Top 5 Composting Mistakes & How To Fix Them!

Top 5 Composting Mistakes & How To Fix Them

Good habits can be hard to start, and composting is no different! While the basics are pretty straightforward, there are plenty of things you may be doing or not doing that are hurting your compost pile. Here are the 5 most common backyard composting mistakes, and how you can fix them to get the best, most nutrient-rich compost possible!

  • Composting materials that cannot be composted
  • There are so many things that can be composted, it is hard to remember that some things cannot or should not be! In general, be skeptical of composting animal products (such as meat or dairy), anything that may contain bacteria (such as animal feces), or any material that is primarily a fat (like cooking oils or grease). Occasionally, there are safe ways to compost these materials, but just throwing them in with the rest can cause problems down the line. When in doubt, do a quick Google search to see if a certain item is or is not compostable! If you’ve already added some of these materials, you don’t need to go digging them out, just be intentional to avoid adding them from now on.

  • Not composting a variety of items
  • If you’re just throwing in the occasional vegetable peel and bag of yard waste, you are missing out on your compost pile’s full potential! There is a wide variety of materials that can be composted, and by limiting the items you put into your pile, you are limiting the nutrients that can be broken down into soil. Even mixing it up by adding scraps from different kinds of fruits and vegetables can help your compost have a larger variety of nutrients. The more variety you can add, the better your compost will be!

  • Not balancing “green” materials and “brown” materials
  • Within the wide variety of materials that are compostable, most fall into either the “green” category, which is items that are high in nitrogen, or the “brown” category, which is items that are high in carbon. Combining the two properly allows the green materials to keep moisture in the pile and the brown materials to make sure there is air throughout the pile. Because the organisms that are responsible for composting require both moisture and air, without a good balance of green and brown materials it is hard for them to do their jobs. While there are minor differences in ratios, Natasha Duarte of the Composting Association of Vermont says that the best rule of thumb is 3 parts brown material to 1 part green material. If you know your pile is running low on a certain type of waste, consider reaching out to local friends and family to see if they have any of the type of waste you need (such as dried leaves for brown materials or grass clippings for green materials). Chances are, someone you know will be happy to help!

  • Your compost pile is too wet or too dry
  • While it doesn’t have to be an exact science, maintaining the correct moisture content in your pile is crucial to have a compost pile that decomposes quickly and does not smell. Your compost pile should have roughly the same moisture content as a wrung-out sponge, or if you’re using a compost moisture meter, it should have 40%-60% moisture content by weight. If your compost pile is too wet, the organisms that facilitate composting will begin to live anaerobically, which leads to a stench. If your compost pile is too dry, it will not decompose as quickly as it could. Hitting the ideal moisture content will help your compost pile thrive! If your compost pile is too dry, consider adding moisture with a hose, or if it is too wet, try stirring the pile or adding more dry materials like leaves or wood chips to soak up the excess moisture. 

  • Not letting your compost bin sit long enough before you try to use it
  • Once you’ve finished adding materials, make sure you let your compost pile sits long enough for the magic to happen! Cold composting can take anywhere between 3 months and 2 years, so while there’s nothing wrong with checking in about once a month, know that it may take a long time for everything you added to break down. Make sure you are giving your materials enough time to compost based on the method you’re using!