Compost Myths — Busted!

Easy tips to get started composting.


Toss in a shovelful of finished compost or garden soil to help get your compost 'cooking.' Toss in a shovelful of finished compost or garden soil to help get your compost cooking.

Sure, you know that compost is great for your garden. You even appreciate how composting kitchen scraps and yard waste reduces the amount of material going into the landfill. But you've hesitated to start composting because _____________ [fill in the blank]. Here are some of the most common myths about composting — along with simple solutions that just might convince you to start making your own nutrient-rich compost.

It's too complicated. You may have seen all sorts of elaborate "recipes" — add this much "green" material, that much "brown" — that make composting sound like a science experiment. The reality is that it's easy to make compost. Organic materials want to break down into compost; you just need to provide them with a few basics. Scroll down to Getting Started for easy how-to tips.

It takes too long. While a haphazard pile in the backyard might take months to decompose, with an efficient batch-type composter you can have finished compost in as little as six weeks!

Compost attracts rodents. Using an enclosed composter is one sure-fire way to keep out pests. Also, avoid placing meat or dairy products in your compost pile; stick to vegetable scraps and yard trimmings.

I'm worried about compost odors. Compost has an odor only when it's too wet or there's too much nitrogen. The simple techniques outlined in the Getting Started section will keep your compost pile "cooking" properly and prevent odors.

Biodegradable liners that you can toss right into your compost bin make cleanup a breeze.Make cleanup a breeze with biodegradable liners
that you can toss right into your compost bin.

Collecting kitchen scraps is too messy. Place an attractive compost crock on your counter as a convenient way to collect scraps. Biodegradable liners that you can toss right into your compost bin make cleanup a breeze.

I don't have room for a big compost pile. Small-space composters can take up as little as 4 square feet!

I don't have a place to compost outdoors. Worm composting, also called vermicomposting, is one way to compost indoors. If worms aren't your cup of tea, there are electric composters that automatically heat and aerate scraps for efficient indoor composting.

Getting Started

Whether you're composting in a pile or using a composter, here are some tips for easy, efficient and odor-free composting.

1. Alternate layers of wet and dry ingredients. Wet (sometimes called "green") ingredients include things with lots of moisture in them, such as vegetable scraps, fresh lawn clippings and freshly pulled weeds. Dry (sometimes called "brown") ingredients include dried leaves and straw. Think of your compost like a layer cake, alternating dry (cake) with moist (frosting). Most people have more wet materials than dry, except perhaps during fall when dried leaves are plentiful. One easy solution is to keep a covered container of dry ingredients — a stash of your own dried leaves or purchased straw or coir (shredded coconut husks) — near your pile or bin.

2. Toss in a shovelful of finished compost or garden soil. Both contain microbes that will help get your compost cooking. You can also purchase compost "activators" that contain beneficial microbes.

A rotating compost tumbler makes it easy to keep compost aerated.A rotating compost tumbler makes it easy to keep
compost aerated. Photos courtesy of Gardener's Supply

3. Keep it moist but not soggy. Too much water and the composting materials may begin to smell. Too little water and there won't be much microbial activity. Think of your compost pile as a wrung-out sponge — moist but not saturated, with plenty of air pockets. Layering wet and dry ingredients will go a long way to maintaining healthy moisture levels. Keep open compost piles covered to prevent rain from saturating the materials. If compost is too wet, add more dry ingredients. If it's too dry, moisten with a watering can or hose.

4. Keep it aerated. A rotating compost tumbler makes this task easy. Otherwise, use an aerator tool or a garden fork to fluff ingredients every few weeks, creating air pockets to help the microbes do their work.

This article was contributed by garden writer Suzanne Dejohn of Gardener's Supply.

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