Compost Starter Recipe (DIY Secret Formula!)

compost starter recipe

Truth be told, all organic material will eventually break down on its own. Still, when you’re impatient (yes, you know who you are…), the fastest way to give your precious pile a kickstart is to add a compost accelerator. 

Adding a compost starter gives the good bacteria in the pile a supercharge, so they multiply rapidly. And if you want to avoid forking out for a commercial product, there are a few very effective starter recipes!

Making a homemade compost starter is easy, and you will be amazed at the difference a few simple ingredients can make in the decomposition process. 

Homemade Compost Starter Recipe

Compost starters must contain the following essential components: beneficial bacteria, some sugar to feed the bacteria and nitrogen. Suitable sugars can include regular soda or molasses. Chicken manure, ammonia, coffee grounds, urine, and beer are good nitrogen sources for compost starters.

Compost starters are also often called “accelerators.” No matter how large your precious pile of leaves, garden waste, and kitchen scraps has become, an effective homemade booster that will get things cooking can be brewed at home using a 5-gallon bucket. 

Like all great chefs, everyone has particular recipes they swear by. Dedicated (some would call us obsessive!) composters are the same, and most of us have developed our own almost magical homemade compost accelerator formulas.

The great thing about composting and creating your own accelerator to speed things up is that there is no one exact recipe that you need to follow. Making an effective starter can feel a lot like a recreation of the classic tale of George’s Marvelous Medicine! 

But if you know what fundamental elements must be included in a compost starter, nothing can hold you back 🙂

What is in Compost Starters

Before we kick off into the nitty-gritty and I share my favorite compost starter recipe, let’s take a closer look at the three turbo-charging compost essentials that must be included: 

ElementBeneficial BacteriaA SugarNitrogen
Ingredients that can be used in the compost starter recipeFind a good source of beneficial bacteria. This can be from your existing compost or quality garden soil.Molasses, a can of non-diet soda, or sugar.Farm animal manure, especially chicken, coffee grounds, beer, urine, dirty aquarium water, green lawn clippings, ammonia, yeast.
The purpose of the ingredient in the mixtureA compost starter recipe needs a supply of good bacteria to kick off the process. The sugar in the starter acts as food for the beneficial bacteria in the solution. A building block for the bacteria within the compost starter. 

Creating an effective starter requires a combination of these three elements in a suitable ratio. Adding the magic formula to your pile will shift decomposition into high gear, and soon, the recognizable organic material will start changing into dark, rich, loamy soil food. 

How To Make Compost Starter? 

We all know the frustrating feeling of wanting to bake a recipe only to find we are short of one key ingredient. That never needs to be a challenge when creating a compost starter if you know how to mix and match elements. 

Even better, you only need a small amount to give your compost pile the burst of healthy bacteria that it needs to decompose the pile at high speed. Compost starter is definitely a quality-over-quantity compost concoction! In fact, some accelerators work so efficiently that you need to set a reminder to keep turning the pile to avoid hot spots in concentrated areas. 

So, without further ado, let me reveal my favorite compost starter recipes that you can try: 

Equipment required: 

  • A 5-gallon bucket

Compost Starter Ingredients:

  • Warm water
  • 1 can of flat, warm beer
  • 1 can of soda (not sugar-free)
  • ½ cup of ammonia (my magic substitution ingredient when I can get it is dirty fish tank water from my neighbor’s aquarium – if you can get your hands on some of this liquid gold for composters, add at least one cup full to your starter recipe 


Step 1: Fill the bucket with 1 gallon of warm water.

Step 2: Add all the start mix ingredients and stir them around to ensure everything is thoroughly blended. 

Step 3: Carefully add your compost starter recipe to selected spots in your pile. It is essential that while you are adding, you cover and mix your breakdown formula with a couple of shovels of garden soil or established compost. The bacteria in the good soil will jump for joy when they make contact with your starter mixture and immediately start growing and multiplying rapidly. 

Step 4: Use a garden fork to gently agitate the areas where the starter and soil have been added to the pile. This will help to distribute the mixture and also aerate the pile. 

Top tip: Remember that even though you have added this decomposition super fuel to your compost pile, the bacteria doing the work still require adequate moisture and oxygen to keep going. Regularly wetting and turning the compost is essential to keep the process going. 

What Is a Natural Compost Starter?

Creating healthy compost is about balance. There are an astonishing number of compost activators, accelerators, starters, and boosters available commercially that can make the process seem complicated. These are not unnecessary to purchase if you can source natural compost activators, and they are mostly available at no charge. 

Natural compost starters usually include nitrogen-rich materials that should create instant heat in your pile. This may sound like a good thing, but honestly, you only need to add additional activators if the compost contains an abundance of ‘brown material.’ 

Some natural compost activators include: 

  • green grass clippings, 
  • bloodmeal, 
  • Rabbit pellets (made with alfalfa) 
  • Farm animal manure (never use pet manure from cats or dogs)
  • Urine (some people are okay with the idea, others are not)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Nitrogen-rich plants like comfrey and nettles

The ratio between brown and green material (which contains the natural activators) should be around 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns. There must be sufficient carbon-rich brown ingredients, like dry leaves, wood chips, and newspapers, for the nitrogen-rich activators to have enough material to break down. 

So, before pouring gallons of natural compost activators onto your compost pile, check for enough brown material in the mix to activate. If not, you could end up with a very smelly mess. 

Does Beer Make A Good Compost Accelerator? 

using beer as a compost accelerator

While everyone agrees beer containing yeast is an excellent ingredient for a compost starter, there is a lot of mixed opinion about how much yeast is included in mass-produced beer. 

Beer is one of those controversial compost accelerator ingredients that some gardeners swear by, and others prefer to drink the beer themselves and use something else.

I am a believer in the powers of beer because even if there are only trace amounts of yeast, I have always had excellent results adding it to my compost starter mix. Being able to open a can of beer and a can of soda also makes the process of ‘baking’ the starter recipe a lot easier than needing to measure individual ingredients out.  

And yes… You can have a sip 🙂

Yeast Compost Starters

adding yeast as a compost starter

Yeast compost starters have become tremendously popular. This is mainly because many gardeners have realized that a humble can of their favorite beer, blended with sugar and a touch of ammonia, can shape-shift their bulky compost pile into a delicious blend of soft plant nourishment at record speed. 

So-called drunk composting has really caught on. However, you don’t have to be a beer drinker to enjoy the benefits of using yeast in your compost starter recipe. A yeast cube or packet of Brewer’s yeast will work perfectly as a compost supercharging ingredient – remember that it must be teamed up with sugar to be effective. 

What Is The Fastest Compost Accelerator?

The fastest compost accelerator is one you are willing to make, apply, and maintain while on the pile. If I must single out two magic compost accelerators that I have found to speed up the process, it must be: 

  • green grass clippings 
  • dirty fish tank water

Add either of these to a plentiful supply of brown carbon materials, keep the pile moist, and turn it regularly to add oxygen. Before you know it, your garden will be reaping the rewards. 

Regardless of which compost accelerator mixture or supercharge formula you add, unless you keep turning the heap and adding moisture when required, starters will all be limited in their effectiveness. 

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