Compost Info Guide

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Composting Articles:

Compost FAQ: Answers to Composting Questions

Q: How long does it take to make compost?

A: The time it takes to make finished compost depends mostly on the method used:

  • Compost made using the "fast compost" method can be finished in as little 14 days.
  • Using a variation on the Indore composting method (turning the compost pile more frequently) you can expect to have finished compost in a few months.
  • A compost pile managed using the basic Indore Method should be ready in about 12 - 18 months.

Q: When is compost finished and ready to use?

A: The point at which the compost is ready varies depending on how the compost will be used. In general, compost is ready when it's dark and crumbly and mostly broken down with a pleasant, earthy, soil-like smell to it. The using compost section of the site has lots of helpful tips.

Q: What should I add to my compost and what should I avoid?

A: In general, you can compost any soft organic materials. Good materials to add are leaves, hay, straw, paper, seaweed, grass clippings, fresh manure, vegetable trimmings and most green plant cuttings. See the good ingredients page for more detail. Materials to keep out of your compost are meat and fish products, bones, fats, whole eggs, dairy products, human and pet feces, and pressure treated wood. A full list is available on the what not to add page.

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Q: How do I get started? I haven't made compost before.

A: Composting isn't difficult. All that's needed is some vegetable scraps and a place to make a pile. See the beginner's guide to composting for some tips on getting started.

Q: Can I compost all year round? What should I do in the winter?

A: If you live in an area where temperatures remain above freezing your compost pile will continue to break down. If, on the other hand, you live in an area where temperatures fall below freezing for part of the year, the rate of decomposition will slow and if the nitrogen level is too low, the pile may freeze completely. If this happens, continue adding materials and when the weather warms up the pile will begin to decompose again.

Q: My compost smells bad, what should I do?

A: If your compost smells foul it may be one of the following:

  • Too wet: Add some dry brown materials such as leaves, hay or shredded paper.
  • Not enough air circulation: Turn the pile well and ensure that fresh air can enter the pile easily See making a compost pile for more information.
  • Too much nitrogen: If you added grass clippings or other high nitrogen material without mixing with other ingredients it will form slimy clumps and will emit a foul ammonia smell. Break up any clumps of high nitrogen materials and add some brown materials to the mix.

Q: My compost pile is just sitting there and nothing seems to be happening. What should I do?
A: Here are the top 4 reasons for a compost pile not breaking down:
  1. Pile is too Dry: Add water to the pile. For tips on getting the moisture content right see the measuring moisture section.
  2. Pile too Small: Ideally a compost pile should be about 4 to 5 feet wide and tall. If you can't make one that big, just make it as big as you can.
  3. Incorrect Mixture of Materials: Make sure that you have a good mixture of green and brown materials so that your compost pile will really heat up.
  4. Too little Air: Many of the organisms that break down your compost pile need air to live. Turning the pile more often will keep them happy.

If it seems as if you have done everything right: the pile is the right size, it's damp and has been turned regulary, the pile may need more nitrogen. Compost piles with too little nitrogen can take a long time to heat up. Adding some grass clippings, manure or vegetable scraps should help.

Q: My compost attracts rodents and local animals, what can I do?

A: A well managed compost pile should only attract the occasional curious animal. If animals continue to be a problem it is likely that meat, fish, animal fats, vegetable fats or food cooked in vegetalbe fats have been added to the pile. A possible solution is to move the materials into a closed bin such as a plastic bin with a lockintg lid. Wire mesh can be added to the bottom of the bin to prevent creatures from digging their way in. People in areas where animals are a problem often a closed plastic bin for food waste and separate open style bins for garden waste.