Tips & Tricks

Composting Tips

Composting Advice1. Chop yard and garden waste into smaller pieces (a leaf shredder works great!) to speed the decomposition process.

2. By weight (not volume), a good rule of thumb is to add roughly equal amounts of “green” and “brown” material. This is known as the 50/50 rule and will help to balance the C:N ratio to the most efficient level.

3. Finished compost can be used to build soil anytime of year without fear of burning plants or polluting water. In the garden, there is no such thing as too much compost.

4. Lawn clippings and food scraps are about 80% water and need to be mixed with straw, woody waste or cardboard to keep your pile from becoming a slimy mess.

5. Keep your pile or bin in a sunny location. The added heat will help decompose the contents faster.

6. If your pile stinks chances are it has a large amount of anaerobic microbes. Aerate or mix the contents to improve air circulation and encourage the less smelly aerobic microbes.

7. A good potting mix contains equal parts of compost, sand or perlite, and garden topsoil. Compost is often too heavy to be used alone in containers.

8. Exposed piles and bins can become water logged in rainy weather and dried out in hot climates. An enclosed tumbler or covered bin will protect the contents and help with moisture control.

9. Grab a handful of compost from the center of your pile and squeeze. If you get a few drops of water, that’s perfect.

10. Compost tea can be used in place of liquid fertilizers for your flowers, herb, vegetables and practically anything else that grows.

11. Relax! Even if you do everything wrong, you will eventually make great compost.

12. The ideal water content for hot composting is 50 to 60% by weight, which is comparable to the dampness of a wrung-out sponge. Too much water and your pile will become starved for oxygen.

13. A pile that is too wet will be slow and smelly. A pile that is too dry will not support the necessary microbes. In general, keep the contents moist, but not sopping wet.

14. The ideal temperature range for a worm bin is between 55-77°F. Relatively compact, they can be kept in a basement or insulated garage – even under the kitchen sink!

15. The perfect pile needs the right mix of ingredients, heat, sufficient water (but not too much) and oxygen.

16. The more “green” materials you add to the pile the less water you’ll need.

17. Redworms do best if the pH is around 7.0, but can tolerate levels from 4.2 to 8.0 or higher.

18. A 3′ x 3′ x 3′ pile is probably the perfect size. It’s large enough to get “cooking” properly, but is not so large that it becomes difficult to manage.

19. Many nitrogen-rich materials, like grass clippings, lack structural strength and collapse during decomposition. Mix in hedge trimmings, shredded newspaper and other fibrous materials to improve air circulation.

20. Most kitchen waste, including vegetable peels, fruit rinds, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells, can be fed to worms. Meat and dairy products should not be used in a worm bin.

21. When finished it should look, feel and smell like rich soil. You should not be able to pick out any of the original ingredients.

22. An easy way to use compost is to mulch with it. Apply it in a thick layer around plants and worms will help mix it with the soil below.

23. No problem. Worms can be left for a couple weeks, just feed them a little more before you go. If you will be gone for more than 3-weeks, it’s probably a good idea to get a worm-sitter.

24. A bin that is working well will produce temperatures of 140-170°F.

25. A store-bought compost bin not only looks good, it can reduce heat and moisture loss, which helps you compost more efficiently.

26. The best worm to use in a home vermicomposting system is by far the Red Wiggler (Eisenia foetida). In its natural habitat, it consumes large amount of leaves, manure and many other decaying materials. It also produces copious amounts of castings (worm poo), an excellent addition to any garden.

27. The more you add to your pile at one time, the more it will heat up. In other words, one “super-sized” meal is better than several smaller snacks.

28. Turn your pile or bin often and well. This will not only help mix the contents, but will provide the microbes responsible for breaking it down with the oxygen they need.

29. Red wiggler worms can recycle large amounts of food waste and, under ideal conditions, can eat their body weight each day. In other words, one pound of mature worms (approximately 1,000 red wigglers) will consume one pound of kitchen scraps daily.

30. Fire up a cool pile by adding activators, which are high in nitrogen and/or microorganisms. Aged manure, grass clippings and blood meal can be used to “jump start” the decomposition process.

31. Composting bacteria work best under neutral to acidic conditions, with pH’s in the range of 5.5 to 8.

32. Worms can be used to convert pet poop into castings, a nutrient-rich soil amendment, and because they eat the odor producing bacteria, there is very little smell. Castings from pet waste should not be used in vegetable gardens.

33. Maintaining a carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio somewhere around 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen is ideal for quality composting.

34. Meat and fish can be composted, but your bin must be animal proof and it will attract flies. In most cases, these materials should be avoided.

35. Try adding a layer of hay to the heap or cover with a fine mesh screen. A 2-inch layer of sandy soil spread over the surface may also help.

36. Materials high in nitrogen are frequently green in color (fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.).

37. Woody stalks and corn cobs from the garden have a tendency to decompose slowly. Smash them with a hammer or rock to make it easier for the microorganisms in your pile to break them down.

38. The main reason a 30:1 C:N ratio is recommend in your pile is for odor and pest control. While a 20:1 or even a 10:1 ratio will provide faster decomposition – odors and pest problems will become a real issue.

39. Materials high in carbon generally are brown in color (dry leaves, straw, wood chips, etc.).

40. Yard waste that has been treated with pesticides and/or herbicides (lawn clippings and weeds) should be avoided. If in doubt – leave it out.

41. To get a new pile “cooking” add a shovel-full of aged manure or garden soil to the contents. Both contain large numbers of the microbes responsible for breaking down organic matter.

42. Most kitchen waste is high in nitrogen and has a low C:N ratio (20:1). It must be mixed with materials high in carbon (browns) to create the perfect recipe.

43. Newspaper, cardboard and plain white computer paper adds fibrous “browns” to your pile and breaks down much faster than hedge prunnings and twigs – just remember to shred it first to speed up the process.

44. When adding materials to a bin or heap they should either be layered – alternating greens and browns in thin layers, or they can all be thrown in together and mixed well. Either method will work.

45. High C:N ratios (excess carbon) can be lowered by adding “green” materials, such as manure, coffee grounds or grass clippings.

46. A black plastic bin located in a sunny spot will work best through the winter. Hay bales can be used to further insulate the pile.

47. Add too many “browns” to the mix and your pile will take years to break-down. Add too many “greens” and it will turn into a smelly heap.

48. Low C:N ratios (excess nitrogen) can be raised by adding “brown” materials, such as peanut shells, sawdust or shredded cardboard.

49. As you build your pile, make sure that each layer is damp as it is added. The surface should also remain moist, especially during the hot summer months.

50. Don’t throw away your food scraps in the winter – try an indoor kitchen composter.