In a hurry? Here’s the ultimate one page guide to composting.

A compost Bin

Don’t be intimidated by composting! Composting is easy to do, and this guide is full of tips on how to get the best results.

If you don’t have time to read this whole site right now, no problem!

Just remember that all organic material breaks down. Even if you just toss your yard debris into a hole in the ground, it will eventually turn into compost. There are ways to get faster results, but it’s not the end of the world if you make step in the wrong direction along the way. For instance, if your compost is too dry, you can put some water on it and set things back on the right course. It’s like driving a car. If you are going in the wrong direction, turn the wheel and get back on the right road.

How quickly compost breaks down depends on four things – moisture, oxygen content, temperature, and a good mix of ingredients. The perfect compost pile is damp without being wet, like a squeezed out sponge. It should also be well aerated, with plenty of the oxygen that aerobic bacteria need. And it should have a mix of different types of materials. If you have just one thing, like grass clippings alone, or leaves alone, then it takes a really long time to break down. But if you have several materials and mix them all together, then they break down much more quickly.

To achieve optimal conditions, here are the things you should focus on:

1) Drainage.
2) Air flow.
3) Insulation.
4) Good Mix of Various Ingredients.

Good compost bins allow liquids to drain easily. Stagnant water can suffocate helpful bacteria, and allowing water to sit practically invites pests such as mosquitoes or raccoons. Many compost bins also offer some cover. A lid that keeps rain and snow out of the compost pile will protect the compost from excess liquid. Even if there’s a drain at the bottom of the bin (such as a spigot or mesh screen), it’s a good idea to avoid putting too much water in in the first place. Water that trickles through the compost can wash away useful nutrients and will also suck away heat. However, if you keep the lid on your compost bin all the time, you’ll want to check and make sure that you’re getting ENOUGH water, because materials don’t break down very well if they are too dry either. The general rule of thumb is that materials in your composter or compost pile should be as moist as a damp, wrung out sponge.

If you live in an arid area, you’ll want to keep an eye on your bin in the summer months to make sure that it stays damp enough when it sits in the direct sun. If it gets too dry, add water with the hose or uncover the pile or bin when it rains. If it seems too damp, leave the lid off in the sun and let some of the moisture out.

Many compost bins are designed to maximize air flow and circulation. This is because oxygen keeps away the stinky anaerobic microbes that can otherwise create odors. Keeping your compost well mixed and aerated prevents those anaerobic bacteria from getting established. Oxygen is fuel for the aerobic microbes that break down trash into finished compost – give them plenty of oxygen and they’ll work quickly. There are tumbling compost bins that help aerate their contents, or you may want to use a compost turning tool like a pitchfork or a specialized compost turning tool.

Temperature is another key to the breakdown of compost. Helpful microbes work best at elevated temperatures, so it’s important to keep their workplace warm. The fastest decomposition occurs between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but some breakdown will occur as long as the compost is kept above freezing. Microbes generate their own heat as they work, so keeping the compost bin warm is all about proper insulation. Compost is self insulating – if you pile compost on top of compost, the middle of your compost stack will be the warmest. Position your compost so that the wind doesn’t blow on it and so that it sits in full sunlight. One way to get extra heat is to choose a compost bin with dark colored walls that warm up in the sun. Or if you are using a pile, put a black tarp over it. In hotter areas of the country, you might need to pick a shady spot instead.

The ingredients of your compost are also important. Microbes that break down compost do well on a mix of different food sources. They need plenty of cellulose-rich, carbon material along with nitrogen rich kitchen scraps. The ideal mix is 75% “brown” material and 25% “green” scraps by volume. Or if you are doing it by weight, it’s about a 50 / 50 mix of nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials. That means for every pound of kitchen scraps, it’s good to have a pound of leaves, for example.

“Brown” material includes dried grass, leaves, and shredded newspaper. These types of material take longer to break down than “green” vegetable peels and fruit rinds. If your compost is too wet, add more brown material. If you don’t have a lot of green material, you may need to add water to the compost.

Green and brown doesn’t refer to the actual color of the stuff you are putting in the composter — it’s just shorthand for saying nitrogen rich or carbon rich.

You can see our chart of nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials here on this page.

One last tip – have fun! Don’t take things too seriously and keep trying new techniques.

Need a little more information than this, but don’t want to be overwhelmed?

Check out my short and simple 41 page book on Amazon.com!

How To Compost: Everything You Need To Know To Start Composting, And Nothing You Don’t!

Photo found on Flickr.com courtesy of Rantz

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92 thoughts on “In a hurry? Here’s the ultimate one page guide to composting.”

  1. I have a tumbler composting container and keep adding stuff each day but when should I stop putting more into it and where should I put stuff that I keep accumulating for it? I understand it takes six weeks to totally decompose for use, but if I save more stuff in a 5-gallon bucket or something, won’t the critters around here get into it and make a mess? I am very discouraged about this. thank you for any advice you may have.

    ————–

    There are two ways you can compost with a tumbler, or with any bin, really.

    1. You can batch compost, where you load up the bin until it’s full, and then let the whole thing break down until it is completely finished.

    2. You can continuously compost, like you are doing, where you keep adding more and more stuff, so that the new stuff is mixed in with the stuff that’s breaking down, and it’s all in there together.

    If you want to use continuous composting with a tumbler, you can stop adding when it approaches fullness, and let the last part of the contents break down, and then start over. But it sounds like you don’t like that option.

    You can also run two bins at once, where you start adding to the second bin as you wait for the first bin to finish up.

    Or, you can make a compost screen (or buy one). When you get full, run the contents through the screen and put any of the unfinished stuff back in the bin and keep going.

    Six weeks for compost is an “ideal” situation. Realistically, hardly anyone gets finished compost that fast. So don’t get discouraged if yours isn’t finished in exactly six weeks. It doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong.

  2. If I build a compost bin out of scrap lumber how much of a gap to I leave between the boards for air circulation. Also can I use non pressure treated materials.

    ————–

    Just a small gap of less than an inch should be enough for air circulation. Cedar makes a good choice for building a compost bin if you don’t want to use non pressure treated wood.

    You might be interested in this booklet for some ideas:
    http://www.cleanairgardening.com/easy-composter-book.html

  3. Does the bin have to have a bottom and a top.

    ———

    Tops and bottoms are optional.

    A bottom isn’t typically necessary at all, unless you are worried about a stained deck or concrete.

    A top can help keep out potential pests, or can keep your bin covered if you get too much rain. But it isn’t required.

  4. Can’t you use an old trash can upside down as a composter, by cutting out large holes all over the place? I would rather recycle that than buy a new item to compost with. Seems hipocritical. 🙂

    ———–

    As long as there is drainage and aeration, yes. Although it seems like it would be difficult to add materials to an upside down trash can. You could keep it right side up, and make sure that you have big holes in the bottom for drainage.

  5. …and what about the germs that composting generates? I want to start composting, but worry about my 2 year old getting near or into the materials and getting sick from the bacteria.

    ————

    I have a three year old, and I’ve never really had a problem along those lines. I keep my compost in a closed bin. If you have a closed bin, a child wouldn’t be able to get inside anyway.

    My kid enjoys helping throw vegetable scraps into the bin. He thinks it’s kind of fun / yucky to look inside and see the stuff breaking down.

  6. I have just inherited a tumbling composter. I have been searching for an hour on various sites for basic info on how to get started. Almost gave up until I found yours. Thanks for the great basics. Can’t wait to get started.

  7. I live in Canada, can I compost during the winter, outside?

    ————-

    Yes and no. If your pile is big enough and you have it set up right, it can generate enough heat even when it’s cold outside. I’ve seen photos of a compost pile that was 140 degrees, with a layer of snow sitting on top of it.

    But that’s unusual, and would take a lot of composting skill. What usually happens is that the composting process slows down or even stops. So you can keep adding to your bin over the winter, but it won’t really break down until the weather starts to warm up and the composting process starts up again.

  8. hey i was just reading on composting and i was wondering can i throw good fruit into a dried yard trimming to get it decomposing faster?

    ——–

    Sounds like a waste of good fruit to me! I’d rather eat it.

    But yes, mixing nitrogen rich materials like fruit and vegetable scraps with your dried yard trimmings will speed up the decomposition.

  9. I’m using a continuous type of tumbler for over 3 months in CA. I put 50/50 of kitchen waste (vege only) and brown (brown leaves) every now and then. I turn 2 to 3 round twice a week. It is moist OK inside. Attract a lot of mini flies. I stopped adding stuffs 2 weeks ago since it was getting too heavy to turn. I can still see leaves and small branches remaining intact inside. Anything I did wrong?

    ———-

    A lot of flies and heavy to turn tells me that you might have too many nitrogen rich materials, and not enough carbon rich materials.

    I would add as many more leaves as you can fit into the bin, mix it up well, and add water if that dries it out too much. Leaves compress quickly, so you might even be able to add a bunch of leaves one day, and add more a couple of days later.

    Let me know if that helps or not!

  10. When using leaves in the compost bin is it necessary to put the leaves through a mulcher first? I’ve been told that leaves take about three months to break down if not mulched first.

    ———–

    I don’t bother with shredding my leaves when I compost. But yes, shredding them into smaller pieces will make them break down faster.

    It also allows you to compress more leaves in the same amount of space.

  11. Thanks muchly for using the photograph of my compost bin to highlight your article – I’m chuffed.

    I’m also quite happy this this compost bin is serving me well. I live in the tropics (Darwin, Australia) and have had far too many bins not cope with the conditions – though that’s probably my brutishness around the bin and not the weather.

    Nonetheless, the compost bin pictured is also doing really well in our Wet Season, where several bins I’ve had in the past have tended to leak all their contents this time of year. So far this Wet, we’ve had more than a few good storms and a wee monsoonal trough (2?) and this bin is keeping its content in as it should.

    Again – thanks for using my photo.

  12. hello,

    I’ve been adding kitchen waste, yard clippings, leaves, shredded paper to my compost bin for over a year…The bin is enclosed, open bottom and has a lid that stays on…I have never aerated the pile and it continues to “melt” down…I would like to use the compost but it just has layers of new stuff on top of older layers…how do I go about utilizing the already cooked products at the bottom?…should I stop adding to it and turn it until it becomes useable dark soil?…

    thank you very much

    1. Many compost bins have little doors at the bottom that you can raise up, so you can put your shovel right into the bottom of the bin and take out the finished compost and let the unfinished compost continue to “melt” downward.

      Here’s an example:
      http://www.cleanairgardening.com/recycled-plastic-composter.html

      If you don’t have a bin that does that, you could take several approaches.

      1. You could stop adding to the bin until everything is finished, and then unload the whole bin.

      2. You could tilt the bottom of the composter upwards by grabbing the top and pulling back, so you’re sort of making your own door at the bottom. Then get the stuff out of the bottom with a shovel.

      3. You can run the materials through a screen and screen out the non-finished stuff and throw it back in the bin, and take the finished compost and use it.

  13. I would like to use a large plastic recycle bin for composting kitchen scraps, garden wastes, grass clippings, and newspapers. Besides creating holes on the bottoms and sides and keep the contents moist, do I really need to add red worms like some articles suggest? Also what else can I do to speed up the composting process.

    Thank you very much.

    1. Don’t add worms to a regular compost bin or compost tumbler.

      Worm composting is a different type of composting. Regular composting generates heat, and will just kill the worms or make them escape the bin.

      A good mix of nitrogen and carbon rich materials that are the dampness of a wrung out sponge is going to be your best method of making compost quickly. As long as it’s a good mix and you keep it aerated and the right dampness, you’re doing good!

  14. I want to do kind of large single batches, can I freeze my table scraps for a month or two then maybe fill a bin every other month, so that i can use the entire bin all at once when finished. Or would that be no different if i added to a bin for two months then moved on to the next bin. I think I just answered my own question. Six bins a year would be pretty sweet, since here in florida we can be planting pretty much year round.

    1. @JonRigby2005,

      Yes, you can freeze your table scraps and then compost them all at once. But I’d probably just use the “continuous composting” method and add them as you create them.

      Your kitchen scraps will shrink in size very rapidly anyway as they break down, so you might not fill up nearly as many bins as you think!

  15. Hello, I am new to composting,
    I have a site behind my house, in a ravine that I have been throwing grass clippings, vegtables scraps and all organic materials for years. Could I dig up some of this soil to add to my compost heap or should I just start over? Do you add worms to your compost pile?

    1. Don’t add worms to a regular compost pile. Worm composting is a different type of composting. Regular composting generates heat, which just makes worms try to escape.

      The material behind your house sounds like it should already be finished compost or “humus.” You could use it to improve the soil in your garden beds or lawn or whatever. It doesn’t hurt to add some finished compost into your bin when you are starting a new batch, but it isn’t necessary.

  16. Hello,

    Will adding soil (from the garden, with worms etc) help increase decomposition? Thanks to your article, i understand the importance of green and brown materials.

    Can big pots/jars (ie pottery) with drainage holes at the bottom also do the same job as the plastic tumblers?

    BTW, I live in a tropical climate hot and humid 24-32 celcius all year.

    thanks in advance.

    1. You can add a little shovel full of dirt when you first start your compost to get the pile going with microbes, but it isn’t necessary, and doesn’t speed up things significantly.

      Yes, you can compost in a big pot with drainage holes. Although you’d want something that can hold at least 40 gallons’ worth of material for it to be very effective. Really small containers don’t allow enough materials for the compost to heat up much.

    1. @herb,

      No, not really.

      It is almost impossible to get a small amount of compost in a bin or small pile to reach that kind of temperature.

      Spontaneous combustion of compost piles really only applies to the super large scale kind of composting that cities do, with bulldozers and other large equipment and gigantic piles or windrows.

      If your pile is 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet or smaller, you’ll be fine.

  17. I have had good composting intentions for over a year now but no real compost bin – so I’ve just been collecting what I can in some buckets for now – I had the lid on there but to the side so some air could get in…I haven not been able to turn it or anything…the oldest stuff now looks like a brown slush, but at one time in the beginning, it has maggots in it, which I assumed was a good thing. Also, much of what I have sitting out there now has mold on it…the bucket was full, so it just kind of sat out for a while. All of that considered, were the maggots a good thing, and is the mold okay to have, or not? I am now getting an actual compost bin and was going to just dump what I have collected into it, but should I do that or just start over? Also, I have heard to not put lemons, limes or oranges into the compost – is that correct? Is there anything else to avoid including? Thanks so much!

    Misty (Austin, Texas)

    1. Dear Misty,

      I am never coming over to your house!

      Seriously though, compost happens. Eventually everything will fully decompose.

      Rather than using buckets, I would recommend digging a small hole in your back yard and just throwing everything in there until you get around to getting a compost bin.

      It is fine to add citrus to your regular compost bin or compost pile. It’s just with worm composting (vermicomposting) that you want to avoid very much citrus, because the worms don’t like the high acidity.

      Lars

  18. Great reading: I have found all these questions and comments very helpful.
    I have a compost bin going – 2 years now and have successfully used some on a newly planted rose which loved it BUT the compost bin / compost / compost bin area doesn’t smell nice. It “stinks” a bit – not outrageously but enough to make me wonder if I can do something about it…
    Thanks
    Claire

    1. @Claire

      If your compost stinks, it’s usually related to one of three things.

      1) Adding meat, bones, dairy or grease. Don’t do that!

      2) The compost is too wet and has gone anaerobic. (Let it dry out by leaving the lid off during sunny weather.)

      3) It has too many nitrogen rich materials. That can also make the compost too wet, but it will typically give off an ammonia kind of smell. Add dried leaves, dried grass clippings, or shredded newspaper to add carbon and balance things out.

      This product also works great to stop odors:
      http://www.cleanairgardening.com/biowish-compost-booster.html

      The product itself is a compost booster, but it also sells in a different packaging as an odor remover for things like pig farms, sewage spills, etc. It works.

  19. Hi,
    So you can use any type of recycle bin or trash can (assuming there are holes placed on the sides and bottom of container) for compost bin?

  20. I just got my first compost bin (black enclosed plastic) today and am not sure where to put it. Do I put it in the sun, partial sun, or shade?

    1. @Janet

      If you’re in a cold climate area that isn’t very hot, then a sunny area. If you’re in someplace where it’s very hot, then partial shade or shade. Although really, my own parents have a composter out in the direct full central Texas sun and they do just fine with it.

      So maybe I’ll backtrack and say that it’s personal preference, and either one will work!

  21. My husband just made me a tumbler. We have one dairy goat which I thought we would be using her straw and manure in the compost, however I have not seen anything mentioned to add manure to the mixture.
    Your site has been very helpful and I look forward to your comments. Thanks

    1. @Darcy

      Goat poop is nitrogen rich, and fine for composting. Avoid poop from cats or dogs. Goats, cows and horses are okay.

  22. Hi, I have a compost bin question for you:

    We made a rotating compost bin from a 55 gallon plastic food-grade container. It has plenty of ventilation holes drilled into a large (4 inch) PVC pipe that runs up through the center of the bin. We’re adding kitchen scraps daily and brown materials and rotate it several times each week. We’re catching the dark-brown liquid that drains off through a hole in the bottom.

    This dark-brown liquid that is draining from our bin – can we dilute it with water and use it as a liquid fertilizer?

    I’ve read about many people brewing compost tea by taking compost, soaking in water, then draining – but wasn’t sure if our bin drainage was essentially the same thing, and safe to use (diluted) for our raised bed vegetable gardens?

    Thank you!

    1. @Bruce

      Technically, it’s compost “leachate” when it’s just the liquid that drains off from the bin, which is slightly different than compost tea, where you put finished compost in a bag and soak it in water.

      But yes, you can use it similarly to compost tea. You can dilute it and water it into your plants.

      Here’s a link to a study where they used compost leachate with tomato seedlings:
      http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a713731500

  23. I make biodiesel out of waste vegetable oil. The by-product is glycerin. I have heard that some people will add this to their compost. Would you recommend this?

  24. I have a tumble composter that I am sure needs more Nitrogen rich ingredients. I have put mostly kitchen scraps into it. We shred a lot of our mail and am wondering if it is safe to add that to the pile.

    Thank you for the great information.

  25. i have three compost bins full composting down and i have maid two more out of empty sand bags with the bottom cut out of them which are full then i have a composter that is maid out of palets and that is not full yet i have two plots one flower and one veg last year i put all my compost on the flower beds and the veg the flowers was very good this year and the veg carnt waight for next year composting is a must do it and you will see the benfits thank joey northwood kirkby allotments liverpool

  26. Hi

    Am moving into a Brooklyn, NY apartment next week with a big garden and want to get started ASAP. Should I begin composting now (early October) to get ready for the spring, or should I obtain the materials for the compost bin and then get ready to start in Mrch/April?

    Many thanks,
    Jeremy

  27. At our local farmer’s market they are selling earthworms to speed up the composting process. I’m ready to begin composting and wondered if I should get the worms.
    Your feedback?

  28. Thank you Lars,
    5 months later… and such a nice smell coming out of my compost bin!
    I’ve been laying it: veg…, leaves cuttings, shredded paper and cardboard: miracle cure!
    Thanks again!

  29. My backyard gets no sunlight, but plenty of leaves. As such, the soil seems to be pretty rich.
    Can I not just find a corner of the yard and toss vegetable refuse there? Is there a reason it should be in a container?

  30. I just bought a bin will be picking it up wed. I have chicken manure and leaves along with guard vines. Is this a good start?

  31. I live in Columbus, OH and want to begin composting in a tumbler composter. It is mid November. Is the timing in this season ok or nedd I wait until the weather gets warmer?

    Thanks

  32. This is my first year to compost. I’m having a blast, not sure what I.’m doing, but i’m reading a lot, and there are lots of different answers. I’ve three very large piles, mixture of leaves pine needles,and grass clipings. They all started 4-6 inches deep and 6-8 ft . wide. As it has started to break down, I have been turning it 2-3 t imes a week, lot s of work but fun.

    My guess is they are 6-7 ft. in diamenter and about ;4-4 1/2 ft high. They seem to put off steam, even comes out the top, and off of the bottom when I turn it. I have a lawn business, so i have some leaf vacumes that I run all my materal through, as it really chops it up fine. I also went to the local elevator and they gave me a 5 gal. bucket of Urea I believe and some fertilizer to sprinkel on them, they did say to go easy. plus I have been mixing it a little dirt. One of my piles it really working, at least that is what it appers to me.

    I currently have heavy black semi tarps over them, they are wet underneath on top, and steaming a little. Any advice I would appreciate. It is fun.

    Hope I didn’t babbel to long.
    Thanks
    Dan R.

    1. @John

      Yes, you can compost bread and pasta. But you’ll want to bury it deeper inside the bin to avoid attracting rodents or pests.

  33. I am about to start composting and have found this site really helpful. I wondered if I can just make a compost heap without any kind of container – I remember my father doing that in our garden when I was a child. I was thinking of making two heaps in order to do continuous composting – letting one decompose completely while building up the other one. Would this work? What is the big advantage to having a container? Also, do I need to layer the compost carefully – with the different kinds of waste put in at different levels, or can I just throw everything in together?

    1. @Lara

      Continuous composting with two heaps is a perfectly acceptable method of composting.

      The only real advantage to using a container for composting is that it keeps everything together so that it looks neater, and isn’t as annoying to neighbors or others who have to look at it.

      You can just throw in everything together. Layering and/or keeping your pile well mixed and aerated will often give you the fastest results, but just throwing in a pile and waiting longer also works fine.

  34. I live in a subtropical area and have poor soil (clay) drainage. I bought a continuous compost bin that does not have a bottom. My question is, should I put the compost bin on elevated bricks or something else elevated from the ground. When we get a normal rain storm, water will stand in the yard for a few hours before finally draining off. If I put the compost bin on bricks or wood, etc. what should my first layer of compost be?
    Thanks!

    1. @Lisa, Yes you could elevate it, but if the bin does not have a bottom you will need to use something to keep the material from coming out the bottom. As for what to add first, you should start with a layer of carbon material and alternate nitrogen then back to Carbon. Keep it as moist as a well rung out sponge.

  35. I have never composted before, but am very interested. I live in Central California and have a lot of problems with cockroaches and earwigs. How can I keep these pests out of the compost if it has to have air holes?

    1. @Tamera, There are several options. You may want to try compositing with bokashi in a sealed bucket, http://www.cleanairgardening.com/kitchen.html
      You can also use a bin on a stand, like a Tumbler. When adding material keep fruit and vegetables buried deep within the other material, this will make it less attractive to the bugs. It may take some trial an error but don’t give up if you don’t first succeed.

  36. If I am not ready to use my finished compost or want to build up a large amount for a big project, how do I store finished compost? Would a plastic storage bin work?

    1. @SarahC, Yes, you can store the finished compost in a plastic bin, or a plastic bag. Make sure it’s not wet compost, let it dry. You don’t want to have a mold issue. Try to fill the bag or bin as much as possible and remove as much air as possible.

  37. Well, I filled my compost bin and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, so I let it sit. For 2 years. I just opened it and it’s pure liquid and smells like death. Is this usable?
    Also, was I supposed to be draining the liquid out of the compost bin? It NEVER turned into dirt, just sludge…I’m SO lost!

  38. What a cool site. Every question I had about composting was answered here. Great questions too, not to mention the knowledge of the site admin. Thanks for all the help.

    1. @areesha, You should not add meat, bones or dairy to your compost pile. If it has a strong odor then you are doing something wrong. When composting correctly it should smell likely nothing or smell earthy, similar to dirt.

    1. @james, If you plan to compost wood, it will break down much quicker if you chip or shred it. Make sure you have a good mix of other browns and some greens and keep it moist and aerated.

  39. I have a standard four panel composter with lid. Its my first time composting and im starting during the winter in Illinois. I read that you can start a compost pile any time of the year, but Im also aware of the insulation that it needs to keep the temperatures regular for the decomposition to start. Is this bin able to do that alone, without an external insulation? or should I build a layer of straw bales around it for proper insulation for the winter?

    1. @Alina, No, most four panel type composters with lids are not insulated; I would do as you suggested and try to insulate it. Worse case, if the material inside freezes you will have to wait for spring, reactivate it and start again.

  40. I have a rotating composter and it is not doing well. I live in Southeast Texas and thought that maybe it was too dry since we had a long drought almost all year long so I have been adding water regularly for the past 2-3 months but it doesn’t seem to be helping. The composter is completely full of mainly leave & grass clippings. Any advice would be helpful. Could I add some worm to fill it up or do I not have the correct composter for this?

    Thanks!

    1. @Katie, Realistically you should expect your material to break down in 2 to 6 mths. I have a few batches I allow to break down for nearly a year.
      Make sure it’s kept as moist as a well rung out sponge and a good mix of browns and greens. Try to turn it at least once a week. You may need to jump start it so add some coffee grounds or cotton seed meal. As for adding worms, no, you need to have a different type of bin to compost with worms, its a little different process.

  41. Hi!
    I’m preparing for my raised bed gardens I’m doing this spring. I may be a little late at starting things. But I really want to start composting. I have been saving my kitchen scraps, fruits & veggie rinds/peels etc. Since I haven’t actually started the pile yet I’ve just been keeping my stuff in a large bowl on my back deck. However a possum has been getting into it. So I just today transferred it all into a black bucket, most of the stuff was moldy and slimly on the bottom. Is is still ok to keep adding my kitchen scraps to it and then add it to a compost pile when I start it? Or since the stuff has molded is it not safe to use any more? Also, I really want to have this ready in 7-8 weeks (in time for my transplanting my plants into my garden) is this possible to have rich ready compost soil ready for when I plant in time? I can’t afford those expensive fancy compost tumblers that say you can have ready compost in 4 weeks! Is it only with those type of composters you can have it ready that quickly? One more question (sorry, I just really want to understand all of this better, so I can do things right, and another site I never had my questions answered). I am wanting to use leaves that have been in my yard in piles since fall, is it ok to add those directly to my compost when I start it? And if I get some manure from a friend can I add that as well? So I’m wanting to add my kitchen scraps, leaves, and manure, is this a good mix for having good rich compost quickly? I also have heard using sea kelp is great for compost, would this be a good thing to add to help break it down quicker? I need compost fast! Thanks (in advance) so much for answering my questions!

    1. @Jessica, Yes you can add old moldy kitchen scraps to your compost bin. Compost bins just make compost more convenient and the tumbling ones help you aerate without needing to mix by hand, however they are not necessary for composting. You can make a compost bin out of pallets, chicken wire, bricks or cinder block. These just help contain the material in a specific area, and help keep out animals. If you want enough compost to use in your garden in 7-8 weeks you will need a lot of material. Keep in mind when the material breaks down it reduces in quantity. So if you start out with a truck load of leaves, grass, vegetable scraps, etc, when its completely broken down it will have reduced in quantity to maybe only a garbage can or two full of finished compost.

    1. @Jenna, Yes, you can use paper towels as “brown” carbon material. You can also use newspaper, and cardboard. Be sure to shred them.

  42. I live in a very arid place (but somewhat tropical)… As such I have no grass or other such types of clippings… However I do have palm trees and the like… Can i used palm fronds for the “clippings” requirement when doing this? I want to take up composting to assist in the costs of soils etc. due to the arid nature of the island…

    1. @Dave, I believe the palm fronds would be considered carbon, and yes you can use those; however you will need a source of nitrogen. Coffee grounds work great, as well as kitchen scraps. Be sure to shred the palm fronds as much as possible.

  43. I have had a compost pile for several years (in other words, a pile where I dump leaves, clippings & yard waste) but am just now wanting to get serious about it. We have a small grass fed cattle ranch (100 acres) and I’m wondering if it is safe to add cow manure to my compost. Any specifics? Any time frame? Any concern about bacteria? Also, we use the tractor each spring to clean up the hay & manure left over from feeding the cattle through the winter. We’ve had a large pile that is now 2 years old. Is this safe to use? Should we have it tested? If so, specifically for what? Your help would be much appreciated.

    1. @Barb, Yes, you can add cow manure to your compost however you will need to keep the ratio in check. Typically you need a 4 to 1 mix by weight. So if you have 400 lbs of leaves you would only add 100 lbs of manure. It does not have to be exact but just a good rule of thumb. Unless you have added something toxic there is no need to have it tested, just mix it will and keep it moist as a well rung our sponge. If possible, try to mix it once a week.

  44. In the realm of shredded paper, what about items such as cereal
    boxes and paper cups which have colored inks and appear to have
    some kind of glossy coating that doesn’t look like it would break down quickly, if at all.

    1. George, The wax on the paper cups and other boxes is going to cause a problem in the sense that it will take much longer to break down. The inks will cause little problems unless you are extremely conscientious of those things.

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