Hot Composting

A Guide to Hot Composting: Turning Waste into Compost Faster   

Hot composting is not so different from the regular composting process. However, the hot compost method is a quick and efficient way to turn your waste into high-quality compost for your garden. 

The hot composting process requires a bit more time and diligence. However, you get your compost in as quickly as a month or even less. For faster composting, read on as we take you through all you need to know about hot composting and how to get started.  

What is hot composting?   

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Hot composting thermometer
Photo: iStock.

Hot composting (sometimes called the Berkeley Hot composting method) is a composting process where bacteria and microorganisms break down yard waste and kitchen scraps to create a finished compost that you can use to enrich your garden or soil. 

With the hot composting method, you must carefully maintain a specific compost temperature and moisture level.

Another thing worth noting is the size of your compost pile or bin. If your compost pile is too small, it won’t heat up sufficiently. In other words, the bigger your compost bin or pile (within reason), the better. 

With hot composting, you can produce rich, usable compost within a month which is multiple times faster than traditional composting. You can also decompose a broader range of food scraps and organic waste while killing disease pathogens and harmful bacteria and reducing waste.  

Worried you might not have the room? Don’t worry; we’ve also a guide to urban composting for those with less garden space.

Benefits of hot composting  

The hot compost method comes with multiple benefits. The first among them is the time it takes. Hot compost is much faster, giving you a finished compost within a few weeks. It can also free up garden space if you don’t need to compost all the time, unlike a cold compost pile that could sit in your garden for a year. 

Also, hot composting sterilizes bacteria and disease pathogens. As your hot compost pile heats up, these pathogens, bacteria, and weeds are sterilized and become harmless. In addition, hot compost can drive away pests if done correctly. You can add a variety of food waste to your compost heap without worrying about pests, flies, and bad odors. 

Items to include in your hot compost pile or bin 

Food scraps ready for the compost pile.
Food scraps ready for the compost pile. Photo: Rebecca Murphey (CC BY 2.0)

So what should you compost and what shouldn’t you?

Just like regular compost, your hot composting pile should contain a combination of materials with enough nitrogen and carbon for the process. 

Typically, compost experts use materials that fall under two categories: green or nitrogen-rich material and brown or carbon-rich material.

Green materials are food or kitchen scraps, including vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, old bread, egg shells, grass clippings, and so on. On the other hand, brown materials include yard waste, shredded paper, wood chips, cardboard, etc. 

Here are materials that can be hot composted:  

  • Coffee grounds 
  • Cooked grains
  • Eggshells
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Beans and lentils 
  • Hair and fur 
  • Shredded paper, cardboard, and newspaper    
  • Dried grass clippings and houseplants           
  • Farm animal manure like chicken manure, horse manure, etc 
  • Small twigs and dead leaves

Related read: 14 Ways to Use Food Scraps & Reduce Food Waste.

Items to avoid in a hot compost pile or bin

Here are some materials you should avoid including in your hot compost bin or pile:

  • Dairy, meat, and bones
  • Dog or cat feces 
  • Weeds or diseased plants 
  • Chemicals and pesticides 
  • Synthetic materials like rubber and plastic

Related read: For a more detailed breakdown, click on to our dedicated article on what you can and can’t compost

Materials you need for your hot compost 

  • A compost bin or an enclosed compartment 
  • A compost thermometer 
  • A gardening shovel
  • A watering can or hose 
  • ⅓ nitrogen-rich material 
  • ⅔ carbon-rich material 

A step-by-step guide to hot composting 

Creating a hot compost may be intimidating at first. But with knowledge and some attention, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started. From choosing a compost location to harvesting and using your compost. Shall we? 

1. Choose a compost location 

The first thing to do is get a location for your compost. You can use a section in your backyard or garden. You want to ensure it is well-drained and shady. Position it near your house since you will often attend to your compost.

You must create a structured compost pile or use a compost bin. You can decide to make a compost container using fencing wires. Whatever you choose to use should be at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall to help capture moisture and heat. 

Once you’ve found the perfect location for your hot compost pile, you can begin to set up your compost heap.

Related read: DIY Compost Bin Ideas.

2. Add your green and brown materials 

Put your compost bin or container on clear ground and start from the bottom to build your hot pile. 

Layer your dry leaves, lawn clippings, branches, cardboard, and other high-carbon material at the bottom of your container to form your base, and add a little water. 

You want to add larger amounts of green material for a hot compost heap at once. However, remember that your compost materials should be ⅔ carbon material and ⅓ nitrogen material. 

3. Layer and measure properly 

You want to keep laying your compost with thin layers of brown and green compost materials keeping the carbon dioxide and nitrogen ratio in mind. Your green materials should include nuts and weed seeds, eggshells, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, chicken manure, grass clippings, and other organic materials, as listed above. 

After adding green nitrogen-rich material, layer the top with brown materials like wood chips, dry leaves, and other garden waste. Another tip is to add new materials to the center of your pile. The hot core will help your pile heat up faster while adding a fresh supply. 

Don’t compost dairy, meat, and other things that shouldn’t be in your hot compost pile. This is to avoid pests and bad odors. 

4. Get your compost to the hot stage 

The secret to getting your compost pile hot is to keep your compost pile aerated and moist. Ultimately, this leads to a faster breakdown of materials. With the top of your pile layered with brown materials, lightly add water until it looks like a wrung-out sponge. It shouldn’t be soaking wet to avoid excess moisture. 

Once you have watered your hot compost pile, allow it to marinate for about a week. At this time, it will accumulate microorganisms and bacteria naturally. 

5. Monitor temperature with a compost thermometer 

A few days (around two to three days) after your hot compost pile starts, use a compost thermometer to monitor its temperature. You want to aim for high temperatures that fall between at least 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, plant diseases and weeds are killed. However, while you want your pile hot, you don’t want temperatures to go too high, as this can kill the microorganisms breaking down your compost. 

When temperatures spiral up, turn the layers and air out your compost. Add more organic matter/ green material like food waste if the temperature isn't high enough. Ensure your compost maintains an ideal temperature for about a few days. 

6. Air out your compost 

To maintain warm temperatures, you want to keep turning the layers of your compost. Turn the layers and add more kitchen scraps and brown material. Add water to the new layers to make the whole pile moist. Ensure that your hot compost pile stays warm and moist to increase biodegradation. 

7. Harvest and use your compost     

Depending on how your compost has been maintained, you should be able to harvest your first compost in about a month to three months. You will notice a crumbly compost that is much smaller in size. If you want to have more compost, you will need to add more layers of organic materials (greens) and garden waste (browns) since they shrink in size. 

Your compost will be a dark brown material with no pieces of materials used for your hot composting pile. 

You can add your compost to your garden soil or container for plant growth or sprinkle it over your lawn. You can also use your finished compost for repotting your houseplants.

Related read: You might like our gardening and plant quotes for some green thumb inspiration. 

Six hot composting bins you can shop                    

The journey to getting high-quality compost starts with creating a compost pile. Hot compost bins can be handy here as they allow you to achieve faster results with less effort. They ensure that temperatures are well regulated, and oxygen continues flowing to maintain conditions needed for biodegradation.

Here are five hot compost bins you can shop for today:         

1. Compost Bin by GEOBIN

If you’re looking for a composting bin with a large capacity, this is one bin you will find valuable. This composter comes in high-quality material that doesn’t leach and is suitable for the outdoors. It expands up to four feet and comes with perforations for proper ventilation. 

It is easy to set up and ideal no matter your skill level. 

Whether you’re a beginner or a master gardener, this bin is easy to set up and use. You can shape the bin into a narrow or wide size. It is also sturdy enough to contain a large compost pile that you can hide away in your garden.

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2. Azaeahom Outdoor Compost Bin

Durable, sturdy, and well-ventilated are some things to love about this composting bin. Made with high-quality material, this bin is rainproof, making it great for outdoor use. Its durable PP material can retain heat and regulate moisture to produce compost as quickly as possible. 

You can fill up this 300L bin with all the organic matter and plant material you need to fertilize your garden soil. 

This bin also comes with twelve vents for proper air circulation, improving the process of composting. The vents also help to control moisture and prevent foul odors. On the top, the bin has a top cover to secure your compost, and at the side, a sliding door to shovel your compost. 

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3. Bokashi Organko 2 Kitchen Composter       

Need a mini-kitchen composter? This kitchen composter is the answer to converting kitchen straps and food waste into usable compost. Made with post-industrial recycled plastics, this bin comes in a durable, superior form. Its modern design makes it a beautiful addition to your kitchen counter. It has a carrying handle for easy movement, an external and internal container, and a lid to secure your compost. 

You don’t have to worry about rotten smells or flies as this kitchen composter securely ferments your food waste. This bin also has a drain tap to remove leachate liquid that you can use as a fertilizer for your garden plants. With this bin, you can reduce organic waste and use plastic bags for waste disposal.    

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4. 200 Litre GREY Aerobin Hot Composter With Leachate Hose Extension Kit

You will love this one if you’re looking for the perfect hot composter that allows you to compost without much supervision. 

Made in an attractive design, this 200L Aerobin Hot Composter comes in two boxes. One box is the main compartment, and the second holds an internal aeration lung, which helps break down food and garden waste without turning your compost. The internal aeration lung ensures that your bin traps heat and moisture. 

This composting bin also has a Leachate Kit to collect rich leachate nutrients. The bin is easy to assemble and has a modern design that will look great in your garden. 

Shop here 

5. HotBin Mini 100 Litre Compost Bin 

Made with recyclable material and an innovative design, this composting bin helps to insulate your compost pile. It provides a natural environment to biodegrade compost contents without needing an activator or accelerator. You can also set this bin up without any hassle. 

It is a mini-bin and will work best for smaller gardens and outdoor spaces. With this bin, you can compost most types of food waste free of flies and odors. You also won’t need a compost tumbler or turner like you do with the regular compost method. During the rainy season, thanks to its lid seal, you won’t have to worry about your compost piles ingesting water. It also has an internal base, drainage, and a drainage cap that collects the leachate liquid. 

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6. Green Johanna Hot Composter 

Made from 100% recycled plastic, this durable hot composter bin can turn your organic waste (including dairy, meat, and so on) and yard waste into compost within a few months. 

Thanks to its ventilation system, your compost can stay in the ideal conditions to break down waste. You can regulate the ventilation system with its twistable and secure lid. Thanks to its integrated base plate, you won’t have to worry about rodents and bad odors. 

This hot composter is suitable for a small household or garden. 

Shop here

Difference between hot composting and cold composting

The hot composting method involves controlling certain conditions to increase the decomposition rate. With the right conditions, microorganisms that need oxygen break down the waste, leading to pile heating. With high temperatures, compost piles break down faster. 

On the other hand, cold composting is a method requiring minimal involvement. The microorganisms that break down waste into cold compost do not require oxygen and ferment your waste to break it down. Unlike hot composting, the process is more carefree and doesn’t require specific conditions. 

Another thing that distinguishes hot composting from cold composting is the time it takes. While the hot composting method can get you compost within a month, the cold composting method is a slow process that can take as long as a year or two before it produces compost. 

The hot compost pile requires the right balance between greens and browns. Adding too many browns may not let your pile heat up, and adding too many greens can leave your compost pile with too much nitrogen, slowing down the breakdown process. You will need to collect them in advance and compost them at once. Your cold compost pile can go any way you want and at any size. 

As temperatures rise in your hot compost, weed seeds and disease-causing pathogens get killed. On the other hand, temperatures don’t go as high enough to kill weeds or disease-causing pathogens. 

Final thoughts on hot composting 

Hot composting is a sustainable, fast, and efficient way to turn your organic and yard waste into rich compost for your plants and garden soil. However, the process requires knowledge, effort, and careful attention to get it right. You can go through this article to learn all you need about hot composting.

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