemical composition of organic materials often used in composting). Your pile may also be of good volume, moisture and air circulation. However, not all compost piles are created equal.

The Batch Pile composting method, if prepared properly, may need little or no activator, thereby heating up and decomposing well. The Add-as-You Go compost pile is a little more problematic, and is a likely candidate for using an activator.

There are a few other reasons why you may need to consider using an activator:

  • Perhaps you have too much high-carbon material (BROWNS such as dried leaves, straw, sawdust, etc.) in your compost bin, and not enough GREENS (nitrogen). It is this nitrogen material that is important because it acts as a "match" to spark the dry browns so that the whole bin can heat up.
  • Perhaps the weather is too cool. Piles almost go dormant in cool weather, below 50°F/12°C. An activator can be added to spark it to heat up, especially in Spring.
  • Perhaps, as a beginner, you're too insecure about all this composting know-how. This is a common reason to use an activator, and this is why they are commercially available!

Take heart, you can enhance the ability of your compost pile to "heat-up" (thus decompose sooner) by adding what is called an activator.


activatorsWhat is An Activator?

Technically, an activator (other than the natural activating GREENs inside your bin) is high in nitrogen. Some activators come in powdered form (bloodmeal, bonemeal, alfalfa meal and other "meals" are good examples).

Other activators are enzyme-acting so that when mixed in water and sprinkled in your pile the beneficial bacteria are activated.

manureStill others, and perhaps the cheapest or most readily available, are as simple as manure (chicken, cow, goat, rabbit, etc.), whether fresh or dry. Finally, commercial brand mixes (in 5lb/2.26kg boxes), often called Compost Starters, are available at garden centers and usually have several ingredients from the chart listed below plus other high nitrogen sources. Follow the directions on the box.


(by % of Nitrogen)
Alfalfa Meal     2.4%

Powdered Meals & Coffee Grounds

Dust on in small amounts as you layer the Green and Brown materials in a Batch Pile. In such a pile you may have 3-4 Green/Brown layers, so dust on each completed layer.

Dust on top of scraps each time they are added to a Add-as-You-Go Pile.

Fresh Manure

Layer 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) deep on top of Green/Brown layers of materials in bin.

Dry Manure

Dust on in small amounts, 3-4 times in a Batch Pile, or a dusting on top of scraps in a Add-as-You-Go Pile.


Mix with about 1qt/1 liter of water, sprinkle into pile as you layer it (Batch Pile). Can be added to Add-as-You-Go Pile at each contribution of scraps.




The best manure, as a valuable nitrogen source, is from grass eaters (cud chewers) such as cow, steer, sheep, goat, llama, and from chickens and rabbits.

Don't use horse manure: their digestive tract cannot break down seeds found in hay and grasses.

Don't use cat or dog wastes: they may carry disease pathogens.

Human manure is controversial to use. Thoroughly read-up on how to use it in composting.

Cottonseed Meal    7%
Soybean Meal     6%
Bloodmeal     15%
Bonemeal     4%

Chicken Manure (dry)     8%

It is advised not to use fresh chicken manure because of its very high nitrogen content that can burn plant roots and leaves.

Rabbit Manure (fresh)   2.4%

A fantastic activator, as is alpaca and llama manure. Reason: very thorough digestive systems

Rabbit Manure (dry)     12%

Coffee Grounds     2.1%

A superb activator! Throw in the filter as well!


Most of the above activators work equally well.

Remember: A little goes a long way!




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