Hot Composting - without turning the heap!

Another article from Andy Davenport on the joys and secrets of Quick Return Composting

There are many different methods of composting but generally they can be divided into two main types – hot composting and cold composting.

Cold composting is very popular because it doesn’t take much work or preparation of materials before they are added to the heap and is quite a relaxed approach, the drawback is that the results can be a bit hit or miss and it can take a quite a while – up to a couple of years which is obviously a long time to wait. This can also mean having lots of compost heaps everywhere or compost bins tied up for long periods whilst waiting for compost to mature.

The great thing about hot composting is that it can bring results much more quickly – in a matter of weeks or months rather than years! The catch is that with most hot composting techniques they usually require the arduous task of turning the heap in order to get sufficient aeration to the organisms to enable thorough breakdown of the waste materials. Of course, you could go out and spend a lot of money on a compost tumbler – but these have the drawback that they do not allow beneficial creatures or organisms to enter the heap once temperatures have dropped. If they are in the compost bin when it’s hot, where temperatures can reach up to 70oC, then they will be killed off. When the Quick Return (QR) method was invented by Maye E Bruce back in the 1930’s, she discovered that the herbal activator that the method uses actually removes the requirement to turn the compost. This can save a dramatic amount of work given that a compost heap may normally have to be turned at least 3 times to get good compost. For large heaps with up to a tonne of material that’s a lot of work! It also saves on having extra enclosures or space available to turn the compost into.

The QR method does take a little extra care and time to construct but this does not increase the build time by a massive amount. The heap has to be built in layers of alternating materials, greens alternated with browns, coarse alternated with soft etc. These layers should be built quite firmly with the material placed in by hand, working around the bin from the outside towards the centre. The QR herbal activator solution is sprinkled into the heap (a bit like putting vinegar on your chips!) prior to the addition of each layer. A careful and gentle treading after a few layers allows the activator to permeate through the waste material, spreading through the pile with the moist warm heat created when the bacteria start to breakdown nitrogen. Keeping the heap covered with some sacking or old carpet will keep this valuable heat within the compost. A rainproof lid or sheet on top of the bin is also essential or rain may seep in which will cause cooling off and will mean rebuilding the heap. ‘It is after all just common sense’ as Miss Bruce used to say!

A careful and gentle treading after a few layers allows the activator to permeate through the waste material

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Blogger Leontina said...

Can I only get this info on Twitter

March 24, 2010 at 7:34 PM  
Anonymous allotments4you said...

sounds quite technical...I only started my allotment a couple of years ago and then my compost heap one year ago....I do have a carpet I pu over the top to help it break down but i am a bit dubious about adding other stuff too it...I would like it to be organic....eventually!

March 25, 2010 at 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use urine as an activator, it works quite well for me but don't take my word for it - check it out.
It's free and contains a lot of nitrogen.

March 25, 2010 at 1:28 AM  
Blogger QR said...

Dear Leontina,

There is a quite a bit of info available about QR on my website and the best book on the subject written by its inventor Maye E Bruce, is available as a download from
it's also a very entertaining read!

Dear Allotments4you,

Yes the method does require a bit of thought and attention but this comes naturally after building a couple of heaps. There is virtually nothing to lose in trying the method and everything to gain - the activator can be purchased for less than a couple of pounds. I wish you all the best with your composting and your allotment.

Dear Anonymous,

I am all for urine in the compost heap! I agree it is a great activator on its own and when used in conjunction with QR can have great results and benefits too. The greater the range of fresh and/or fertile ingredients that are put in the compost heap then the better the compost will turn out.

March 25, 2010 at 2:02 PM  

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