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FAQs about Composting

What exactly is composting?

Composting is the natural process of breaking down and recycling organic materials. When food scraps, leaves, and lawn clippings decompose together, the resulting mixture is nutrient-rich and can be added to many types of gardens.

Do I need a bin to compost or can I just pile it?

Many have found success with composting right in the ground, but there are added risks that come with not protecting decomposing materials. The biggest issue is usually unwanted intruders like rats nesting in the pile and eating your precious compost.

It’s best to use a composting bin and place it on top of a surface where animals can’t burrow under it. Compost usually benefits from being in an area with partial sun access, which will heat the materials and speed up decomposing without drying it out from too much sun.

There's a huge variety of composting bins for all types of properties. There's a huge variety of composting bins for all types of properties.

What can I put in the compost pile?

The key to making healthy compost is to vary the ingredients added and use carbon-rich items. Food scraps like fruit and veggie trimmings, eggshells, and coffee grounds are all excellent items to compost. Other household materials like black and white newspaper and shredded paper can also be added for extra nutrients.

When starting the compost pile, balance “green” and “brown” materials to create a healthy environment for decomposition. Greens can include grass clippings or leafy plants and brown materials are usually dead leaves or small twigs.

What shouldn’t I put in the compost pile?

There are way more items that shouldn’t be composted than should be! So it’s important to think twice before throwing any scraps into the pile. These materials are best to avoid:

  • Weeds and diseased plants because they can easily spread.
  • Grass clippings that have been treated with pesticides because they can harm plant growth.
  • Fats and oils including dairy, meat, fish, and bones because they break down very slowly and attract pests.
  • Pet waste because it can contain parasites or other harmful organisms. Manure from farm animals can be a great addition, but only if the animals weren’t fed any crops treated with herbicides.
  • Glossy magazines and colored paper because most use metal-based inks that can bleed into the compost.
To keep your compost clean and healthy, always be mindful of what you put in the pile! To keep your compost clean and healthy, always be mindful of what you put in the pile!

How long does compost take to make?

The amount of time needed to compost largely depends on your process, ingredients, and intended use. Many composted materials can be used as mulch within a few weeks, but if you’re hoping to plant sensitive seedlings in the compost, it can take months to reach the needed germination stability.

Generally speaking, it takes an average of 1-2 months to produce usable compost if you turn it regularly. It’s a good idea to let the compost cure for a few months after, when breakdown continues to happen slowly and produce a chemically stable material.

You’ll know the compost is finished when it stops heating up (even when mixing) and the contents are unrecognizable. It will more closely resemble an organic soil and have an earthy smell.

Are there ways to speed up the composting time?

Before putting items in the compost pile, chop them up into smaller pieces if possible. Leaves and grass clippings can be run over with the mower to mulch them before being thrown into the pile.

Mixing your composting materials is the best way to break them down quicker. It’s not necessary to turn the composting materials, but it will always take longer without doing so. Adding air and moisture to the pile is great for decomposing.

Standing compost containers are more ergonomic and make mixing easier. Standing compost containers are more ergonomic and make mixing easier. 

What is compost best used for?

Compost is a fantastic way to boost just about any type of garden or plant, as it provides needed nutrients in an organic way. Use it as mulch, create a potting soil mixture, add it to raised beds, or even spread it on a new lawn. There are tons of options!

How do I avoid flies?

Bugs are attracted to rotting food, so it’s best to mix and bury any food scraps deep within the composting materials or add a layer of leaves on top. Don’t worry, though, if you find worms in your compost pile! They are a healthy addition to any organic materials.

What does vermicomposting mean?

Vermicomposting is a method of creating compost using worms. Its name implies that the process is like traditional composting, but only the product, not the process, is similar. Vermicomposting needs much cooler temperatures, so these systems are often set up inside (in a basement or garage) to better control the heat levels. The worms handle any necessary compost “turning”, which reduces manual effort, but require greater climate and environmental control to keep the worms healthy.