Composting Tips

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Tips for better composting

1. Don’t throw away your kitchen scraps — add them to the compost pile. Kitchen scraps are typically high in nitrogen, which helps heat up the compost pile and speed up the composting process. Egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and scraps are all outstanding materials to add.

2. If you’re composting with a compost pile, bigger is often better. Heat builds up with a big pile. You don’t want to get much bigger than about 3 feet by 3 feet though.

3. Keep your compost aerated! If you are composting with a tumbling composter, make sure you turn it whenever you add new materials. If you are composting with a pile, or in a static (non-tumbling) compost bin, be sure to mix up the contents so that the pile gets oxygen and can break down effectively. Use a compost aerating tool like this one.

4. Don’t let the compost completely dry out. A compost pile needs moisture to keep the composting process active.

5. Don’t keep your compost too wet so that it gets soggy and starts to stink. Just as too dry is bad, too wet is also something that you should avoid.

6. Too much of any one material will slow down the composting process. If you have all leaves, all grass clippings or an overload of any other single type of material, it can throw off the balance of the pile. In general, it’s good to keep a mix of green and brown material (see main page for more details on this).

Looking for more tips and information on composting? Visit our main page and see everything else we have to say about the subject.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Swenningson November 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hi
I have a compost and it is pretty full. This is something new for me and not quite sure what to do now that it is pretty full. It is mostly filled with apples, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, grass clippings, etc.. now what do I do that it is full and does it continue to work through the cold winter months in North Dakota?
HELP!
Nancy

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steve November 22, 2010 at 5:04 pm

@Nancy Swenningson, Once your compost bin or tumbler is full you will want to stop adding to it. Make sure it’s as moist as a well rung out sponge and aerate it (mix it) every week or so.

Most people have a second composter they use once the first one is full. This allows you have a place to put your other material when the first composter is finishing up.

During the winter, if the compost has not finished try to cover it with a tarp, once it warms up, make sure it’s moist and aerated and it will start back up again.

HAPPY COMPOSTING!

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Stacy March 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I have started a compost bin in a small garbage can. It is largely kitchen waste but with some leaves and garden waste. I turn the soil every time I add new material and aerate it with a stick. Today I noticed that the bottom of the bin is quite wet. It has been there for about three months. Is this normal?

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lars March 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm

@Stacy

Does the garbage can have holes in the bottom, for drainage? If not, it should have.

The issue is that water will definitely collect and build up at the bottom of a trash can if there are no drainage holes. Especially if it rains. But even just the water content from your nitrogen rich food scraps will make their way toward the bottom and make a slimy, disgusting, anaerobic mess at the bottom if there’s no drainage.

If you *do* have drainage holes and it’s just a little wet and slimy at the bottom, that’s no big deal. It’s just the liquid coming down with gravity.

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Eileen April 18, 2011 at 3:47 am

I live in Montana and I have found that my compost slows down in the winter greatly. But freezing process helps in breaking down the compost and once it warms up and can be turned, it heats up rather quickly in the spring. I add kitchen scraps all winter.

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komang adi May 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm

nice information! it’s can be applicated in our daily life. in my university, there are many complete composting equipments . it is used in the microbiology lesson. the product of this composting, not only can fertilize plant and ground, but also can be sold. very applicated!

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Bill May 11, 2011 at 1:33 am

Now that it is spring, just continue to aerate the bin, and when it looks ready, use it. Then start the process, again!

PS You may want to use more than one bin.

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Bill May 11, 2011 at 1:38 am

Stacy, It is normal for moisture to accumulate at the bottom of the can, since there is no means for it to escape such a container. What I suggest is that you use two cans the same size, and instead of turning the mixture to aerate it, dump it back and forth between containers every week or so. This will redistribute the moisture, and add air at the same time.

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Bill May 11, 2011 at 1:42 am

PS Tracy, You could drill some small holes in the bottom of the cans to allow excess moisture to drain out. There will be a lot of nutrition in said moisture, so you may want to capture it and use it to water your plants.

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Steph May 13, 2011 at 1:52 am

I am looking to start a composting pile to be able to help my garden grow better. I have seen my neighbor just throw egg shells and other scraps in his garden does this work to the same effect as the compost pile? What is the best type of container to put the compost in that it will not stink or dry out? I do not have a lot of money so I need a cheap and easy way to do this. Thank you in advance!!!

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steve May 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

@Steph, A bin is not necessary to compost; just throwing the material in a pile will work. A composter will just help in several ways. One way it helps is that is contains the material so you can easily manage it. It also helps keep animals out. If you have access to pallets you can build one from them, or cinder blocks. Here is a link to one that works well if you have a lot of material. http://www.cleanairgardening.com/compost.html

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junior May 25, 2011 at 11:58 am

i want to know the step by step procedures in making a compost.

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steve May 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

@junior, Here are the basic step by step procedures to making compost. Add a layer of browns (leaves, dried grass, shredded newspaper, etc) make it 4 to 6 inches deep, saturate with water. Add a layer of greens (green grass clippings, vegetable scraps, lettuce, bananas, apple cores, etc , coffee grounds are great source of nitrogen (filter too, it will break down), make it roughly 1 inch deep. Repeat layer of browns and don’t forget add more water, then alternate browns and greens. If possible shred the items before adding to the bin.

Wait a week or two and dump the bin and add it back, this is called aerating or mixing. If using a tumbler style bin, just give it 5 to 10 flips. If using a bin with no bottom, simply pick them bin up leaving the material to remain. Set the compost bin next to the pile and add the material back. Repeat mixing every week until compost is finished; this can take as few as 4 weeks and as long as 6 to 8 months. If possible keep the bin in the sunniest spot in your yard.

Be sure to add water if it appears dry, you want it as wet as a rung out sponge. Since the water can drain out, don’t worry too much about over watering: however, you don’t want to waste it so don’t get carried away.

I suggest getting a compost thermometer so you can gauge how warm your compost is. If it reaches 120 to 130 degrees you are doing well.

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Luz June 1, 2011 at 1:17 am

I have small kitchen composter. What kind of food scraps I could put in it. I know I could put eggshells, fruits, coffee grounds etc. Do I need to mix it every now & then ? How long it take to be a complete compost? Thank you.

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Bob June 6, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Can ashes be added to compost? I’d heard it’s ok, but someone else told me NOT to add it. I am specifically talking about the ash left over from a charcoal grill. It certainly makes it look BLACKER, but will it harm my compost?

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steve June 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm

@Bob, Limited amounts is ok, check the Ph of the compost after its sits for a month. Minimal amounts should not raise the ph to much however to much may cause a problem.

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pong June 7, 2011 at 9:42 am

I want to make a compost and I want to dig in the ground, should I still stir the content of that? Is it okay if I just throw all the biodegradable since I live surrounded with trees? Thank you and God bless!

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steve June 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

Pong, Yes, digging a hole and adding your compost material will work, and no you don’t necessarily have to mix it. However it will break down quicker if you add some carbon (browns), aerate it (mix it) occasionally and make sure it’s moist. Keep in mind; you may attract rodents if it’s not enclosed in something. Here is a composter that works as you have described. http://www.cleanairgardening.com/lazmanfoodsc.html

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Rae July 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm

My compost pile has cockroaches living in it! I do NOT want to attract these pests because I don’t want them to come inside during the winter! It is a mixture of grass, leaves and kitchen products and the outside temp has been in the 100′s every day for over a month now. How do I get rid of the roaches?

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lars July 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm

@Rae

I suspect that even nuclear weapons wouldn’t completely eradicate cockroaches, so I don’t really know if there’s a solution other than keeping the bin further away from your house. If they already have a nice warm and damp spot where there’s plenty of food, then why would they bother to go inside the house anyway? Spraying the compost pile with any type of poison will be ineffective and not so great for the compost anyway.

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Marilyn September 15, 2011 at 5:08 am

I’ve been throwing my scraps into a com poster now for over a year, but have never aerated it! The compost at the bottom door looks good, but I’m afraid the rest might just be a gross mess (I know I put way more kitchen scraps than yard waste). if I add brown, mix, more brown, mix…can it be saved?

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steve September 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Marilyn,
Yes, it can be saved! I suggest you give it a good mix, using a shovel, pitch fork, etc and make sure it’s moist. If you want to add some browns this is a good time. Then let it go for a few weeks not adding any more browns or greens. After a few weeks check it and give it another good mix, adding water if it’s dry. It should be as moist as a well rung our sponge. In the mean time make another compost pile next to this one for your new browns and greens. Check it again after another few weeks and when everything has broken down, spread it on your lawn, garden, flower beds, or house plants.

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Yas September 28, 2011 at 8:04 am

Hey I’m new at this gardening stuff but I want to get in the habit of growing produce for myself. I’ve never made compost before and I was wondering if I could just pile kitchen scraps, dead leaves, paper etc in a bucket? If i cover the bucket with a lid so as to not attract pests…will the material still degrade?

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steve September 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

@Yas, Yes, that will work but it will need air holes in the bottom to drain the water out and air holes all round the top and sides to allow oxygen in. Without air and water the compost material will not break down. Make sure to keep it moist as a well rung out sponge and aerate (mix) it weekly. The fastest way to mix your unfinished compost is to dump it out and shovel it back in. Make sure a majority of your content is browns (carbons).

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Jean Johnson January 24, 2012 at 1:33 am

I live in the deep south & was wanting to make a compost pile but the climate is so damp I’m not sure it would work. Please reply if you have a good solution….Ms. Jean

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steve January 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm

@Jean Johnson, Composting in the Deep South should not be a problem, even with the climate. Your best bet is to use a compost bin instead of just making a compost pile. A composter made of plastic or wood will keep the material confined to a limited area and allow you to compost more quickly, and keep critters out. If you don’t want the added expense of buying one, you can always make one out of cinder blocks, pallets or chicken wire. Keep in mind buying the material to make one can be more costly at times then buying one already made.

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Sun Hee February 11, 2012 at 6:38 am

If I want to use the compost on my vegetable garden, can I still use a plastic composting bin? Won’t the toxins (BPA, etc.) from the plastic leach into the compost? Thanks.

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steve February 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm

@Sun Hee, No, it will not harm your garden.

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Katarina March 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I am starting organic garden. Please let me know if it is possible to make compost directly in the ground in soil and cover it well with plastic foil and wood….if so how long app takes compost to mature that way? What does do mature compost look like and how do I use it? Thank you

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steve March 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm

@Katarina, Yes, you can compost by allowing it to sit on or in the ground, eventually it will break down. As for the length of time, that is impossible to know, there are too many variables. In ideal conditions it would take a few months, but could take as long as a few years. Make sure you have a good source of both browns and greens and keep it as moist as a well rung out sponge. Aerate it every week or two, and check the temperature when you aerate (mix) it.

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kerry01 April 1, 2012 at 3:44 am

Great articles – I am just about ready for my first load of compost quite excited.

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michelle May 29, 2012 at 12:41 am

I want to dig a hole in the soil, add lots of kitchen waste, garden waste and brown waste, and then cover it up with soil is this ok?

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steve May 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm

michelle, Yes, digging a hole and adding kitchen scraps is ok, but you may attract animals. You may want to add something to keep the odor down, like bokashi which will also aid in breaking down the material.

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michelle June 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm

is it ok to cover up the waste with soil before its all broken down as soil?

At the moment we are using an old composting bin, but there is no flap at the botom of the bin, s it would be a case of scooping it all out when the whole bin as decomposed but there is an odour and there are lots of flies is this normal? And what if the flies are laying eggs is this ok?

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steve June 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm

michelle, By waste do you mean your compost that may not be completely finished? Yes, you can bury it. As for flies, it sounds like you may have too much kitchen scraps. Try to bury it with leaves and kitchen scrapes so that the kitchen scraps are deep within your pile. Typically an odor when composting means you’re not doing it right and I am guessing its due to too much kitchen waste.

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michelle June 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Thanks Steve,

Yes we do have ALOT of kitchen waste more than paper and garden waste! We dont have much garden waste at the moment but will adding more paper do e.g. newspaper, junk mail/letters-white paper, shredded though.

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Ron Scott July 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Can I mix all my old garden plants after they. Have stopped producing . Cabbage ,tomatoe, bean bush,pepper stocks zucchini stocks &leaves With all the rest of the material in my compost? Thanks.

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steve July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm

@Ron Scott, Yes you can mix old veggie garden plants in your compost bin, however its best if you break them down as much as possible first. Put them through a chipper or run them over with your electric mower.

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Jess March 6, 2014 at 7:35 pm

I want to start a compost with a garbage can this spring– what would be the easiest way of taking the ready to use compost out from the bottom of the can?

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