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If your composting efforts seem to be slower than you expected, then try out a compost starter to speed the process up.

Very few things excite me more in my garden than setting new plants in fresh homemade compost.

I know this makes me sound like a bit of a gardening nerd (or gardenerd as my kids call me).

But there is something very satisfying about knowing that all that organic food waste didn’t end up at a landfill and now will help grow more food and flowers.

One mistake you want to avoid is not giving your compost piles a kick start to speed up the process and give you much higher quality finished compost.

Here, I'll explore how to elevate your composting game using various compost starters. From homemade concoctions to store-bought accelerators, I'll guide you through choosing and using the right starter for your compost.

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a composting novice, these tips will help you create a more potent and productive compost in no time.

What Is a Compost Starter?

Ever wondered why your composting efforts sometimes seem slow? A compost starter might be the missing key.

This additive mixes with organic matter in your compost bin, kickstarting the natural decomposition process.

It's like an invitation to microbes, urging them to join the decomposing party quicker.

what is compost starter

But it's not just about speed. Introducing specific elements early on enhances your compost's quality. For instance, elements that boost nitrogen levels create richer soil. This means better growth for your plants.

Sure, worms and garden waste contribute to the process. However, they alone might not do the trick quickly. The compost pile needs a bit more diversity to thrive fully. So, what are these magical elements? Things like coffee grounds or crushed eggshells make a big difference.

Do You Need a Compost Starter?

This question often pops up among gardening enthusiasts. The short answer: It's not a must-have, but it sure can be beneficial. Let's explore why.

Composting is, at its heart, a natural process. Microorganisms break down organic matter, even without any added starters. So, if patience is your virtue, your compost heap will eventually turn into nutrient-rich soil. However, it's a slow dance with nature.

Compost starters step in to quicken this pace. They act as a catalyst, hastening the decomposition process. For those short on time or keen to see quicker results, a starter can be quite the boon. It’s akin to giving Mother Nature a gentle push. Imagine hitting the fast-forward button on a slow movie.

Consider your gardening ambitions. If speedy and efficient composting tops your list, a starter might just be what you need. It’s especially useful for beginners who are still mastering the perfect mix of green and brown compost materials.

However, let's set the record straight: a compost starter isn't a fix-all solution. It won't miraculously transform a poorly maintained compost pile. Proper balance and regular upkeep are still key.

So, while a compost starter isn't essential, it offers clear advantages. It speeds up the process and simplifies composting, particularly for those just starting out. The choice ultimately hinges on your composting approach and how swiftly you wish to see your garden thrive.

5 Best Compost Starters Available on the Market

Here are three products that I regularly rely on for more efficient composting.

1. Jobe's Organics Compost Starter

I like Jobe's Organics Compost Starter as it doesn’t just focus on microbes to break down organic waste.

You’ll also get a good dose of minerals, including nitrogen, to help balance your compost.

There’s also a bonus use for it in early spring. Mixing it directly with soil if you’re replanting some flowers to bigger pots can make it into a slow-releasing fertilizer to boost early season growth.

Oh, and it’s organic!

It might be important for some grow-your-own folks who want to avoid all those chemicals you find in standard fertilizers.


  • Includes a good amount of nitrogen for plant nutrition
  • Ideal for mixing with old soil for replanting flowers
  • Certified organic source of ingredients


  • It has a strong smell so might not be ideal for indoor plants

Why Do I Like It?

This is a certified organic product that comes in large enough bags to get multiple compost heaps started in an efficient way. 

2. All Seasons Bokashi Compost Starter & Microbial Inoculant

I got this recommendation from a friend who lives in an apartment and uses a sealed Bokashi bin. 

It’s a dried product, and I just sprinkle a few scoops of it onto any fresh pile.

The fine bran includes millions of dormant microbes.

Even though they are completely dry in the bag, I’ve found that they activate very quickly, which speeds up the composting a lot.

I also like that there is no smell from the Bokashi compost starter, so you don’t have to store it outside like many other products.


  • Activates fast decomposition
  • Comes in granular form with dried microbes
  • You only need a small amount


  • Larger bags would be great for activating multiple compost bins

Why Do I Like It?

It’s the perfect solution for an indoor compost bin that is ideal if you live in an apartment and want to create smell-free compost.

3. Convino Compost Starter

One thing I immediately noticed with this compost accelerator was the fresh smell it delivers for an indoor compost bin.

It contains essential lemon oils and they limit any bad odor rising in your home. 

At the same time, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use it for an outdoor composter.

If you have a small backyard, then this could be a great way to make sure you don’t have lingering smells.

Contains a good selection of dormant microbes to give your organic waste a kick start.


  • Helps to remove bad smells
  •  A good selection of dormant microbes
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor composting bins


  • The pack is quite small so you might need to stock up

Why Do I Like It?

Unlike other compost starters, this one contains lemon oil to eliminate bad smells, which makes it ideal for indoor composters.

4. Biomaster Compost-It Compost Accelerator/Starter

If you prefer a liquid accelerator, then Compost-It is the one I’ve had the best results with.

Spraying it onto a pile does tend to spread out the micro-organisms better.

The included minerals and microbes also don’t mess with the worms, which is a problem I’ve had with some other accelerators.

If you don’t treat the worms well, then they’ll quickly slow down the progress and possibly die off as well.

And you’ll be able to keep your garden organic, as this accelerator doesn’t use any synthetic chemicals at all.


  • Comes in liquid form
  • Carefully selected ingredients
  • Certified organic option 


  • Currently not available in larger bottles to keep multiple compost bins going at the same time

Why Do I Like It?

Sometimes it can be easier to spray a compost starter into a rotating bin to spread out the microbes better. 

5. Green Pig 60 Accelerator

This Green Pig compost accelerator is another great option that you mix with water.

Each individual packet mixes easily with two gallons of water that you sprinkle on your compost heap. 

It will activate up to nine cubic feet which is great for people with a small to medium size garden. 

I also noticed that it seems to contain bad smells more when I tested it in a closed rotating compost bin.

That’s probably due to a great combination of many different microbes. 


  • Easy to mix compost starter
  • Comes in small pre-measured packets 
  • Seems to contain bad smells


  • It’s not suitable for activating large piles of compost

Why Do I Like It?

It comes in pre-measured packets that you just need to drip onto a watering can and then sprinkle over your compost pile.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Compost Starter

Before choosing a compost accelerator, there are essential factors to consider. This decision can significantly impact the efficiency and quality of your compost.

Organic Vs Non-Organic

This is crucial, especially for organic gardeners.

Always check the ingredients of a compost starter. You want to avoid synthetic chemicals, as they might not break down and could compromise the organic nature of your compost.

Size Of The Compost Heap

The scale of your composting efforts matters. Those with larger gardens and multiple heaps need more than a standard-sized compost starter.

Typical products cater to small bins for kitchen waste. But adding garden waste increases the heap size, necessitating a larger amount of accelerator.

Consider The pH

Managing pH levels is vital for specific plant needs. I use two rotating compost bins to target different pH requirements.

For acid-loving plants like blueberries, I add organic iron sulfur to lower the pH.

Conversely, if your plants prefer a higher pH, choose a compost starter that introduces lime for alkaline conditions.

What Are Good Compost Starters? 

When starting a fresh compost pile, there are four key elements I always rely on for the best results.

1. Nitrogen

Maintaining the right balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials is crucial.

Sometimes, it's challenging to add enough green waste, like kitchen scraps or grass clippings, which are vital for providing nitrogen.

Organic options like soy or alfalfa meal are great, but chicken manure often yields the best results when sprinkled into your compost bin.

2. Oxygen

Both worms and microorganisms need ample water and oxygen.

A lack of oxygen can halt the composting process, leading to un-decomposed materials.

In bin composting, regularly rotating the bin helps aerate it.

For larger piles, constructing a base from heavy sticks ensures better airflow.

3. Microorganisms

While worms start the process, microorganisms play a critical role in breaking down organic matter.

These microbes naturally develop as waste begins to rot, but adding them via an activator kit can speed up the process.

Available at most garden centers, these kits should be evenly distributed in layers throughout the pile.

4. Shredders

Smaller waste pieces decompose faster, so chopping up your compost material is beneficial.

For larger piles, consider investing in a mechanical shredder, available at garden centers.

The increased surface area from finely shredded material drastically speeds up decomposition.

What Should You Not Use as a Compost Starter?

When it comes to supercharging your compost, it's just as important to know what not to add as a starter. Here are a couple of things to avoid:

1. Lime

Often used in agriculture to increase soil pH, lime might seem like a good addition to compost.

However, the initial acidity in a compost pile is natural and necessary. It helps break down organic materials and eliminates harmful bacteria and pathogens.

If you're worried about the acidity, it's better to check the pH and nitrogen levels at the end of the composting process.

Only if the pH is below 5 should you consider adding lime, and that's right before using the compost for planting.

2. Wood Ash

While it's a good nutrient source for soil, especially in counteracting acidity, wood ash isn't ideal for a compost pile. Its nutrients can easily wash away without binding to the decomposing material.

Instead of adding it to your compost, it's more beneficial to mix wood ash into your soil just before planting.

How Do Compost Starters Work?

Compost starters enhance the composting process by adding a blend of minerals, organic material, and beneficial microbes. Normally, these elements take weeks or even months to accumulate naturally. However, using a homemade or store-bought compost starter can significantly speed up this process.

Let’s delve deeper.

Introducing Microbes

Kitchen scraps naturally attract fungi and other microbes, but this is a slow affair. The initial signs of mold take time to dominate the food waste.

Compost accelerators step in here, introducing a large number of dormant microbes. This boosts the initial decomposition stage significantly.

Providing Nutrients

Next, compost boosters come into play. They often include nutrients that aid bacteria and fungi in spreading and multiplying faster.

Under ideal conditions, these nutrient-rich additions can shave weeks off the composting timeline.

Enriching the Compost

Many compost starter products also contain nitrogen-rich organic materials. This is crucial when the compost is eventually used for planting.

The added nitrogen markedly improves conditions for seedlings and mature plants. As a result, you get more bountiful crops and vibrant flowers.

How Do Compost Starters Work

Tips To Speed Up Your Compost

1. Keep Rotating The Compost

Rotating barrel for compost

This is particularly important in the early stages when the microbes could concentrate in small pockets.

Mixing up the materials will spread out the microbes and deliver some fresh oxygen to your compost as well.

2. Avoid Huge Piles

Avoid huge pile of compost

If you have a large family and garden, your composter can quickly fill up with a lot of organic matter.

However, keeping multiple smaller compost piles of about a 3-foot cube can bring the core temperature up quicker for faster decomposition.

3. Balance Your Greens And Browns

You want to make sure that you don’t just end up with food waste and fresh garden clippings, as this will give you the wrong balance of nitrogen and carbon-rich products.

Make sure you regularly sprinkle dried leaves, sawdust, and even shredded paper to your compost to add more carbon.

4. Don’t Forget To Water The Pile

water the compost

I tend to sprinkle some water on my pile every few days to keep it moist.

It’s essential not to make it saturated, So, you need to adjust the amount of water between summer and winter.

As easy as it gets!

5. Use An Insulated Bin Composter

Insulated compost bin

Worms and microbes love some heat, and they will thrive in warm conditions.

But in the colder months of the year, your pile's core can get a bit cooler, which would slow down the process. To prevent that, use an insulated bin composter. The one that I use is the popular Worm Factory 360.

6. Remember Those Worms

Uncle Jim's Worm Mix

Head to your local fishing and tackle store regularly to introduce more worms to your pile.

I myself get mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

This might be especially important if you’ve had an unusually cold spell of weather when worms can quickly die.

How Do You Make a DIY Compost Starter?

If you like doing as much as you can with some materials you already have at home, then this is what you need to do.

1. Collect The Materials

Here’s a shortlist of what you’ll need:





Sealable Container

1 Gallon



1 Bottle



1/2 Cup


Non-Diet Soda

1 Can

Components Of A DIY Compost Starter

2. Mix It All Up

There’s no real skill involved in this step. Just add the beer, soda, and ammonia products into the container and top it up with water.

You won’t need all of it in one go, which is why I suggest using a sealable container.

3. Sprinkle The Mix

Every few days, you’ll want to add some of this solution, but avoid just dumping it in one place. Use a watering can with a sprinkler head instead.

The idea behind the mix is that the yeast from the beer will digest some brown materials. The ammonia is rich in nitrogen, and the sugar from the soda will help feed the bacteria and grow the colonies.

If that sounds too messy, then let me show you some products I depend on.


What can I use as compost starter?

You can use a variety of materials as a compost starter, such as well-rotted manure, garden soil, finished compost, or specially formulated compost accelerator products. Kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells also work well to kickstart the composting process.

What should I start my compost with?

Start your compost with a balanced mix of 'greens' (kitchen scraps, grass clippings) and 'browns' (dry leaves, straw, cardboard). Adding garden soil or finished compost can introduce beneficial microbes. Ensure a balance for effective decomposition, aiming for roughly equal parts green and brown materials by volume.

Do you really need a compost starter?

A compost starter isn't essential, but it can be helpful, especially for beginners. It speeds up the decomposition process by introducing beneficial microbes and nutrients. If you're patient and maintain a good balance of materials, your compost will naturally develop these elements over time.

What is a good compost activator?

A good compost activator can be homemade, like well-rotted manure or garden soil, or commercially available starters rich in microbes and nutrients. Kitchen scraps, such as coffee grounds and fruit peels, are also effective, introducing essential elements to stimulate the composting process efficiently.

How do you kickstart compost?

To kickstart compost, balance 'green' materials (like kitchen scraps and grass clippings) with 'brown' materials (such as dry leaves and cardboard). Introduce a compost starter or activator, like well-rotted manure or garden soil, to supply beneficial microbes. Regularly turn the pile to aerate and facilitate decomposition.


In conclusion, supercharging your compost with a compost starter is a straightforward and effective way to enhance your composting efforts.

By introducing a balanced mix of greens and browns, and adding a starter such as well-rotted manure, garden soil, or a commercially available compost accelerator, you can significantly speed up the decomposition process.

This not only produces nutrient-rich compost more quickly but also makes the process more efficient and manageable, especially for beginners. Remember to regularly turn your compost to ensure adequate aeration. Embracing these methods will lead to healthier, more productive soil, ultimately benefiting your entire garden.

Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen's passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.

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