4 Items You Need to Break Down for Fast Compost

If you want to make a pile of black gold quickly, break down these compostable items before you throw them in the compost bin.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Compost bins are a great way to create quality, organic soil perfect for gardening. By placing organic items inside and letting them naturally deteriorate into soil, you are turning waste and garbage into a usable, valuable product—what could be better than that? Of course, you can’t throw just anything and everything into your compost bin and expect it to quickly deteriorate. Some items will need to be broken down manually first in order to speed up their decomposition. Here’s what you need to know for fast composting.

There are several general rules that aid in fast composting. Adding an equal amount of “green” or fresh items like grass clippings with “brown” or dried items like dead leaves, which provide both nitrogen and carbon to the microorganisms that are doing the decomposing. (See a basic guide to brown and green items in the infographic below.) It can also speed things up if you turn the compost pile inside out every few weeks so that the outer edges of the pile get some time in the middle. But even when following these rules, there are still some items that need a little more attention before you toss them into your compost bin.

brown green compost
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Oak Leaves

Leaves of all sorts are a great material to add to your compost bin, though they might need a bit of preparation for fast composting. In general, dried leaves should be shredded before you add them to your compost bin, and this goes double for oak leaves. Because they contain tannin, they resist decomposition much better than other types of leaves; shredding them thoroughly can help speed up the process.

Fruit & Vegetable Remains

Because of their size, produce scraps such as apple cores, peach pits and corn husks can be slow to break down, so chopping them up into small pieces will help aid fast composting. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends burying fruit and vegetable scraps beneath 10 inches of compost for better results. If you have a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps, you can consider adding worms to your compost bin—they’re great at decomposing food products!—or create a special worm composting bin specifically for fruit and vegetables.

Woody Branches & Twigs

Not surprisingly, woody branches or twigs take some time to decompose. Anyone who has ever left a fallen tree to rot knows that the process can take years, even decades. And while you won’t add entire trees to your compost bin, any small branches you might add will need some extra attention in order to accommodate fast composting. Rather than adding them to your bin in one piece, be sure to chop and saw them up into lots of small pieces. In addition, try not to add any large-diameter branches to your compost bin. Small twigs are fine, but anything thicker than a few tenths of an inch or so might take too long to decompose.


Although most animal products, such as meat or dairy, should generally be excluded from compost bins, eggshells are one exception. They can be a valuable source of calcium, but are very slow to decompose, sometimes remaining visible even after the rest of the items in the bin have turned to compost. To help them decompose better, let them dry for several days and then crush them thoroughly into small pieces, which are better-suited to rapid decomposition.

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By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll soon be well on your way to creating top-quality compost in rapid fashion.

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