Composting is one of the best eco-friendly ways to nourish your garden in terms of nutrients. Composting also helps to improve soil moisture and reduce soil diseases. This organic material is made commonly from water, browns, and greens. Having a compost bin can be as exciting as it is demanding.
If you are composting, you should know to manage the decomposition process of the organic matter in a way that it doesn’t become a nuisance. You know how to ventilate your compost, the number of worms you need for the process, the right choice of material to use as well as how to ward off rats and cockroaches.
Having inadequate knowledge of composting is dangerous for gardeners. If done wrongly, your compost can breed harmful pathogens, which can lethally harm you. Also, the stench and the possibilities of pest or rodent invasion are high if you don’t do it well. Therefore let us learn some of the crucial things you need to get right about composting.
What Kind of Wood Should I Use for a Compost Bin?
It is essential to use the right wood for your compost bin. Many gardeners use new woods. This preference is justified in that the wood is yet firm and not already worn out from previous use. This way, the chance of quickly rotting is significantly reduced. New wood can be easily procured from a lumber yard.
To get the best out of your wood, you should be mindful of the construction and the species. Black locust wood, just like red cedar, is famed for its inherent resilience to decomposition.
An excellent technique is going for composite wood made from a variety of wood species that compensate for their individual defects. These types of wood can retain their structural integrity (remaining strong) despite sustained exposure to water.
It is also worth considering the treatment of the wood. Based on longevity, treated wood will beat untreated wood. While there have been questions about the effect of the chemical treatment of wood on the compost, no concrete hazards have been proven scientifically.
How Much is a Composting Bin?
You can build a composting bin all by yourself or buy one already made. If you go for the already-made compost bins, expect to spend an average of $350. However, compost bins you make yourself can be far cheaper. You can ask your friends and colleagues for the materials and tools needed to construct the compost bin.
You may not have to buy wood. You can either get across to a lumberyard to get free scrap lumber or leftover boards. The cutting process shouldn’t be too demanding. A woodshop class of a high school in your neighborhood could be excited to join you in the cutting activity.
Do Compost Bins Smell?
There shouldn’t be a distinctly repulsive odor oozing from your compost pile. By standard, your compost pile should smell the same way dirt smells unless you are composting manure in your compost bin. This is not repulsive. If your compost bin is emitting a strong offensive odor, then you are not doing it right.
Several factors could contribute to the bad odor from your compost pile. First, the decomposition of the organic matter could not be going on well, or there is an inappropriate heating up of the compost. It could also be the result of poor aeration, a compacted compost pile, or excessiveness of greens and moisture.
If you are composting manure as earlier stated, it is normal for the bin to emit that odor in the course of the manure decomposition. Should the smell be too repulsive, you can cover the pile with leaves and straws. About 8 inches cover will do in suppressing the intensity of the smell.
Let us look at some of the mentioned causes of a smelling compost pile and how to combat them.
When you have a compacted compost pile
Compacted compost has a notably putrid smell, which can be very foul. For the organic matter of your compost pile to break down appropriately, aeration is mandatory. When such oxygen is inadequate, your compost pile could easily get compacted.
To reduce such smell, improve the ventilation of your compost bin by turning the materials. With more incoming air, the pile will get less stuffy, and the odor will reduce.
Excessive green material
Your compost will ooze that sewage-like smell if stocked with greens. This clearly shows an imbalance between the greens and browns composition. Since the greens are excessive, it would help to restore the balance if you added some brown materials. Therefore, you can bring in newspapers and leaves.
When the moisture is excessive
Agreed, your compost bin needs moisture. But when it gets too much, things could go wrong. An exorbitant presence of moisture instigates most compost stinks. This smell resembles that you get from rotting eggs. The aeration is going to be restricted if the compost is too wet.
When oxygen can’t get in adequately as we explained for compacted compost, wet compost will start to smell. You need to dry the compost by adding dryer browns. You can also turn the compost to increase the penetration of oxygen.
Does a Compost Bin Need Air Holes?
Many gardeners are quite uncertain if their compost bins need air holes. Well, we have touched extensively on the need for aeration to aid the proper decomposition of the organic material and overall reduce the emission of offensive odor.
If your compost bin is not outside, its aeration will be limited. This is why you need air holes in your compost pile to aid the permeation of air. If your compost bin is outside, there isn’t any exact need for ventilation.
Dry air can easily get in. But if your outdoor compost bin is thoroughly enclosed as in the case of tumbler compost bins, you could need some air holes to ventilate the compost.
Such holes also contribute significantly to drainage. We have earlier spoken about how excessively wet compost can stink. With air holes inserted, the excess moisture can seep away. This way, the decomposition process is enhanced.
Does a Wooden Compost Bin Need a Lid?
Your compost bin can’t do without a lid. If you are on a very tight budget and you are sure to keep the moisture levels of your compost bin optimal, you shouldn’t bother about getting a lid.
You can alternatively make do with plastic tarpaulin to cover the compost bin. The tarpaulin can be kept in place by placing weights (like small chunks of blocks) on it. If you have any piece of carpet you are no longer using, you can still use it to cover your compost.
Do Compost Bins Have a Bottom?
Your compost bin needs a bottom ideally. It is best to keep your compost bin on natural soil. This will make it more natural for the composting worms to stay and colonize. But if you are keeping your compost bin on artificial surfaces like tarmac or concrete, then it will be helpful to cover the base of your compost with a bottom layer of twigs or paper.
Sometimes, such a bottom of twig may encourage vermin infestation. If so, you can choose a bottom made from wire mesh accurately fitting the base diameter of your compost bin.
Does Compost Bin Need Ventilation?
Your compost bin needs ventilation to aid aerobic decomposition. If your compost is not well ventilated, it will lack the oxygen required for the organic material to break down properly without generating dangerous pathogens or offensive odor.
To ventilate your compost bin, it is necessary to turn the materials over regularly. This will ensure the bacteria in the compost don’t lack the air they need. You can also puncture some holes on the side of your bin to improve the ventilation, especially for the organic materials in the deeper end of the bin.
Are Pallets Safe for Compost Bins?
Yes, pallets are safe for your compost bin so long the wood is properly treated. If the treatment is improper, there is the risk of toxic substances leaching into the compost pile. Older pallets are more suitable as their safety (or suitableness for compost bins) can be affirmed from the pallet stamp.
This will ascertain how safe the treatment of the wood is. Pallet stamps with the IPPC logo while also denoted by the “HT” letters are safe to use for your compost bins. Such pallets don’t contain harmful toxic materials.
Do You Need Holes in a Compost Bin?
Holes are needed in your compost bins not only for aeration but also for temperature modulation. This will enable the organic material to break down properly. The amount of air (and consequently the number and sizes of holes needed) is determined by the structure of the organic matter. Thus, the balance between the greens and the browns in the compost is critical.
If you have sufficient natural aeration as in the case of composting twigs and cardboards, it is not necessary to punch holes in your bin. Nonetheless, holes contribute a lot to preventing your compost from compacting. And if your soil is too compacted – likely from lack of regular turning and limited airflow– punching holes in your compost bin wouldn’t do much to aerate your bin.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you punch too many holes or the holes are too big, you are going to lose too much moisture from your compost pile.
Do Compost Bins Need to be on Soil?
Proximity to the soil will aid the decomposition of the compost materials. This way, the needed microbes can easily penetrate the compost and accelerate decay. Having your compost bin on the soil also aids the drainage and overall aeration.
How Do You Move a Compost Bin?
It is possible to get bored with the sight of your compost bin in a particular location. Thus you may want to move it. Sometimes, redecorating your house will require you to move your compost bins. How do you achieve this?
To move your compost bin, you need to remove all unfinished compost, if any. Ideally, a pitchfork is suitable for this, but a shovel can yet do the job well. If you have a massive compost bin possibly with heavy woody compost materials, you may need help to move it around. Otherwise, if what you have is a simple plastic compost bin, you can carry it to your new location yourself.
It will be a massive addition if you can add a layer to the bottom to enhance the base of your bin. You can use shredded leaves to form this layer. This makes the container more conducive for the bacteria that would speed up the decomposition.
You can use a sizable quantity of shredded leaves for the base if your compost has high moisture content. After that, you can now bring back those unfinished compost you took off before relocating the bin. Next, you can seal off the unfinished compost with shredded paper.
Can I Put Potato Peelings in My Compost Bin?
So long you are cautious and watchful of the potato peelings you are putting into your compost bin, there shouldn’t be a problem. Potato blight is the core concern against using potato peelings. You will agree that this can damage your garden or the crops you groom with your compost. This is why you should carefully inspect the potato for any symptoms of blight before adding it to your compost.
Some signs to warn you of potato blight include dark patches appearing on the potato tuber. If you also notice rotting of the tuber (typified by distinct brown coloring) from inside the potato tuber or inner skin, chances are high it is potato blight.
If these signs are confirmed, don’t use that potato. It is unlikely that the composting cycle will be able to kill the virus off. If the virus survives (with the possibility of surviving high due to its resilience), it will inflict heavy damages on your crops.
Also, make sure not to use whole potatoes for your composting. Chop them up. If composted whole, they can grow into fresh potatoes. Composting them in slices will also reduce the supposed impact of any disease infestation.
Do You Put Dirt in a Compost Bin?
Ideally, grasses and leaves are the materials you need to put into your bin. However, there are times you may need to speed up the breaking down of the organic matter. In such circumstances, you can add dirt (or soil) to your compost bin to enhance the rate of decay.
Adding dirt can also help to improve the structure and drainage of the compost – regulating the moisture content. Adding soil to your compost bin can also be helpful if the compost smells badly.
Are Slugs OK in a Compost Bin?
Slugs are integral to the decomposition process of compost. Slugs find compost bins as perfect abodes to breed. Gardeners often move the slugs they find around their gardens to the compost bins.
How Many Worms Do I Need for My Compost Bin?
Composting worms are crucial to the decomposition of your organic material. However, you must get the population of worm right. The number of worms you need is primarily determined by the square area of your compost bin.
Typically, composting worms prefer fetching their food from their uppermost layers of the worm bin. This is why you need to determine the befitting surface area for the compost bin and tell the number of worms you need from that.
By standard, 1 sq.ft is suitable for a pound of worms. Deducing from this 1:1 ratio, you see that a worm herd of 3lb should go for a surface area of 3sq.ft. The larger the worm herd, the bigger the compost bin you need.
For a standard American family hoping to compost their food waste, four pounds of composting worms can eat the food scraps. If you can’t buy the amount of composting worms you need, you can simply grow these worms. Depending on the size of your compost bin, you can build a worm farm where you let them massively reproduce.
Growing a worm farm may not be the wisest option if you are in desperate need of quick composting worms. Buying the worm herd is better for urgency. But if you are not in a hurry, you can save significantly by patiently growing as many composting worms you need for the square area of your compost bin.
Do Compost Bins Attract Rats?
As we mentioned earlier, if you are composting food materials like meat and fish, it is normal that rats and other rodents will be attracted to your compost bins. Also, when winter rages, the warmth of the compost bin will attract rats eager to escape the cold and relative food scarcity.
The best way to stop rat infestation of your compost bins is to avoid composting food waste. You can directly bury your food waste in compost trenches in your garden. How else can you keep rats off your compost bins?
Maintain optimal moisture of your compost bins
If your compost is very dry, the rats will love it there. The bin becomes warm, conducive, and insulated for them to stay. This doesn’t mean you need your compost too wet. No, just keep it optimally moist.
If it is too wet, it will smell badly, and the compost will not decompose well. Optimal moisture combined with regular turning of the compost material will make it less habitable for rats and other rodents.
It would be helpful if you had mint around
Rats don’t like mint. If you don’t have a full-blown rat infestation of your compost bin yet, planting mint close to your compost bin can help put off rats. However, if the rats are many and are more desperate (possibly from a scarcity of food), mint will only do so little in keeping the rats off.
Do Compost Bins Attract Flies?
If you are composting veggies and fruit peels, flies will be surely attracted. Flies are naturally drawn to litter and decomposing matter. To reduce the mass of fast whizzing around your compost bin, you can bury those fruit peels and veggies deep inside your bin, where the flies can’t readily reach. It is even better if you can wrap the vegetables and peels with some newspaper parcels before burying them deep inside your bin.
If your compost content is balanced in terms of the percentage of greens and browns, it will reduce the number of flies that are drawn in. If your compost bin is made up of about 47% of browns, fruit flies will not be easily attracted.
You can also cover the bin with a lid to keep off the flies. The only concern is that if your compost bin is permanently or sustainably sealed, it will lack the needed aeration for the compost to decompose decently. So if you are going to cover your compost with a lid to keep the flies, make sure to open and turn it intermittently.
Another great technique in controlling flies about your compost bin is scalding the flies. If you have a new compost pile and you have not procured your composting worms, you can boil water to a very high temperature and pour it inside your bin, making sure to seal it tightly.
If there are any flies inside, the heat will kill them. Aside from the matured flies, this hot water will also destroy the fly eggs inside your compost bin. After a while, as you notice the steam has significantly gone down, you can now cover the compost surface with grass.
Do Compost Bins Attract Cockroaches?
Gardeners who compost regularly are scared of cockroaches. Cockroaches, by their nature as scavengers, savor decomposing matter. This is why your decaying compost pile can be a huge turn-on for cockroaches, especially for the sizable amount of decomposing food sources in your compost bin. Cockroaches would enjoy frequenting and inhabiting your compost bin as they have conducive moisture and food waste to feast on.
If you are curious that your compost bin has been infested with cockroaches, the best time to ascertain this is at night. At this time, cockroaches are more active. You need to inspect the compost bin, turning the compost materials to agitate the cockroaches, which may be possibly hiding away in the deeper regions of your compost bin.
If you regularly turn the pile, it will unsettle the colony of cockroaches and force them to move out. It is also wiser not to compost food materials like eggs and meat, which will attract cockroaches and even rats. Also, if your compost bin is close to a garden hose, the added moisture could pull the cockroaches in.
Your compost bin also shouldn’t be surrounded by dense shrubs. Otherwise, light would struggle to penetrate the compost – the same as air. Such increased dampness and stuffiness will encourage cockroach inhabitation.
An excellent solution to a cockroach infestation is treating the surrounding (of your compost bin) with low-toxicity insecticides boric acid powder. If you are not using boric acid power, pay attention to the label of the pesticides you use for cockroach control. Some are toxic to plants, your pets, and even children.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare