How Long Does It Take to Make a Compost Pile?

Most people know that composting food scraps, yard trimmings, and other forms of debris is much more eco-friendly than sending them to the local dump, where the waste would simply decompose into harmful methane gas.

However, what most would be composters do not consider is the amount of time for compost to ripen and develop into black gold. [1]

Components of Compost

Regardless of what materials you are composting, there are three primary factors that will affect how long the process takes:

  1. Temperature Temperatures can range from freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) to the extremely hot (158 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. Density The density of the materials being composted affects how quickly it will decompose. For example, wood fibers tend to be among the densest, so they will take much longer to compost than other materials.
  3. Shape and Size As with density, the shape and size of the composting material affects the length of time it requires. A single large lump of material will take longer to compost than materials that are broken down into small clumps.

How Technology Affects the Composting Process

The method of composting, as well as the associated technology, can affect the composting process almost as much as the type of material being composted.

Hot piles and compost tumblers are created in such a manner as to encourage the growth heat creating bacteria, which hastens the decomposition process.

Similarly, worm bins employ the services of worms to create vermicompost or worm feces in as little as 2 to 3 months. [2]

An outdoor pile of yard debris that is left to compost without any assistance can take well over a year to completely decompose.

The Most Popular Composting Methods​

  • Hot Turn Heaps – Hot turn heaps are the most labor intensive, but they also produce compost the most quickly. On average, the process will take 20 days. The pile must measure at least 3×3 feet, and contain the proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen (30:1). The materials that are being composted much be broken into 1” pieces and the pile will need to be turned every day.
  • Black Soldier Fly – In the composting world, black soldier fly larvae are growing in popularity. They are less susceptible to temperature changes than worms, and they can digest foods, like dairy products and meat, that worms tend to avoid. Unlike common house flies, they are not an annoyance. However, rather than turning food scraps into soil amendment, black soldier flies gorge and become fat off of your food scraps. This makes them excellent feed for fish, chickens, and some amphibians, but not so great at creating compost for gardens. With black fly larvae, the composting process takes, on average, three to four weeks.
  • Worm Bins – When using worm bins, the composting process generally takes between one and three months. Of course, this time frame is affected by your worm bin setup and the number of worms you are working with. The more established the worms are in terms of numbers, the more quickly they will be able to process a batch of food scraps.
  • No Turn Slow Piles – This is the simplest method of composting, but it is also the slowest. To create a no turn slow pile, all you do is heap all of your yard clippings, leaves, and food scraps into one mound and leave it to decompose naturally. This process can take anywhere from three months to upwards of eighteen months. The size of your family, and the amount of waste they produce will affect the decomposition process.

Which Option Should You Choose?

There is no right or wrong way to compost waste.

Your success will primarily depend on how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in the process.