It’s all about compost

Bor Borren permaculture

With the traditional way of making compost (the cold method), it can take a year before you see any results. But, there is also a faster way: the Berkley-method (warm method). In 18 months you will have one cubic meter of compost. A big advantage of this method, is that weeds, germs and insects are eliminated. But, it does require much effort and the correct composition.

When you want the compost heap to reach the right temperature of circa 60 degrees, you will need at least a size of one cubic meter. You can use a container of 1x1x1 meter, or a heap of 1,5 meters high.

What do you need?

  • 1/3 carbon materials: this is often dry, ‘brown’ garden waste, like sawdust, cardboard, dried leaves, straw, branches and other woody or fibrous material. It is important that the materials are not too big, so shred the branches first.
  • 1/3 nitrogen materials: this is often damp, ‘green’ waste, like green garden waste, grass, vegetables and fruit waste.
  • 1/3 manure of animals

With these materials you can create a ratio of C:N (carbon : nitrogen) of approximately 25-30:1. This proportion makes sure that the bacteria that take care of the compost heap, are reproducing and duplicating themselves. Also, with this proportion the size of the compost heap stays the same. This is in contrast to the cold method, where the heap shrinks. A low ratio provides a fast rotting process due to the high level of the nitrogen, whereas a high ratio provides a slow rotting process.

An indication list of C:N ratios

Brown waste = high level of carbon C: N Green waste = high level of nitrogen C: N
Woodchips 400:1 Garden waste 30:1
Shredded cardboard 350:1 Weeds 30:1
Sawdust 325:1 Green wood 25:1
Shredded newspaper 175:1 Hay 25:1
Pine needles 80:1 Vegetable waste 25:1
Straw 75:1 Clover 23:1
Branches 60:1 Coffee grounds 20:1
Fruit waste 35:1 Food waste 20:1
Shells 35:1 Grass residues 20:1
Ash from wood 25:1 Seaweed 19:1
Horse manure 18:1
Cow manure 16:1
Chicken manure 12:1
Fish 07:1
Urine 01:1


When you have collected all the materials, the process can begin. Make sure you have diversity in your ingredients. So, don’t only use woodchips or leaves as brown material, but use various plants, leaves, branches etc. The more ingredients, the better! Also, you can use anything that used to live, for example textile, wool, bones or leather.

Day to day plan

Day 1: Build the heap in layers of brown material, green material and manure. The big trick is to put a dead animal in the middle of the heap. This will activate the process quickly. Also, during the building, you need to sprinkle the heap with water until it drips down from the bottom.

Day 4: Now it’s time to turn the heap around:what’s outside, goes inside and what’s inside, goes outside. Also, check how damp the heap is. When you take a handful of compost and then squeeze it, your hand should become damp. When the water is dripping from your hand, it means it’s too wet. You can fix this by putting sticks under the heap so the water can runoff. Another option is to put a pipe with holes in the heap. When the compost is too dry, you can sprinkle it with water again.

Day 6 and day 8: Turn the heap around again. At this moment, the temperature will rise to its max.

Point for attention

  • When you don’t have a dead animal available, you can use old compost, fresh weeds or urine to active the heap.
  • Ask a fish shop for fish waste, they usually throw this away. 
  • Other stimulators for the compost heap are molasses (unfortunately, this is hard to get in big packages in the Netherlands), a bucket of worm juice from a bin with worms, blood, phosical or stone dust.
  • It is important to not put the heap completely in the sun. Use cardboard or tarpaulin to protect it from the sun and the rain. In this way, you prevent dehydration and too much moist. With cold weather, it’s important to protect the heap from cooling down. When you don’t do this, the outside will be too cold while the inside gets too warm. 
  • Make two containers: one for the filling and one for the turning. When you don’t use a container, you can create an extra space next to the heap that’s at least 1,5×1,5 metres big. 
  • You can also make a heap by making a circle out of thick mesh (with a length of 4 metres, a height of 1,5 metres and holes of circa 5×7 centimetres) with an overlap of 30 centimetres. When you want to turn the heap around, you loosen the mesh and place it next to the compost.

Good luck!

Source: Geoff Lawton PDC, Deep Green Permaculture


Do you want advice about compost or would you like a permaculture design? You can always contact me!