Maintaining your bin

The Recipe for successful compost: Organic Waste + Water + Oxygen + Volume

Your compost pile is a living ecosystem with decomposer organisms such as worms, insects, bacteria and fungi – hard at work. When you add organic waste to your compost bin you are feeding these organisms that, like every other living organism, require food, water, oxygen and space to survive.

Organic Waste

When adding your organic waste, it is important to maintain a proper carbon-to-nitrogen (or brown-to-green) ratio. A good mixture of material consists of 50% brown and 50% green material (by weight, not volume).

Each time you add your green kitchen waste, cover with a layer of brown waste like dried leaves, sawdust, shredded paper or boxboard (cereal boxes).

Cutting up materials into smaller pieces before adding them to your bin will increase the surface area and allow for faster decomposition.

Greens = Good Source of Nitrogen

  • Fruit & vegetable peels and scraps
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Tea bags & tea leaves
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Crushed egg shells
Browns = Good Source of Carbon

  • Dried Leaves, twigs & small branches
  • Dried & untreated grass clippings
  • Non-diseased plants
  • Woodchips & sawdust (from untreated wood)
  • Paper (newspaper, paper towels, toilet paper rolls & cereal boxes)
  • Rice, oats & other grains
  • Dried corn stalks
  • Pasta (no sauces or oils)
  • Peanut shells
  • Bread & other baked goods

 You should avoid putting the following items in your compost bin:

  • Meats, fish & shellfish (including bones)
  • Fat, grease, oils & sauces
  • All dairy products
  • Weeds (that have gone to seed)
  • Diseased plants or plants treated with pesticides
  • Dog & Cat Waste
  • Toxic chemicals (pesticides, etc)
  • Charcoal or treated fire logs

Water

Your compost pile should be as moist as a ‘wrung-out sponge’. When you touch the pile, it should feel damp; but when you squeeze it, no liquid should run out.

Your compost pile gets moisture from green material. If the pile gets too wet, add more brown material. If it gets too dry, add more green material or sprinkle with water.

Oxygen

For composting to take place, oxygen must get to the bottom and centre of the pile. Turn your compost regularly to increase the circulation of oxygen within the pile.

Keep a shovel or a pitchfork next to your compost bin to remind you to turn the pile when you add your organic waste.

Volume

Your compost pile should be large enough to hold the heat generated through the composting process, but small enough to let air into the centre.

For home composting, your compost pile or bin should be no smaller than 3′ x 3′ x 3′ and no larger than 5′ x 5′ x 5′

Composting with the seasons

You can compost all year round!

Summer
Maximize the productivity of your compost pile during the short summer season by turning your pile frequently and adding organic waste in layers of browns and greens.

Compost your grass clippings by leaving them on your lawn. Cutting your lawn frequently and only cutting the top third of the grass blade lets you leave the clippings on the ground, where they can return nutrients back into your lawn.

Autumn
Autumn is the best time to harvest your finished compost and add it to your garden, making room for materials to be added throughout the winter. If necessary, you can screen out any large pieces of material that haven’t yet decomposed.

Collect and store dried leaves in a covered container near your compost bin. This will allow you to maintain the proper brown-to-green layering throughout the winter months.

You can further prepare your compost pile for winter by placing bags of leaves or bails of hay around the bin to provide extra insulation.

Winter
Composting doesn’t have to stop when the weather gets cold! Although decomposition will slow down or even stop during the winter months, decomposition will speed up again in the spring. Even if your compost pile freezes, you can continue adding material throughout the winter. These materials will start to break down when the temperature rises.

When the snow comes, place a covered garbage bin just outside your door to collect organic waste throughout the winter. In the spring, you can add this waste to your compost pile.

 The following are some helpful tips that will allow you to continue composting throughout the winter:

  • Locate your bin close to your house to allow for easy access throughout the winter.
  • Place your bin where it will receive direct sunlight for at least part of the day.
  • Increase the internal temperature of your compost pile by adding more nitrogen-rich material like kitchen greens.
  • Add oxygen by turning your pile periodically throughout the winter (when the temperature allows).
  • Continue covering your green waste with brown waste such as shredded paper or cardboard or stored fall leaves.

Spring
As the temperature rises, your compost pile will begin to thaw and decomposition will start again. At this point you can turn your compost pile to allow oxygen to reach the centre. Add leaves, sawdust, shredded paper or boxboard (cereal boxes) to soak up any excess moisture.

In the spring, you can help get your compost pile working by adding some soil to your bin.

What is backyard composting?

Backyard composting is the natural breakdown of food and yard waste into a nutrient-rich material, known as humus. In a compost pile, oxygen is used by microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi) that feed on the organic matter. The microorganisms get the energy (carbon) and protein (nitrogen) they need to survive from the organic materials.

What is organic waste?

Organic waste is material that will decompose or “break down” naturally over time. Organic waste from your household includes things like fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps, plant material, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, paper, and cardboard. Organic waste from your yard includes things like leaves, grass clippings, branches, and soil.

Why is it important to compost my organic waste?

We all know that compost is great for our gardens, but there are also many environmental benefits to backyard composing.

Reduces Waste Sent to the Landfill – Although organic waste may not seem like a problem, it actually represents as much as 30% of the waste we generate in Newfoundland and Labrador. By composting in our backyards, we can reduce the amount of waste we send to our overburdened landfills.

Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Organics buried in a landfill break down very slowly and without the presence of oxygen. When this happens – methane gas – a greenhouse gas is produced.

Reduces Pollution – When organics break down without the presence of oxygen, as they do at the landfill, a toxic liquid known as leachate (the liquid that runs from a dump) is produced. Leachate can pollute our soil and drinking water sources.

Reduces the Need for Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides – Finished compost (or humus) is a rich, natural fertilizer that returns valuable nutrients back into the soil promoting the growth of healthy plants.

Lowers Waste Disposal Costs – Putting less waste to the curb also means less waste has to be collected and transported; therefore lowering waste disposal costs.

Is backyard composting difficult or time consuming?

Composting is easy! Composting at home does not have to be difficult or time consuming – your job is simple, add the material, occasionally turn the pile and make sure the pile stays moist.

Do I have to be a gardener to compost my organic waste?

Anyone, even non-gardeners and urban dwellers, can reduce their waste by composting at home. All you need to do is locate your bin in a well-drained, accessible area, add the materials and let nature do the rest.

Should I wear gloves to handle my compost?

There is no need to wear gloves, finished compost can be handled just as you would garden soil.

How do I start composting?

If you are new to backyard composting here are some tips to help you get started on the right foot:

Step 1: Decide on a compost bin.

Step 2: Place your bin in a location that is well-drained, exposed to the sun and accessible all year.

Step 3: Build your compost pile. Begin with a layer of browns (dried grass clippings and leaves, sawdust and newspaper), then add a layer of greens (vegetable and fruit peels and scraps, tea bags, and coffee grounds and filters) and finish by covering with a layer of browns.

Ensure you add a balanced amount of brown and green material to the pile and as you add to the pile throughout the season, be sure to alternate layers of browns and greens – always finishing with a layer of browns on top.

Step 4: As you add new organic material, turn the pile by moving the material from the outside to the centre and from the bottom to the top.

Where should I locate my backyard compost bin?

Don’t hide your compost bin – display it proudly! Locate your compost bin in a sunny area where it will absorb and retain as much heat as possible. Also, be sure to locate your bin in an area with good drainage. This will be especially important in the spring when your compost pile will produce excess moisture. Finally, make sure that the location is convenient and accessible all year round.

What can I add to my compost bin?

Your compost pile requires both carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to work properly. It’s important to distinguish between brown and green waste because to compost successfully, you must add your organic waste in layers of browns and greens.

Browns = Good Source of Carbon

  • Dried Leaves
  • Dried & Untreated Grass Clippings
  • Non-Diseased Plants
  • Twigs & Small Branches
  • Woodchips & Sawdust (from untreated wood)
  • Paper (Newspaper, Paper Towels, Toilet Paper Rolls & Cereal Boxes)
  • Rice, Oats & Other Grains
  • Dried Corn Stalks
  • Pasta (no sauces or oils)
  • Peanut Shells
  • Bread & Other Baked Goods

Greens = Good Source of Nitrogen

  • Fruit & Vegetable Peels and Scraps
  • Crushed Egg Shells
  • Coffee Grounds & Filters
  • Tea Bags & Leaves
  • Fresh Grass Clippings

What should I avoid putting in my compost bin?

You should not put the following items in your compost bin:

  • Meats
  • Fish & Shellfish
  • Bones
  • Fat, Grease, Oils & Sauces
  • All Dairy Products
  • Weeds (that have gone to seed)
  • Diseased Plants
  • Dog & Cat Waste
  • Plants (treated with pesticides)
  • Toxic Chemicals (pesticides, etc)
  • Charcoal
  • Treated Fire Logs

How long does the composting process take?

Given our cool climate and short summer season, the composting process in Newfoundland and Labrador can take anywhere from one to two years. The amount of time it takes your compost pile to produce rich compost, or humus, will depend on the material you add and the effort you put in.

How will I know when my compost is ready?

Finished compost, known as “humus”, is dark and crumbly and has an earthy smell. You’ll know when your compost is ready when it takes this form and none of the original materials (food scraps) are visible.

What can I do with my finished compost?

Compost can be used around the home for fertilizing flower beds or vegetable gardens, added to soil on newly seeded lawns, or used as a top dressing (or mulch) on established plants and lawns.

Should I add activators to my compost pile?

Activators will help heat your compost pile, which speeds up the decomposition of the organics you place in your pile. However, activators are not necessary for the process of composting to occur.

Can I compost my organic waste throughout the winter?

Composting doesn’t have to stop when the weather gets cold. In fact, you can add organic waste to your compost pile all year long. Although decomposition will slow down or even stop during the winter months, decomposition will speed up again in the spring. Even if your compost pile freezes, you can continue adding material throughout the winter. These materials will start to break down when the temperature rises.

The following are some helpful tips that will allow you to continue composting throughout the winter:

Preparation:

  • In the fall, remove any finished compost to make room for material to be added throughout the winter months.
  • Store fall leaves in a covered container near your compost bin – this will allow you to maintain the proper carbon-to-nitrogen (or brown-to-green) ratio all winter.
  • Insulate your compost by placing bags of leaves or bails of hay around the bin. Note: This is not recommended in areas that are prone to rodents.

Location:

  • Locate your bin close to your house to allow for easy access throughout the winter.
  • Place your bin where it will receive direct sunlight for at least part of the day.
  • If you can’t locate your compost bin near your home, place a covered garbage bin just outside your door to collect organic waste throughout the winter. In the spring, you can add this waste to your compost pile.

Maintenance:

  • Help increase the internal temperature of your compost pile by adding more nitrogen-rich material like kitchen greens.
  • Help add oxygen by turning your pile periodically throughout the winter (when the temperature allows).
  • Continue covering your green waste with brown waste such as shredded paper or cardboard or stored fall leaves.

Will my compost pile attract pests?

Unwelcome pests are often a result of the layout of the larger area you live in. Composting correctly ensures a healthy compost pile that is non-attractive to pests. If pests are a problem in your area, you can try the following tips to ensure that your compost bin remains pest-free.

Preparation:

  • Buy or make a rodent-resistant bin – one that has a secure lid and no opening larger than 1/2 inch.
  • Fasten your bin to the ground with stakes or screws, or place bricks or flat stones around the base of your bin to discourage burrowing.
  • Line the bottom of your bin with galvanized wire mesh – this will prevent rodents from burrowing up through, while still allowing for proper drainage.
  • Locate your bin away from things that offer food or shelter for rodents, such as bird feeders, open water, wood piles, sheds, and thick shrubbery.
  • Place your bin at least a foot away from fences, decks, or buildings.

Adding Material:

  • Avoid materials that encourage rodent feeding or nesting, such as grains, meat, fish, oils, and dairy products.
  • Cover exposed food, such as green kitchen waste, with a layer of brown material, such as dried leaves or shredded paper – this will also keep wasps, bees, and fruit flies away.

Maintenance:

  • Turn your compost pile regularly – a regularly disturbed pile is unattractive to pests.
  • Harvest finished compost at the bottom of the bin – this will discourage pests from nesting in the warm compost.
  • Add dog hair or essence of mint (hated by mice) to your compost pile.
  • Keep your compost pile moist (like a wrung-out sponge) – pests will be more inclined to nest in a dry compost pile.

What should I do if my compost starts to smell?

Your compost pile may emit a rotten odor if it is not getting enough oxygen, or if it is getting too much water.

To eliminate the rotten odor:

  1. Aerate the pile by turning it
  2. Absorb some of the excess moisture by adding some brown material
  3. Mix in some healthy garden soil

Your compost pile may emit an ammonia odor (like “rotten eggs”) if there is too much green material (nitrogen). To eliminate the ammonia odor, add brown material (carbon) and aerate the pile by turning it.

What may be happening if my compost pile is not working?

If the organic materials you add to your compost bin are not decomposing, just think about elements for successful composting – food, water, oxygen and volume.

If your compost pile is:

  • Too wet – turn your pile, add dry (brown) material and cover
  • Too dry – turn, add water (or green material) and mix thoroughly
  • Not heating up – make sure the size of your compost pile is at least 3’x3’x3′. If the pile is damp and sweet smelling but not heating up, add green material (nitrogen), such as fruit and vegetable scraps or green grass clippings.

What can I do with my grass clippings?

If you have a large lawn you may find that you accumulate more grass clippings than your compost bin can accommodate. You can “compost” your grass clippings by leaving them right on your lawn. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn does not cause thatch, as once believed. Cutting your lawn frequently and only cutting the top third of the grass blade lets you leave the clippings on the ground, where they can return nutrients back into your lawn.

Troubleshooting

Occasionally, a compost pile’s performance is less than optimal. Here are some common issues and solutions that you may experience with your compost pile:

Problem

Possible Cause

Solution

Odors May be too wet or may have too much green (nitrogen-rich) material. Turn the pile more frequently and add brown (carbon-rich) materials such as sawdust, dried leaves or newspapers.
Too Wet Too much green material. Turn the pile more frequently and add brown material such as sawdust, dried leaves or newspapers.
Too Dry Too much brown material. Add water or green materials and mix thoroughly.
Flies Fruit flies and other insects are attracted to food scraps that are exposed on top of the pile. Always layer brown and green materials ending with a layer of brown.
Pile will not heat up Pile is too small. Pile is too dry. Add more browns and greens. Add water or more greens and turn.
Pile is too dry. Add water or more greens and turn.
Too warm to touch Not enough green materials and not turned enough. Add more green materials and turn the pile more frequently.
Attracting Pests Exposed food scraps and/or adding incorrect materials such as fish, meat and oils. Always add materials by layering browns and greens and ending with a layer of brown. Keep all lids fastened or weighed down. Line the bottom of your bin with galvanized steel wire.