Composting is one of the best things that you can do for your garden and the environment. It’s believed that Americans produce around 4.5 pounds of waste daily, and most of that is compostable. If everyone started a compost, the environment would benefit, but you don’t want to make one of these composting mistakes.
Starting a compost is one of those easy tasks that people find intimidating. It shouldn’t be complicated; composting is a natural process started by Mother Nature. Once you learn the basics, you’ll find that it’s an easy way to cut down on food and household waste while creating nutrient-dense compost for your garden.
Even if you don’t garden, having a compost pile is still a great idea. It works as a mulch for landscaping, flower beds, or around trees on your property.
Once you’re ready to start composting, here are some of the most common composting mistakes you don’t want to make.
- 1. Making the Process Too Complicated
- 2. Picking the Wrong Composting Method for You
- 3. Putting Your Compost in the Wrong Spot
- 4. Adding the Wrong Materials to Your Compost Pile
- 5. Putting Too Many Nitrogen-Rich Items in Your Compost
- 6. Putting Too Many Carbon-Rich Items in Your Compost
- 7. Having the Wrong Ratio
- 8. Adding Things That Take Too Long to Decompose
- 9. Not Turning Your Compost Pile
- 10. Keeping the Pile Too Dry
- 11. Adding Too Much Water to the Compost
- 12. Putting Diseased Plants into Your Compost
- 13. Letting Your Compost Get Too Hot
- 14. Letting Your Compost Get Too Cold
- 15. Using Your Compost Immediately
1. Making the Process Too Complicated
Composting is science, and some people geek out over science stuff. That’s okay, but you don’t have to make it that complicated. You don’t have to learn all of the names of the microbes that work in your compost and all of the scientific terms - leave that to the science lovers.
All you have to do is understand why you want to compost and what things you can add to a compost pile. Understand the basic requirements, like moisture and turning, and give it a try. Yes, you might mess up, but that’s okay too. Don’t make it hard for yourself.
2. Picking the Wrong Composting Method for You
Most people have no idea that there are different composting methods, and they aren’t all the same. Not only can you use different bins, but you also might want to use a different approach for creating the compost.
Cold composting is the most common; this is when you add all of your organic materials into a pile, turn, and add water regularly. The core temperature increases, but it takes up to one year to have completed compost.
Another method is hot composting, and this is when you follow a turning schedule and build up your compost pile all at one time. This is often called the Berkeley composting method, and the core temperature of this reaches up to 149℉.
You might like to add the composting materials directly into your garden beds using pits or trenches. No-dig gardens are another option, as well as the hugelkultur method.
Some farmers compost animal manure, while others prefer vermicomposting, which is when you use worms to create compost. Take time before you get started to pick the method that makes the most sense for you.
3. Putting Your Compost in the Wrong Spot
One of the most common composting mistakes is picking the wrong spot for the compost pile. Most people want to hide the compost away, so it might end up in a shady corner or hidden behind your shed. Before picking a spot for your compost, you need to consider the environment and climate in that area.
Does it receive sunlight, or is it all shady? Will it receive too much rain and snow?
You need to pick a site that has the right temperatures for compost and proper water levels. It should be easy to reach for you so that you can bring out kitchen scraps.
An ideal location for your compost pile should receive some sunlight to help maintain the core temperature. It should also be sheltered from the rain to prevent excess moisture inside the pile.
4. Adding the Wrong Materials to Your Compost Pile
Most things decompose when added to a compost pile, but you should never put some things into compost that you will place over your veggie garden.
For example, meat, dairy, and oil products are big composting no-nos. These materials make your pile rancid and encourage odors, attracting mice, rats, raccoons, and other pests. Another example is that you should never add cat or dog manure because they contain harmful pathogens that might spread in the soil of your garden.
Never add bread or pasta products to your compost either. These things encourage critters and lead to funky smells. The list of things that you cannot compost isn’t very long, but you should learn all of them to avoid making this mistake.
5. Putting Too Many Nitrogen-Rich Items in Your Compost
Compost needs nitrogen and carbon items, but if you add too many nitrogen-rich items all at one time, it’s one way to make your compost anaerobic fast. The next thing you’ll know, you have a stinky compost when it was fine a week or two ago.
Nitrogen-rich items are things like fruit and veggie scraps, grass clippings, and green leaves. One sure-fire way to make your compost stink is to add a huge amount of grass clippings all at one time. Soon, that becomes a big clump with a nasty smell.
To fix the problem, you have to add more carbon-rich items. Remember, when you add nitrogen-rich materials you also need to add plenty of carbon-rich materials.
6. Putting Too Many Carbon-Rich Items in Your Compost
Instead of putting too many nitrogen-rich items in your compost, you might end up on the other side of the spectrum with too many carbon-rich items. Having a balance is essential.
If you add too many brown materials to the pile, it will dramatically slow the decomposition process. Everything will grind to a halt because you need nitrogen to speed up the process. With too many brown materials, your pile won’t have the same nutritional composition to create finished compost.
7. Having the Wrong Ratio
Compost is like a recipe; you need ratios to make sure the decomposition process moves at the proper speed. You need a balance between green and brown materials, but that doesn’t mean you should have the same amount of each.
Experts recommend that you have more brown materials than green materials. An easy way to remember this is that you should add one bucket of green materials and two buckets of brown materials.
This is why some gardeners have two compost piles at the same time. It’s easy to accumulate a lot of green materials that you don’t want to waste, but adding too much is a no-no. Keep that ratio, and your pile will thank you.
8. Adding Things That Take Too Long to Decompose
Adding small items to your compost pile gives everything a chance to decompose at the same rate, leading to finished compost. Adding larger, woody pieces will take too long to break down, so avoid putting big sticks and chunks of wood in your pile.
That’s not all.
Things like avocado pits, natural fibers, and fabrics might be organic materials, but they take a long time to break down completely. If you want to add these to your compost pile, they need to be chopped up into tiny pieces.
9. Not Turning Your Compost Pile
One of the most common composting mistakes is failure to turn, or aerate, your compost pile. Compost needs oxygen to generate heat, and without enough heat, the decomposition process slows to a halt. The microbes and bacteria need heat to decompose the organic materials inside the compost.
Whenever you flip or turn over your compost, it brings oxygen into the core of the pile, allowing the decomposition process to continue. The more frequently you aerate your compost, the more quickly everything decomposes.
You should turn your compost pile every day, but at the very minimum, it needs to be turned once per week. Turning it every day or every other day will create a hot compost, decomposing the materials faster.
10. Keeping the Pile Too Dry
Compost needs moisture to work just like it needs moisture. Proper moisture keeps the decomposition process moving along, so if you stop adding water to your pile, it’s going to cause the compost pile to fail. We have to remember that we rely on organisms to create compost, and they need water to live.
If you aren’t sure if your compost is too dry, scope out a handful of compost and squeeze it. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge. If it doesn’t feel moist, then it’s time to add more water.
11. Adding Too Much Water to the Compost
On the other hand, adding too much water to your compost is a problem. It suffocates the oxygen in a pile. When you grab a handful of compost and squeeze, you shouldn’t see water come out of your hand.
Rain is the typical reason why a compost pile might end up with too much moisture. If you’re experiencing ample rain, cover the pile with a tarp or a board to stop it from becoming soaked.
So, why is too much water a composting mistake?
When the compost is saturated, it is harder for oxygen to access the core, leading to a transition to an anaerobic process. That means you’re more likely to end up with a stinky compost that attracts flies and pests. Also, if you have worms or use vermicomposting, the worms drown in a compost that’s too wet.
12. Putting Diseased Plants into Your Compost
Another one of the common composting mistakes is adding diseased plants to your compost pile. When you’re pruning and cleaning out your garden bed, you might be tempted to stick the diseased plants from your garden or flower bed into compost.
Most backyard compost piles don’t reach the center core temperature needed to kill off diseases and pathogens. So, if you put a diseased plant into your compost, the disease will spread throughout the entire compost, and when you apply it to your garden, it’ll infect all of your plants.
13. Letting Your Compost Get Too Hot
Most home composting is cold composting, but if you want to use hot composting to make compost faster, you need to let your pile get hot. However, if it gets too hot, problems begin. Hot composting is a different process that relies on microorganisms to rapidly break down the organic materials.
When you use the hot compost method, the core temperature should be between 131-49℉, but that’s the maximum temperature that you want it to reach. If it gets hotter, it begins to kill the organisms needed for decomposition while spreading a white mold throughout the compost.
If you aren’t using the hot composting method, then you need to make sure the pile doesn’t get too hot. Cold composting needs lower temperatures, and if your pile has worms, the hot temperatures will kill them. Make sure your pile has shade in the hot weather.
14. Letting Your Compost Get Too Cold
On the opposite end, letting your compost get too cold is a problem as well, which makes composting in the winter tricky. If you live somewhere with cold temperatures and cold, your compost will need insulation and a sheltered location during the coldest months.
Composting slows down in the winter because of the cold temperatures. The microbes and organisms aren’t working as fast, so if you let your compost get too cold, it’ll take even longer to end up with decomposed, usable compost.
15. Using Your Compost Immediately
That last of the composting mistakes you don’t want to make is using your finished compost immediately.
Compost requires a lot of patience, and after it has the texture that you want, it takes time to cure at the end. If you add uncured compost to your garden beds, it reduces oxygen availability to the roots, competing for nitrogen in the soil. It causes some plants to stop growing, or their leaves might turn yellow.
Instead, wait a minimum of three weeks after your compost finishes, but some experts say up to three months is ideal for curing. Then, it’s safe to use on your garden beds.
It might all seem hard to understand but to avoid making any of these composting mistakes, learn what materials you can safely compost and how much you should add. Pick a good spot and remember to turn it regularly. Composting is easier than you think, so get started today!