Got Composting Questions?

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

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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.

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633 thoughts on “Got Composting Questions?”

  1. Hi there,

    I have an open type compost area (used untreated pallets and chicken wire). Generally we use kitchen leftovers, grass clippings and leaves. This year I am having issues with FLIES. TONS of flies. My neighbors have never had an issue with our composting before, however – the flies are bad. I’ve turned and turned and turned, added newspapers, trimmed trees in the area to increase sun exposure, etc.

    Any suggestions??? Or do you know of anything I can plant in the area that might repel flies a bit?? LOL

  2. We got our first composter this year. Have had it up and filled it about half way. Questions that I have are how often should the compost be turned and water added?

    Another question as well if I may. What is your thought about coffee grounds and grass clippings along with kitchen scraps, is this a good mix?

    1. @Tim, You should mix your compost bin at least once a week and keep it as moist as a well rung our sponge. Yes, coffee grounds and grass clippings are great but keep in mind if the clippings are green it counts as nitrogen, but if dried it counts as a carbon. You need 2/3 to be carbons and 1/3 to be nitrogen.

  3. We just bought a house that has a compost area built from cement blocks. It’s 5 feet wide and 14 feet long, split into 2 sections. It hasn’t been used in 5 years and when we pulled all the weeds from it today, it didn’t look like rich dirt, but like dry grass clippings instead. Am I just supposed to start throwing fruit and vegetable scraps in it and put water on it? I’ve never composted before but would like to learn how.

    1. Ericka, Sounds like you have a good start. Keep it moist and turned once a week. Make sure the veggie scraps are buried within the mix. Composting takes time so be patient.

  4. Hi,
    I have the Worm Bin 360. I purchased 1,000 worms and they died. I reordered and I think now they have all died. Now I am finding quite a few mealworms (at least I think they are mealworms) in the bin. I feel like I’ve done everything I was supposed to do (food, bedding, temperature, moisture), and now I’m feeling a tad discouraged. Any ideas?
    Lynn

    1. @Lynn Hoyle, You said you think they’re all dead. You need to be sure, check the bin thoroughly and see if there are any survivors. Moisture is not really necessary unless it looks and feels dry. If kept covered and out of direct sunlight there should not be any need to add water, and when done, just lightly mist the top soil. As for the mealworms as far as I know they will not hurt anything.

  5. I don’t see anything about rhubarb leaves or pineapple tops and skin. Are there any problems with these in my composter?
    Gail

  6. I started a compost heap willy-nilly last year, just found an out-of-the way spot on the ground and tossed on a bunch of dried leaves and kitchen scraps. When I went to turn it this spring, there was some really nice-looking potting-soil type stuff mixed in with the kitchen scraps — but turning it buried the dirt and mixed in the scraps so it’s now pile of nice dirt/scraps. What’s the best way to separate out the dirt so I can use it? Am I supposed to stop adding scraps, and if so, how do I avoid feeling guilty throwing them away when I have a perfectly good compost heap out the back door?

  7. I have had a compost bin for over 2 years and have maybe gotten a few pails of finished compost. I just keep adding & adding my kitchen scraps everyday. How will it ever get finished? Do I just stop with what I have & let it cook? If so, what do I do with my kitchen scraps in the meantime?

    1. @Lisa, Yes, at some point you need to stop so it can finish. I suggest getting another bin or you can just make a pile next to your existing bin. Once it’s done add the material in the pile.
      Best of luck!

  8. I have been collecting seaweed and sand from the beach to mix with my compost can I add this to my compost bin or should I wait untill it is done? Also when I take my dog through the forest I often come across loads of moss and pine tree’s which have been cut down should I collect this to add to my compost bin?

    1. Martyn, If the seaweed seems to be breaking down then there is no reason why you can’t compost it. Not sure about adding the sand, unless there is just some reason you want it in the finished compost. As for taking moss from the forest, taking small amount is fine but keep in mind the forest is a well balance eco system. The moss is food and shelter for many insects and animals. I think leaving it in the forest is your best choice.

  9. I live in East Tenn, I am using a raised bed garden with mushroom mulch in it. Once the fall planting season is done, can I add compost materials directly to the garden throughout the winter (weather permitting)? Thank you.

    1. @Linda, Yes, you can add finished compost to the raised bed planter but I suggest a moderate amount and if possible add some peat moss or other soil so its not overloaded with finished compost.

    1. @Brandi, Keeping a compost pile from freezing in the winter in your area is nearly impossible, I suggest you build your pile and cover it during the winter. Once it warms back, mix and add water and it will start breaking down again. If you have a good mix of browns and greens, it may stay warm in the middle it well into the winter.

  10. I live in California. I am just starting a compost bin. Is it best to keep it in direct sunlight, or in the shade? Do I just need to add water once a week?

    1. @melinda, Yes, direct sun is best, the hotter you get your bin the better the micro-organism will work. Keep it as moist as a well rung out sponge and turn it once a week. Get yourself a good compost thermometer to check the temperatures, this way you know how well it’s working. This one is on sale and a good brand: http://www.cleanairgardening.com/coth.html

  11. I have a question? I’ve start composting about a month ago have kept the bin covered except to add kitchen refuse and now i think i have maggots! I’ve been dealing with the fruit flies which i know are not a big deal But will the maggots creat a problem and if so what should i do?

    1. @michelle, Are you adding breads, or meats? This is most likely where the maggots are coming from. Make sure the majority of or content is browns (carbons) and be sure when you add the kitchen scraps you bury them deep within the mix. Keep mixing the compost, this will help.

      1. Hi Steve,
        No meats, dairy or bread products? and now i think no worms…can they die? I’ve perforated a rubbermaid container and have kept it covered and have been using shredded newspaper and flyers for the dry products…i’m at a loss of what to do.
        thanks
        michelle

        1. @Michelle, Yes, the worms can die. The other critters and flying things in your worm bin are more of an annoyance than anything. Try keeping it simple and shred some newspaper, moisten it and add cover the top of your worms/soil with it. This may help make the bedding less attractive for the other things. You likely still have worms in the bin and the venting and drainage holes will help. Cut back on the amount of food you add it to it for a while. The worms can eat the newspaper and other pests may run out of a food source. Be patient this will take some time, maybe months.

  12. Manitoba maple trees are common on my block, and all of our trees have black spot on them. I’ve avoided shredding and using these as mulch in the fall, because I don’t want to make the problem worse.

    Will composting them and letting the temperature rise fairly high kill the spores?

    1. @Traci, You would need to be sure the compost got really hot, otherwise you risk not killing the spores. Have you had the trees looked at by a trained arborist?

    1. @Phil, Bread is not a good idea to add to a compost bin, you will likely attract animals and it could cause molds to grow in your bin.

  13. I have a new compost tumbler and I have been building it for several days, and it dosen’t seem to be getting hot, but it keeps gettinhg moldy. What can I do? I have grass clipping,horse manure, coffee grounds, egg shells,shredded paper,and kitchen scraps.

    1. @Jim, It sounds like you need more browns (carbon). Are your grass clippings dried before you add them? If not then it counts as nitrogen, so let them dry out. Also, add some shredded leaves or some other carbon material. Here is a chart of carbons and nitrogen material that might be useful. http://compostguide.com/composting-chart/
      The majority of your material being added should be browns (carbons) at a ratio of roughly 3 to 1, by weight.

  14. I would like to know how much horse manure can be put into my compost tumbler? As in my other question, I am having trouble keeping it hot. How often should I tumble it. Thanks

  15. I collect kitchen waste for our compost pile. Sometimes it is a while before I take it to the pile. Is it OK to add kitchen waste that has begun decaying & has fungus on it? Thank you for taking the time to answer.

  16. I am living in apartemnt. I am growing veggie is pots; I would like to make a compost heap. I started in a 5gallon bucket. I added kitchen wast including meat & bread water then put some soil and mixed. Am I on the right track?

    1. @antoinette, Adding meat to a compost bin is not a good idea. I would stay away from adding, meat, bones or dairy to any compost. Also, you may want to consider vermicomposting, which means the worms break the contents down. Since you are not adding browns (carbons) it will not exactly break down so vermicomposting might be your best bet.

      Regarding your current set up. You need to add another 5 gallon bucket to set the original bucket in and be sure to drill or puncture some holes in the bottom, this will allow any liquids to drain (these liquids are great for your house plants). Next, add some red worms (you can buy them online) and make sure you drill some small air holes in the lid.
      Here is a link to our page about vermicomposting https://www.compostinstructions.com/worm-composting-vermicomposting/

      If vermicomposting does not appeal to you, you may want to consider composting with bokashi, here is more info on that: http://www.cleanairgardening.com/kitchen.html

  17. What is the ratio on how many castings will be produced from the amount of food they’re fed. For example; if we feed 30lbs of food will they produce 30lbs of castings?

    1. @Larry, I assume you’re talking about worm castings? No, there is not an equal exchange, it’s likely more like 30 lbs of food makes a few lbs of castings.

  18. i have two hamsters, can i compost all the contents of the dirty cage; the food, hay, sawdust and bedding. And can i put shredded paper in it, the council won’t recycle it.

    1. @june, Yes, adding your bedding, food, etc, from your hamster cage is ok to add to your compost bin. Yes, adding paper to your compost bin is a great idea, just make sure its shredded.

  19. My husband bought me a self-aerating compost bin May 2011. I have been using it since. I have been pretty particular about what I add, making sure it is chopped up or shredded (leaves). I add dried brown leaves, fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps (fruit and veggies only), random yard waist and coffee grinds. Even though it is self-aerating, i occasionally mix it. It is now October and I am a little concerned that my bin compost is not feeling warm whereas my exposed pile in the yard (that i am no where near as careful with) is hot. What am i doing wrong?

    1. @Amy, Are you keeping the material moist? If not this could be the issue. Remember, the compost material inside the bin should be as moist as a well wrung out sponge. Also, not knowing which model you have, I would aerate it occasionally anyways. Your compost should be mixed at least once a week.

  20. What do I do with dog poop after it’s been composted? Most sites say not to add it to the garden, so do I just throw it away?
    Thanks!
    Margaret

  21. We live in the CT woods so we have tons of leaves in the fall. I mulch them with a tractor-mower, sweep them and deposit them in a huge pile. I understand the importance of greens, but we have so many leaves that I’d estimate the brown-to-green ratio to be about 90%. In the spring I rototill it and spray with water every couple of weeks. And within two months the pile is compost. But it never gets warm. It’s broken down almost entirely by earthworms that come out of the soil, so I wind up with a 4-foot high pile of worm-castings.

    Since the source is mostly brown leaves, there probably isn’t much nitrogen. If I add some high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer, is it safe to use this stuff in my flower garden and lawn?

  22. I have several bottles of bourbon, brandy, liquor, etc. that I am never going to use. Would it be appropriate to recycle it into the compost pile? Thanks

  23. I’d like to start composting with a tumbler, but I’m debating what KIND to buy… I like the idea of a dual-chamber tumbler, since you can have two different stages going at once; that way, you can use all the finished compost from the first bin but still have another batch cooking already. As for single-chamber tumblers, I’m having trouble understanding the timing of ADDING materials/the composting CYCLE, versus the actual HARVESTING/USE of the compost… Once you fill it, do you have to just let the whole thing sit until EVERYTHING inside has turned to 100% finished compost? It seems like, from the time you first start adding material to the time it’s full, the stuff you first added would have already turned to compost…right? But you can’t use it, since there’s no way to separate it from the non-finished material, is that correct? And then what do you do in the meantime, while waiting for the whole tumbler-ful to finish?–are you just not supposed to compost anything for awhile?? (lag time)

    1. Shanna, Most people who buy a single chambered composter end up buying another this way when one is full and finishing up they can use the other. Either method of single or dual chamber works.

    1. @Jed, Yes, you can compost rotten tomatoes, just make sure you have plenty of carbon, like leaves or dried grass clippings. Keep your compost moist and well aerated and give it plenty of time.

  24. Hello!
    I recently had to move to a small apartment with no outdoor area. Thankfully it’s not permanent, but I hate wasting old food and I still have a lot of potted plants that would love the nutrients. Do you have any suggestions for indoor composting methods?
    Thanks!

    1. @Bob, Not that I am aware of, however I traditionally tried to mix my compost with the existing soil or with another type of compost. This way you have well balanced soil.

  25. I have been composting for years and my son has recently started at his house, as well. He tells me not to put onion scraps in the compost as the worms don’t like it.
    True? …and are there any other veggie scraps I should avoid

    1. @RBays, If in the past you have not had problems adding onions to your bin then I see no need to stop. But yes, traditionally onions or citrus peels are not added to vermicomposting bins.

  26. I bought a compost tumbler a few months ago. I added browns & greens in the proper ratios and it used to be hot. Now it’s cooled off and I think I have larvae of some sort. Should I let this batch cook & not add anything else until it is finished?

    Thanks,

  27. Would it work to put paper towels that have been used to clean counters with pure rubbing alcohol and/or vinegar and/or peroxide into a compost? Is there a way to compost used paper towels just by themselves?

    Thanks,
    Janet

    1. @Janet Akpobome, Yes, you can compost a few paper towels that have rubbing alcohol and/or vinegar and/or peroxide; however I would not over do it. As for regular paper towels just rip them up a little and they will break down in a few weeks to months.

  28. I may have already sent this–if so, just ignore this one. I recently ordered red wigglers to begin vermicomposting, but being a single woman, don’t have lots of table scraps to feed them.

    My question is: Can I add scented geranium leaves (fresh or dried), flowers, and other garden waste to my vermicompost bin? I am an avid gardener, but have zip experience worm farming. I have lots of leaves, etc. I use to make potpourri or just clean up my garden. Do I need to wet them down first, or what? Any advice appreciated. I want my little critters to be happy!

    1. @Lola Ray, Unfortunately I was not able to find much information on geranium leaves. I suggest you add a few and see how the worms react to them. Worms do best with fruit and veggie scraps so don’t expect the best results. Yes, you can add other garden waste but not grass clippings; they heat up and may kill your worms. Try getting in some fruit and veggie scraps if possible. If you have coffee grounds adding those will help as well, since you have little kitchen scraps to add.

      1. At end of November 2011 I began vermicomposting. You answered a couple questions for me. Just checking in—at the beginning of March I harvested 5 pails of great compost, my plants love it, and now have 3 bins of happy, healthy worms. Thanks for your help, and I heartily recommend worm composting to everyone. They get to be loveable, ha ha!

  29. Oh dear, I got my red wigglers yesterday afternoon, gave them a drink, prepared a bin from “Cheap and Easy Worm Bin,” at whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/easywormbin.htm, shredded and moistened some corrugated cardboard and a bit of newspaper, added coffee grounds w/filters, a cooked, chopped up potato, some moistened, dried scented peppermint geranium leaves (moistened) ,two pulverized egg shells, a bit of dirt and a sheet of corrugated cardboard on top. When I opened it this morning, there was a whole bunch of worms up around the edges of the bin and on top of the cardboard cover. Were they trying to escape and what am I doing wrong? Maybe they don’t like the smell of peppermint? My bedding is fairly shallow, I got tired of cutting up cardboard. Would more help? Thanks for any suggestions.

  30. I recently moved and took our compost in a trash can. Before getting to our destination, the trash can fell over the carpet in the rear of the van. The odor is very bad and what I am reading there shlould have been no odor, obviously something wrongly added to the compost. Now I am trying to remove it without any success. I used cleaners, Febreze, placed bowls of white vinegar for days in the area without any success. My wife who drives the car and our 2 year old have come down with a cold, along with nasal and some chest congestion. Could this have caused their colds? Do you have any suggestions what I can do to get read of this offensive odor?

  31. Just a small correction: In the list of things to add (or not), lime is listed as a no-no because of its acidity. Actually, lime is alkaline, raising pH, so the sentence is just backwards. In any event, it does not belong in compost.

  32. I have a lot of broken twigs and branches in my yard. Even fallen trees that I have chopped up. I don’t like to burn them. Would they decompose faster if I burry them under compost or mulch?

  33. If they are salted, it would be better to rinse them first. In general, though, chopped nuts are welcome to a compost heap no matter how old they are. Remember that when you come across nuts that have grown rancid–don’t trash them, compost them!

  34. hi,
    i was wondering where is the ideal place to set up my composting pile in my backyard. Sunny side? East or north side of garden?

    thanks

    1. @Sherry,
      The best spot to place your composter is in the sunniest area in your back yard. Also, make sure it’s in a convenient spot so it does not interfere with day to day activities and in an area convenient to add new material.

    2. Like Steve, I have my own compost box on the south, sunny side, but a good deal depends on other considerations. You speak of a “pile,” implying that it has no protection from rain and sun. If you live in a dry climate, it may be better to avoid the heating and drying action of the sun, and be sure you locate it where you can easily add moisture when it dries out. In general, other considerations like convenience are likely to be more important than the sun-shade ratio.

  35. I have heard that only certain types of hay are to be used in the garden a Baha’i grass hay will cause this grass to grow in the garden and you can’t get it out is this true?
    I have a bunch of bails of hay that are construction grade and would love to use them in my garden.
    Help
    Teresa

  36. Fiberglass is a no-no in compost; it doesn’t break down, and may be harmful to some beneficial organisms. So, if you can’t easily separate the cardboard and compost it, throw the whole filters into the trash/garbage for final disposal.

  37. We have a diatomaceous earth pool filter and the d.e. is washed into my garden area when the pump is cleaned. (The tomatoes seem to like it). I am a little concerned though, that pool chemicals may be absorbed into our plants. Is this a concern?

    Thank you.

    1. @Helen Chipman, The diatomaceous earth will not harm your tomatoes but not being to familiar with what chemicals you put in your pool I cannot speak to that. However, I imagine that if the water from the pool does not kill the tomato plant it will likewise not be harmful to the tomatoes.

    1. @Jose, Yes you can add t-shirts to a compost pile, but be sure to cut or shred it up as much as possible. As for how small can a compost pile be, it can be tiny, even a few shovels full of material will work. Smaller amounts just may take longer to break down, but even just a shovel full of browns and greens thrown in the corner of the yard will eventually break down.

  38. Is it okay to build a compost pile out pressure treated wood. I have some old random pieces.

    Also, I live near a wooded area where I have dumped my grass clippings and leaves for several years. I went and checked the piles and they are moist underneath and turning to a brownish grey dirt. Is it okay to start my compost pile out of these existing piles. Thanks

    1. @Troy, Yes, go ahead and build your compost bin using the pressure treated wood, the residual affects are going to be extremely minor.

  39. Hi. My compost smells like donuts. It smells great. Is this normal?

    There is nut shells, human hair, urine, tea bags, coffee grounds, banana, lemon, fruit peels, etc. paper tubes, normal paper, applesauce, eggshells, seashells, asparagus, and some more ingredients that I can’t remember ATM.

    1. @L

      I don’t know if you’re kidding or not. But if it doesn’t smell like ammonia, or if it doesn’t smell putrid, then it’s ok. When your compost stinks, something is typically wrong. Smells that don’t stink are not a problem.

  40. I have a small ceramic kitchen compost container…I put coffee grounds and egg shells in it. Now there is mould forming in it…
    Is this material with the mould safe to use as compost in my garden??

    Thanks in advance for any help.
    Herb

    1. @Herb, This type of mold is not uncommon; it’s from a combination of the moisture and components being left in the pail. It’s not harmful to your garden. Try to dump your pail more often, no longer than three or four days and thoroughly wash the ceramic counter top compost pail before reusing or at least twice a month. You can always rinse it out with hot water before adding new kitchen scraps if regular washing is not practical for you.

  41. Hello,
    About a month ago I got a 5 gallon compost bin, I live in an apartment, I had some old fruits and vegetables that I had saved and then I got started. The problem is that I have to much moisture in the bottom on my bin, I have read that I should add brown paper material but I don’t have holes in the bottom of my bin for moisture to escape. Is this really a problem, I don’t have anything to put hole in the bins with and would hate to ruin it. I have like I said, fruits and vegetables also with paper towels, brown paper bags and it is starting to smell like poop, will adding the brown material and paper towels help stop the odor. Should I pour the liquid into some soil for my potted plants and then replant my plants, since this is why I am doing it for anyhow. I am so excited and hope that I can continue making my compost.
    Thank you

  42. Can you successfully compost in Alaska? I live just outside of Anchorage. Winter is really long here-might be below freezing for greater than 6 months straight, and in the summer, bears are a concern. Any thoughts?

    1. @Bonnie, Yes, you can compost in Alaska, the material will go dormant in the winter but should thaw in the spring and reactivate in the summer. I would avoid adding any material that would attract bears, like fruits, or certain veggies they might be attracted to. You may want to consider a worm bin, this way you can keep it indoors and fill it with kitchen scraps. Look up vermicomposting and see what you think.

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