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Mastergardening.com Presents… A Lesson in Composting


What is Compost?

Compost is a useful organic material made from organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures). In composting, bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) are added to organic wastes to accelerate the breakdown of material. Then, the finished material is fully stabilized and matured through a curing process.

Worm composting uses red worms to create useful organic material from kitchen wastes.

The Uses and Benefits of Compost:

  • Provides mulch for landscaping and gardens
  • Replaces fertilizers
  • Provides erosion control
  • Alleviates soil compaction
  • Improves soil structure, porosity, and density, creating a better plant root environment
  • Suppresses plant diseases and pests
  • Promotes higher yields of crops and plants
  • Cost-effectively remediates soil contaminated by hazardous waste

Choosing a Composting Bin

Not all composting bins are equal. For table scraps, consider a worm box/bin instead of a composting bin. The rule of thumb for worm bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. Red worms work best for composting. If your goal is to “hold” materials such as leaves for a year or so, a large open-air holding bin is most practical. For active, hot composting, smaller enclosed plastic bins are preferred.

Tips for Creating the Best Compost

Add kitchen scraps (see the list of What to Compost above). Kitchen scraps are high in nitrogen, which heats the pile and helps speed up the process.

Aerate your compost whenever you add new material. Oxygen plays an essential role in the breakdown of materials.

Keep your compost moist but not wet. Dried composting material will not break down and wet composting material will stink.

Don’t overload on any one material. Variety is the key.

Tips for Worm Composting
Place your bin in a shady location where the temperatures will remain moderate. Some great places include outside the back door, on the patio, in the garage, in the laundry room or in a kitchen pantry.
Black and white newspaper makes great bedding material. Just tear into strips and moisten to the dampness of a wrung-out sponge.

Red worms work best for composting because they have large appetites, reproduce quickly and thrive in confined spaces.

Worms like to eat some of the same foods we eat. Examples include apple cores, orange peels, lettuce trimmings, coffee grinds and tea bags. (See the list of What to Compost below for more information.)
If your worms are dying, the culprit is usually lack of food, temperatures that are too high or too low or moisture levels that are too high or too low. Dying worms could also mean it’s time for fresh bedding.
If your bin smells rotten or attracts flies, there may not be enough air circulation or you may have materials in your bin that should not be used for compost (see the lists below for details). Another culprit is exposed food. Make sure the lid is secured, cover food scraps with bedding and cover the bedding and worms with a sheet of plastic.

What to Compost:

  • Animal manure
  • Cardboard
  • Clean paper
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass Clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings (unless treated with chemical pesticides)

What NOT to Compost:

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Dairy products
  • Egg yolks
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Fats, grease, lard or oils
  • Meat
  • Fish bones and scraps
  • Pet wastes (cat litter, dog or cat feces)
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides

Ready to buy a new Compost Bin? Visit our full line of compost bins.