Not fast, not furious: Learning to love slow compost

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Gardening bore | 6 comments

Once upon a time we were fully intending to follow the ‘fast’ or ‘hot’ composting method, where you turn your compost regularly to aerate it and speed up decomposition. That was the idea. We pretended to ourselves that we would diligently turn our compost every month, like good gardeners.

But as the age-old wisdom goes, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that.’

We’ve never turned our compost to aerate it. Never. Not once. Our compost heap lived a quiet, undisturbed life behind the old, wonky polytunnel, and we hardly ever went near it – except to empty the kitchen food waste onto it once a week, and then for our annual attempt to unearth some usable compost every spring. It wasn’t what we’d intended when we started our gardening journey, but all parties involved seemed perfectly happy with the hands-off arrangement.

Then, a few years ago, Rob took down the polytunnel to start building our greenhouse, which meant the compost had to move. We dismantled the old compost setup (just a few bays made of wooden posts and chicken wire), and moved the compost heap it to its current position at the side of the veg garden. And in the process, we fully embraced our identities as ‘slow compost’ kind of people. So rather than build new bays out of wooden posts and chicken wire, with the intention of diligently turning the compost every month, we just slung it in a messy heap. ‘Let’s bung it there and be done with it,’ we said.

It was like a sigh of relief, to be honest. To hold my head high and say, ‘My name is Claire and I’m a lazy composter.’ The gardening equivalent of taking your bra off after a long day.

Anyway, it turns out slow composting is, as they say in gardening circles, an actual thing. You don’t have to turn your compost to get it to rot down as fast as possible. I mean, you can, if you want to make compost quickly. But it’s not the only way. Slow composting is perfectly legitimate.

With the slow method, you just have an open, undisturbed compost heap. It never gets turned, which means it rots down over a longer period of time – generally, a year or so. In contrast, the fast method can create compost in around four to six months.

One method is therefore much faster, but takes more work. The other is very slow, but almost entirely hands-off. Since we only really need fresh compost once a year – in spring, when we add a layer to our beds – it’s not such a hardship to wait a year for things to rot down. (And yes, I know you can get purpose-built plastic bins that create a hot environment for compost to rot down quickly, but we generate far too much of it for one of those.)

This may all be obvious to you already, but for years I felt that we weren’t doing compost the ‘proper’ way because we never bothered to turn it. I’d watch Monty Don flinging his compost around, and feel a mild current of gardener’s guilt. I coveted the hot steaminess of other people’s compost heaps (I may or may not mean that in a sexual way. You decide). I saw one programme where a couple cooked a stew – a fucking stew – in their compost heap, it was that hot, and it bothered me for ages. I’m well aware that my brain tends towards intrusive thoughts, but I never imagined one of those intrusive thoughts would be, their compost heap is so much better than yours.

My point is, I believed – even though our resulting compost always seemed perfectly fine – that we were somehow fudging things by doing it the lazy way.

But the more I listen to gardening podcasts, the more I realise I’m in good company. There are plenty of us slow composters out there. One gardener even argued that slow composting made a better, finer compost than the fast method. Vindication! Be gone, intrusive composting inferiority complex! My compost may be slow, but she gets there in the end.

Care to share your thoughts on compost? Said no one ever, except me.

6 Comments

    • Auntie Bulgaria

      Yes, you’re a lazy composter too! I like your system of making one compost pile, then leaving it to rot down and starting another pile next to it. That could help us be a bit neater and more organised, while still maintaining a lazy system. Also, I saw your cold frame in one of the recent vids and now I have cold frame envy! Great stuff, Bobby. I’ll keep watching.

      Reply
  1. Kath Thomas

    I managed to buy a plastic compost bin in Lidl last year but I have a feeling that I’ve not sited it in the best place, much too close to the basement kitchen. I’ll take another look when I get back.

    Reply
    • Auntie Bulgaria

      Yeah, I don’t know much about the plastic bins as we have an open heap. I’d imagine it gets very hot inside, so might benefit from a bit of shade?

      Reply
  2. Ruth

    I am a slow composter. But we have had weeks of dry weather in the UK and both my compost heaps caught fire last week. So, perhaps hot composting should be avoided in BG.

    Reply
    • Auntie Bulgaria

      Wow, I’ve never heard of compost heaps catching fire! That’s crazy. More justification for my being a lazy, slow composter.

      Reply

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