Got Composting Questions?

Do have any burning questions about composting that we haven’t answered here?

Leave us a comment and let us know!

We’ll do our best to answer your question, and to improve the site for anyone else who might want to know the same thing.

Please note that your question will not appear immediately on the page. It will go into the “moderation” area, where I will answer it and then publish it.

Questions often get answered as quickly as the same day.

If you’d like to learn more about the entire composting process in a quick and easy 41 pages, check out my book, How To Compost: Everything You Need To Know To Start Composting, And Nothing You Don’t!

633 thoughts on “Got Composting Questions?”

  1. So I am new to lawn care. I have access to as musch compost as I want per the compost site in my town. I just purchased a home and the people who lived in it before did no lawn care what so ever. I have done all the tree trimming and clean ing of the lawn, now i am wondering how to get a nice lawn growing and how to get rid of the weeds and crabgrass and what not. I dont care about how much labor has to go into the lawn because I like to work outside on the lawn, I am just limited on MONEY as every new homeowner is. Please help

    1. @Dwayne

      You can probably use as much compost as you can haul. For example, I have a very small front yard, and I had an entire dump truck of compost delivered to my house (we have a municipal program here, so it is very cheap to have it delivered). It ended up being a layer of about 3 or 4 inches of compost over the top of the grass. For two or three weeks it looked bad, like someone had just dumped a bunch of dirt over the grass. But after it settled and the grass grew back through, I ended up with a very healthy lawn that requires less watering than before. I don’t really fertilize, either.

      Compost will drastically improve the quality of your soil, which can only help with the lawn.

  2. I just started raising chickens and want to start a compost pile. I have a few questions: 1) Can I use the pine shaving chicken bedding material/manure with food grade diatomaceous earth (I sprinkle on bedding to keep parasites down) in the compost pile, or will the diatomaceous earth hurt the composting process? 2)Can I compost the chicken waste above with food scraps? 3) do I need to save enough “stuff” to fill the compost bin and then leave it alone except for turning (if so, where should I save them?), or can I continuously add to the bin? I’m confused about that process. Thanks!

    1. @Mary, No, the diatomaceous earth will not hurt the compost. Yes, you can add the food scraps along with the chicken waste, etc. I would just keep adding to the bin until it’s full, then let it finish. You will likely see another compost bin will be useful, while one is finishing you can add to the other.

  3. We have a barrel-on-rollers type compost bin in our backyard. The directions say to stop adding stuff when it is 2/3 full (which it now is) and then just let it do it’s thing (“cook”). While waiting for that, I guess we just have to throw our compostable waste in the trash? We are 2 vegetarians and produce a lot of compostable waste….it is bugging my wife that we are throwing food scraps in the garbage. We live in a forested area, so our compost bin doesn’t get a lot of direct sun (which I’m assuming is slowing down the process). Any suggestions?

    1. @Dave, I have 6 compost bins in my back yard because of the same issue. I suggest you buy another compost bin.

    1. @Elisa, A lid is not necessary for a compost bin, however if you feel you need one a simple piece of plastic will work. Add a few rocks to keep it from blowing away.

  4. Hi,

    I’ve set up a compost bin on our balcony of our apartment after being perplexed about how much organic waste we were throwing out (we always had a compost pile in our backyard and living in an apartment is new!). I did a bit of research about how people approach it in confined spaces and most said that a plastic container with a lid would be fine. Three months on and we’ve been adding a good mix of kitchen scraps, occasionally some dirt left over from planting and carbon rich paper products. I normally keep the lid on as we live in a cold environment and it needed some heat. After a few weekends away, I turned it today, discovering that we had a fairly stinky goo at the bottom, but a fairly well composted mix overall. I’ve just added some soil to aid soaking up some “goo” (and hopefully the stink) and some dry papers. I’ve left it open for today (as its sunny outside). Any other thoughts on keeping my pile “cooking”? Keeping in mind our small space.

    1. @Renee, You need to drill holes in the bottom to let it drain. Also you need small air holes in the sides and top. Use a nail or awl to puncture holes along the top bottom and sides to allow oxygen into the bin, this will help in several ways. Set your compost bin in another bin to collect the liquids that drains.

  5. We have just started composting in a bin that is on an axis to turn.
    We are getting good heat and a good rich smell but have noticed that it is clumping into balls. Do these need to be broke up to keep it working? If so, how?

    1. @Pam, Typically when you have clumps of unfinished compost you have to much nitrogen content, i.e. greens. Yes, they will break down but it takes more time. I sometimes break them up with my hand or shovel. Try adding more browns, and keep it moist.

    1. @Ann, Yes you can compost citrus rind i.e. lemon or orange peel, however it must be done in moderation. If you have a gallon of material, i.e. kitchen scraps, I would keep less than 10 percent citrus peels. If you have a large amount of browns you can increase it to maybe 20% but not much more.

  6. Do I have to put worms or my compost or they comes by themselves? Is the first time that I’ making my compose.

  7. If you want any appreciable amount of worms, you need to add them yourself (usually isenia foetida–red worms, red wrigglers, etc). Worm composting is different from plain old composting (no worms necessary) and is called vermicomposting. There is lots of info on this on the web. Good luck!

  8. I am new to composting and have run into a bit of a conundrum with my first go around. I have a Jora JK 125 tumbling composter. Everything has formed into golfball to softball sized clumps and I can’t get it to heat up. I started the bin about 3 months ago. It has been about a month since I have stopped adding anything new into the bin. It has some odor, but not like ammonia. It has a strong earthy smell, so I figured it wasn’t too much Greens/Nitrogen. These are some of the things that I tried adding to try and kick start the heat up process: water, which quickly ran out of the bin; moistened shredded paper; compost starter; rabbit droppings and the rabbit’s urine soaked natural fiber bedding; fireplace ash; and more greens (thought I would touch all bases). These were done separately with no noted success in heating up the bin. Do you have any suggestions to remedy the large clumps and to get the heat up process? Oh, I have also tried to break up some of the larger clumps with a hand shovel (very tedious and not very effective) I live in a Southern CA coastal community, but figured our temperate climate shouldn’t have any bearing on the composting process. I am out of ideas and have exhausted what tidbits I could find via blogs on the internet. Your input will be greatly appreciated from someone so frustrated by the first attempts at composting. Thank goodness the vermicomposting is going smoothly or I would probably give up on the idea of composting all together. Carol

    1. @Carol

      When it turns into those lumps inside a tumbler, it’s usually because of too many wet, nitrogen rich materials. It’s not the end of the world, and it will eventually finish breaking down. If it were me, I’d take the lazy approach and just keep adding more and more material and while ignoring it. When the bin fills up, I’d probably keep tumbling it for a few more weeks and then empty it over a compost screen and use the finished compost that goes through the screen, and throw the rest back into the bin and keep going.

      Those tumbler companies act like you’ll get perfect finished compost in two weeks in their advertisements. But that’s an unrealistic scenario. It’s not a big deal if your compost isn’t getting super hot. It just means it will take longer to break down overall.

  9. I started a compost pile under our huge silver ash tree i a corner of our yard last fall. I started with lots of dry leaves, added some grass clippings and sticks and dirt and stirred it up. I’m hoping to use it before the next batch of leaves fall. It seemed like it was doing nicely, I moistened it (dry year in N.Cal) a few times and turned it some and it was attracting worms. Here and there nasturtiums sprouted in it. I just got back from 2 weeks traveling and when I went to stir it (June), I found clumps of white narrow roots in parts of it. My pile is directly on the grd, but these seem to be in the middle of the pile. I pulled out the clumps I could find and discarded them. What happened? Also, how can I speed the decomposition so I can mulch my flowers and veggies with this before the next bunch of leaves fall?

    1. @Sue, You can speed things up by shredding your leaves. If you have a gas mower, run over them a few times, if not borrow a neighors. Make sure you have nitrogeon, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, etc are a great source. The pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. As for the stuff growing in it. You likely pulled in some seedlings or seeds and they started growing, which is not uncommon.

  10. Hello,
    I have a small kitchen compost pile, this is my second go round and I had to change the filter that covers the vent. I was wondering if I could cut the black carbon filter up and add it to the compost. The first compost turned out pretty well, I potted all my plants anew and am now just wanting to see the results.
    Thanks for your assistance.

  11. i have a lifetime tumbler and i have filled it up about three times,but now it has a lot of balls and i have been breaking them up by hand and adding more leaves because it is very wet ,my problem is it only heats up to one hundred degress,is that ok,i keep adding compost starter to try to get it hotter again but won’t,any suggestions

    1. @vince, Stop adding compost starter, your problem is likely to much nitrogen and that is what compost start primarily is. Keep it moist and add more carbon. 100 degrees is fine for a compost bin, you might see that change if you stop with the compost starter.

  12. i am starting new veg garden–use horse and alpaca manure. I have a source for compost. can I just cover the manure with compost to set until next year

  13. I picked up a used envirocycle (green in color) at a yard sale for $10 last weekend and it is about 1/3 full of dried out compost (looks likes dry dirt and some fist size clumps). I was wondering if it’s any good? Should I just start a new batch and leave this old stuff in there?



    1. @Will, If you’re a purest then you may want to dump it in an area to make sure nothing harmful was in there, however I think the odds are good it’s perfectly harmless and would spread it on my lawn and start a new batch.

  14. Hi Steve,
    I am starting a compost pile for the first time and recall that we had our lawn fertilized in the Spring. Should I forget about composting at this time?

    1. @Deenie, I think you will be fine to use your leaves and grass clippings even though your lawn was recently fertilized. Most likely the fertilizer is deep in the soil by now and mostly used up.

  15. What do I do when the compost is completed? Can I remove it from the composter or leave it in and continue adding material to it? How should it be stored over the winter?

    1. @Donna

      I personally just leave it in my bin and keep adding, and only remove the compost when I am ready to use it. That is especially true for those bins where you add from the top and open the little door to remove from the bottom. But you can also separate it out later with a compost screen, where you just dump all the material through the screen and sift out the unfinished parts and put them back into the bin. You can take out the finished compost and just store it somewhere separately if you want, and that will work too. But it just creates extra work moving it around multiple times.

  16. Ammonia smell from Compost pile. Would this smell kill off the red wiggler worms that i added? I am using grass(N), vegetable/fruit scraps, and pet guinea pigs’ bedding(C) (which has urine/feces, of course). The bedding is aspen bedding:scent-fee/hardwood/kiln-dried. I think i may have too much lawn clippings(?) or is the bedding a source of the ammonia smell (urine)? Either way, will the worms live?

    1. @Laura

      1. Don’t add worms to your regular compost pile or bin. Vermicomposting is something completely different than regular composting. You are just wasting money on worms that will die and/or leave. 2. Ammonia smells means too much nitrogen, which will definitely scare off and/or kill the worms that you shouldn’t have added in the first place. Add more carbon rich materials to balance things out and get rid of the smell.

  17. We started a compost bin about three weeks ago. This is the “barrel type” that turns over on a stand, sold by most large hardware/gardening shops. We have followed the instructions with regard to materials to put into it. But we now are having a great number of flies. What can we do to control flies?

    1. @Clay, Are you adding fruit scraps? If so typically they attract flies, etc. Try burying the fruit scraps deep within the bin. If you are not adding fruit or you don’t think that is the problem, your best bet is to move the compost bin out to an area away from your common use.

  18. I generate a significant amount of sawdust from Goncalo Alves, Canarywood, Bloodwood, and other, exotic woods. Can I use these in my compost for my vegetable garden or will they introduce toxins that would show up in the vegetables?

    1. @Stephen, I looked up each of the three woods mentioned and none noted any toxins related to using these woods so I imagine they are safe to compost with.

  19. I’d like to know if there is an amount of time too long to keep food scraps before bringing them out to the compost pile. I keep them in sealed containers – no fruit flies – no smell – just moldy and liquidy. Is this bad for my compost pile?

    1. @Donna, Yes the amount of time that is too long is when they start to mold. Try to dump your kitchen scraps into your compost bin every few days.

  20. I have recently taken an interest in composting to help improve the quality of soil on my property. I have an acre of land that I tend to, so I have plenty of clippings that I can add to a compost bin. I have several questions in regards to making the best of what I have to work with:
    1) I live in southern AZ and it is very dry for most of the year. While I look at my options for bins, it seems that a tumbler or covered bin would be my best option to maintain good moisture content in the compost. Is this the only way to go, or are there other ways to help maintain moisture without resorting to adding water? I want to avoid spraying down compost with a hose, since we are very much water conservationist.
    2) I have some pervasive weeds on my property, like tumble weed, how best can I insure these don’t go to seed if I have some bits make it into clippings I add to the compost bin?
    3) A friend of mine said he has put “hot” compost onto areas that had weed growth and the compost kills the weeds in the area. Is this method effective to help kill weeds or is my friend just lucky, since he says he has had great success with this?

    Thanks for your time.

    1. @Tim, In areas where water is scarce its best to add things that may have more water than others, like kitchen scraps. Also, if you don’t want to buy a tumbler, make sure the compost bin you have or make is wrapped in plastic to keep the wind from drying it out. Also, as much as I am also trying to keep my water use to a minimum, remember, when you water it just runs back into the ground or evaporates and returns to where you originally got the water in the first place. As for weeds, there is no real method to keeping them out other than simply keeping them away from what you are adding to the bin. And as for your friend adding hot compost to weeds to kill them. He has either the hottest compost ever or really lucky.

      1. @Steve, Thanks for all the feedback. I couldn’t believe the claim of weed control through compost, so it is good to know I’m not crazy. I will be checking out some tumblers to start some compost so that I’m set for next spring…again thanks so much.

  21. I am new to composting also. I am using a big tote with holes drilled all through it for my bin. My question is this: is it normal to have flying bugs and mold? I thought it might be too wet so I added some hay/straw. And it helped a little bit but not much.. One more question- I have heard that I shouldn’t use banana peels in my bin.. Why is that?

    1. @Tammy, You need more air, drill or cut holes in the sides and make sure you bury any food scraps deep within the pile, that should help with the flying bugs. As for adding banana peels to compost, I have always done it and have never had a problem.

  22. I started a compost pile a few days ago. Is it safe to use grass clippings that were treated with a weed and feed in the spring? Those products seem to wane in effectiveness after 6-8 weeks.

    Thanks for your time and expertise.

    1. @Don, Yes you should bi fine adding the clippings and weeds, just make sure your compost gets hot enough to kill the potential seeds from the weeds.

  23. Hello,

    I just purchased a tumbling composter and basically understand the requirements of balancing air, carbon and nitrogen materials, but I’m wondering how to use urine-soaked sawdust in the mix.

    I use Feline Pine cat litter for my 3 cats. For those unfamiliar with it, this product is pelletized pine sawdust. When the cats use the box, their urine breaks down the pellets so that they once again become loose, damp sawdust.

    To save money on litter, I sift the contents of the litter boxes to separate the pellets from the urine-retaining sawdust and simply top up the remaining pellets with fresh ones. (The ‘solids’ are disposed of separately.) My question is, since this sawdust contains enough urine to make it damp, what would you guess its carbon/nitrogen ratio to be?

    In the two weeks since receiving the composter, I’ve been adding about equal dry volume of weeds/kitchen scraps and urine/sawdust to the composter, plus enough water to keep the whole thing sufficiently moist. So far, it’s heated up quite nicely and doesn’t smell too overpowering, and the contents of the barrel stay nice and fluffy with a few daily rotations. Do you think I can increase the amount of sawdust in the mix? My little darlings produce about one 5-gallon bucket of the sawdust per week, so I would like to use as much of it as possible to make compost.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

    1. @Charlene, Yes, you should be able to add more urine soaked wood chips as long as you add your greens to keep it balanced. If you begin to see it cause a problem back off with the amounts added.

  24. Hi!

    I’m trying to set up a compost bin but am worried about attracting bears and other predators, as these animals are common in the area that I live in.

    Are there some materials, such as meat, I should refrain from composting to prevent attracting them?


    1. @Rachel, Yes, avoid adding material that will attract animals, such as meats, diary and fruits. Adding grass, leaves and vegetable scraps should your core material for your compost pile or bin.

    1. @Russ Watkins, Yes you can add whole vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers but they will break down much much faster if you cut them up.

  25. I have a pear tree but the pears have brown spots all over them. Can I put these pears in my compost pile? Will the composting process destroy any possible pear diseases?

    1. Janice Lefler, Most likely the brown spots on the pears will not harm your compost. Try breaking the down before adding them and make sure you have plenty of brown material added to balance the nitrogen added with the pears.

  26. We have a drum style back yard composter, recently I noticed we
    have fat light colored worms (lots) in the composter that we did not add. What kind are they and where did they come from? Is it alright they are there?
    Thank you

    1. @Kathi, Assuming the fat light colored worms are not long like a traditional worm is, they are likely larvae of beetles. Try some Milky Spore, this will kill the grubs and keep them from taking over your lawn and garden when you spread the finished compost.

    2. Kathi—-I had the same occurence. Discovered the fat worms are
      Black Soldier Fly Larvae….which are FABULOUS composters! Do a google image search to compare.

    1. @Rss Watkins, In my humble opinion yes you can add computer paper to your compost pile, however a purist will say no because they consider the ink toxic.

  27. I live in a suburban area where homes are in fairly close proximity. I am a fan of composting, and have a vegetable garden, but wonder what I can do about our over-zealous composting neighbors behind us.

    They have designated the back corner of their triangle shaped yard as a composting “area,” approximately 35′ x 35′ x 30′. They do not use bins, but instead dump organic waste (grass clippings, accumulated coffee grounds, leaves, etc.) directly on the ground over this whole area and periodically till it with a light gas powered tiller. While this is a good distance of 70 feet from their house, and they have planted large grasses and other plants to hide the area from their view so they can’t see it from their house and yard, it is located right on our property line, adjacent to our small back yard and within 25 feet of my house. There is no fence or visual barrier from our perspective and we often cannot use our back yard because of the stench of rotting grass and coffee grounds.

    They also store, year round, piles of large black garbage bags in this area, filled with leaves that they collect each fall. It is unsightly and in full view from our entire back yard, screened porch and any window along the rear of our house. I’ve mentioned to them that the garbage bags are unsightly and that some screening of the area would be desireable, but they haven’t taken the hint. Instead, they suggested that we might want to plant shrubs to hide their compost pile from our view. It seems a bit presumptious that they would expect me to bear the expense of landscaping to hide their compost pile. Even if I could afford the several hundred dollars a row of bushes would cost, or several thousand dollars a fence would cost, a fence or shrubbery will not take care of the odor. With respect to distance from property lines and proximity to neighboring residential structures, their composting area is actually in violation of our Village code, which says:

    “Properly maintained compost piles may be utilized by residential dwellings for gardening and landscaping purposes. Such may be located in the side or back yard, the farthest distance possible on-site from neighboring residential structures, patios and swimming pools, a minimum of five (5) feet from the property line. Compost piles shall not contain household garbage and must be regularly maintained by turning the composting material to permit aeration and/or by application of chemicals to induce rapid decomposition and prevent offensive odors.”

    I don’t want to “report” them to Village authorities. I want to preserve a friendly relationship with them, but I also want to be able to enjoy my back yard! These are generally nice people, but just a little thoughtless. Would you have any suggestion as to how we might constructively interact wtih them to remedy the situation?

    1. @Janine, I see two options for your neighbors unsightly compost pile. Either report them out right or hint that you are going to go to the Village board and see about a solution.

  28. Hi we have a large compost pile, for the last 5 years it was made up of half sand/milfoil weeds from our lakeshore property, and half wood chips. It was composting very slowly, as we kept ignoring it, but since one month ago, about 500 dead salmon from our beach which washed up about after a record salmon run, were buried in the pile. My husband turned this today very thoroughly with our backhoe. The mixture looked pretty dark and uniform, so it seems the salmon are nicely broken down, after a summer of hot temps, as no sign of any fish parts. The pile was a bit dusty and dry and so I sprinkled the mix with the hose fopr 10 minutes while he was turning it. 3 hrs later this extremely strong manure-ish smell is eminating. Should we just cover it with a large tarp? I have a big bag of peat moss, will sprinkling that over the whole thing help the smell? Its very strong!!

    1. @Alaison, It sounds like you reactivated the decomposition of the salmon. Eventually the smell will lesson and go away but it will take time. Yes, adding new material will help. Try adding the peat moss but I doubt covering it with a tarp will lesson the smell. If you have access to charcoal you can add that would be a big help in reducing the smell.

  29. New to composting. started filling a bin last summer with grass clippings and various fruit and vegetable waste. not much added over the winter (located in NY) Started adding again about 2 months ago. Today while turning for the first time and transferring to a second bin to help the turning (using a 2 bin method), I came upon quite a bit of bee activity? Is this common or to be expected? did I do something wrong besides maybe not turning since starting last summer? what can I do to rectify without using bug spray? Help!

  30. i started a compost bin a year ago, it’s an old plastic dustbin,with a lid, i drilled holes into it side and bottom, and started with grass and kitchen waste, but it is now just a pile of very wet and smelly mess at the bottom of the bin, i tried to turn it and add torn up cardboard (egg boxes etc) What am i doing wrong, does it need more holes/ less holes , more cardboard, should i keep going with it or start again? help
    many thanks

  31. My husband has a wood lathe and is currently using paduk,
    blood, zebra, oak, cherry, maple, birch and hemlock. i am wondering about composting the sawdust he produces! Can i use the saw dust to put around the strawberries in my garden, can I compost them?

    Thanks 🙂

  32. My girlfriend and I breed African Pygmy hedgehogs and we use pine pellet bedding in their cages. Rather than always throw out the used bedding/waste in the trash would it be wise to dispose of this in a compost pile? Our hedgehogs are primarily fed a diet of dry cat food and insects.

    Why do some animals have harmful pathogens and others do not?

  33. I have a barrel type composter. From all the food scraps it has become too wet and soggy. Since I did not have any dried leaves, I added hay (it could have been straw), but did not break it into smaller pieces — silly me. Now I have a mess in my composter. What should I do?

    Also, how full should a compost bin get before it is left alone? I heard some people say 2/3 while others say it can get nearly full since it will pack down.

  34. i have been trying hot composting but something doesnt feel rite. the compost heap was doing fine in the first 10 days (140F). The color has changed to blackish brown and smells sweet n earthy. I used sugar cane trash, rapseed trash and banana leaves as carbon source and for nitrogen i used food scraps and cow manure. Turned it on the 4th day and then every alternate day… the heap was gone cold and seems unfinished…. what should i do??

  35. Hi, Can you tell me about composting plastic cups and cutlery that is labeled compostable? I assumed it would break down in the landfill but others have said it’s okay to add to your yard/garden compost. Any advice on this would be great. I work with a retreat center and we go through lots of compostable plastic waste.
    Holly Johnson

  36. I read on one site to not use dog waste in a compost pile, but it didn’t say why. On the same site it did recommend horse, cow and chicken manure. What is the difference?

    1. Herbivore poop is generally okay. Carnivore / omnivore poop is generally not okay because of pathogens related to eating meat. Cat poop specifically should never be used on compost that will be around a vegetable garden because of the toxoplasmosis parasite.

    1. I built a buried compost pit. I used a 60 gallon barrel with holes on the sides and bottom. It is buried so 10″ are sticking out of the ground. The top is surrounded with firepit bricks and I have a 1/4″ thick steel lid. Smells stay in and pests stay out. I add all kitchen waste to it and have been for about 8 months now. It froze solid during winter and has been thawed for about a month. So far the level hasent dropped and I’m wondering why? Is it just going to take more time? I was expecting a fast, substantial drop when it got warmer. I have heard that maggots can really help the break down. I have put all kitchen scraps in the bin including meat and bones. With that type of environment will maggots get in and help the process. I want to reduce waste. Not harvest compost.

  37. Hello,
    I started a compost pile with lots of leaves, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, coffee, eggshells and paper.
    My pile never cooked it got warmish, but that’s about it. Never smoked whatsoever. Things turned into black mulch like substance. I also got a few earthworms but that’s about it. It seems like things are not breaking down. I add more leaves, paper bags (all chopped up) along with grass and coffee. It warms up but then cools off. What am I doing wrong? Thanks

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