Turning Compost Materials

Getting Started

Start composting now! It’s easy to pile yard and garden waste and then let it sit for a few months as it becomes a perfect, organic superfood for your garden. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty close.

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for Mixing the Pile

Before starting this amazing process, you’ll need to make four basic choices about the system: will it be indoors or outdoors, hot or cold, aerobic or anaerobic, and finally, will it be a batch system or a continuous one.

If this seems a bit overwhelming, bear in mind that you may have made half these decisions already. When most people decide to start composting at home, they’re talking about an outdoor bin, and whether they know the term or not, they want an aerobic process, since it’s quick and odorless. If you start off wanting a hot pile, all the other choices are already made: it’s going to be an outdoor, aerobic, batch system. (There are kitchen composters for indoor hot composting.)

Each of the options is outlined in the page on Composting Types, along with links to pages with more information. At the end of that page there’s a graph that lets you see how the different criteria match up with each other. Consult it to see if a hot system can be operated indoors or outdoors, if it involves aerobic or anaerobic bacteria and if it requires a batch or a continuous system.

Once those basic decisions are made, it’s time to get more specific. Suppose you’ve decided to compost outside. Do you want to build a pile, or bury your waste in the garden? If you have primarily kitchen waste and grass clippings to dispose of, perhaps an anaerobic digester would be best. If you’re in an apartment and you’re looking for a way to dispose of kitchen waste, you’ll want to check out the various indoor systems. The Composting Systems page gives an overview of each of these possibilities; each is discussed in more detail on the pages devoted to Building A Compost Pile, Compost Digesters, and Kitchen Composting.

Benefits of Adding Compost to Your Garden

  1. improves soil structure in all soils, and therefore
  2. improves water retention in loose, sandy soils;
  3. improves drainage in heavy, clayey soils;
  4. prevents the soil surface from crusting, easing the emergence of seedlings;
  5. resists compaction, making it easier for roots to penetrate the soil;
  6. helps balance pH, making alkaline soils more acidic and acidic soils more alkaline;
  7. provides a good environment for the microbes, earthworms, and insects that break down soil constituents into plant nutrients;
  8. nourishes microbes that protect against some plant diseases;
  9. reduces the need for other soil amendments and for fertilizer;
  10. provides many micronutrients and low levels of macronutrients;
  11. raises the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soil, which means that it also
  12. improves soil retention of nutrients, thus increasing the amount of time they are available to plants;
  13. slows the leaching of nutrients, thus preventing them from reaching and polluting water;
  14. encourages healthy plants, thus reducing the need for pesticides and fungicides.

Benefits to the Environment

  1. reduces the amount of garbage in landfills, and therefore
  2. reduces the greenhouse gases produced by hauling garbage;
  3. reduces the amount of methane produced by landfills;
  4. helps prevent runoff and soil erosion;
  5. helps remediate (decontaminate) polluted soils, binding some contaminants in the soil and increasing plant uptake by others, allowing their removal from contaminated sites;
  6. reduces the need for environmentally damaging pesticides and fertilizers.

Related Questions

  • What products to compost

    Hello,

    You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:

    Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
    Cardboard (free of dyes)
    Corn stalks
    Fruit waste
    Leaves
    Newspaper
    Peat Moss
    Saw dust
    Stems & twigs
    Straw

    Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
    Alfalfa/Clover/Hay
    Algae
    Coffee grounds
    Kitchen food waste
    Garden waste
    Grass clippings
    Hedge clippings
    Manures
    Vegetable scraps
    Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)

    ​Things to Avoid
    Meats
    Bones
    Fats/oils/grease
    ​Diseased plant material
    Colored paper
    Coal/charcoal
    Cat/dog waste
    Manures from carnivorous animals
    Onions
    Garlic
    Citrus peels

    As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!

  • Can I compost diseased plants?

    Hello,

    There are nearly 7,000 estimated different species of rust causing pathogenic fungi. Although many of those would be destroyed when your compost pile reaches the ideal temperature (135-150 degrees Fahrenheit), some of them would not. Those thermophilic fungi would not be eradicated until the pile reached temperatures over at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit and at that point the heat would also cause a loss of nutrients and destroy most of the beneficial microbes. Therefore, it would be wise to avoid composting the infected leaves so that you do not spread the disease. You can opt for burning the leaves but do not bury them and be sure to also disinfect any gardening tools that came into contact with the pathogen. Here's a couple of links that will help:

    https://culturestone.info/composter-connection/making/materials/
    https://culturestone.info/composting-101/what-to-use/

    Good luck!

  • what not to compost

    Hi Jania -

    There is an active ingredient in citrus call "limonene" that has the potential to kill your worms if added to your pile in large concentrations. For a small home wormery I would recommend adding citrus peels 1 at a time and wait until it is thoroughly decomposed before adding more.

    Good Luck!

  • Can I Compost Tomatoes?

    Ennia -

    Honestly, we've never really thought much about composting tomatoes... So, we wrote a blog post on the subject! Here it is:

    https://culturestone.info/composting-tomato-plants/.

    Enjoy!

  • Can I compost paper?

    Joy -

    I think the basic rule of composting applies here… "When in doubt, leave it out." You certainly don't want to be adding toxic materials, if any, to your compost pile. As for composting paper, the following link will help:

    https://culturestone.info/composting-paper/.

  • Can I Make Compost in Car Tires?

    Jad -

    There are strong opinions both ways when it comes to repurposing old tires in the garden (or for composting). While I generally like with the idea -- more than 290 million scrap tires are generated each year in the United States -- I don't feel comfortable using them for growing food or for making compost that will be used to grow food. In my opinion, the risk from toxic metals leaching into your soil/ compost or being absorbed by your plants is just too great.

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