Backyard Composting - FAQs
SWRC Master Composter volunteers staff displays at events such as Seedy Saturday and Gardenscapes. People really like the one-on-one communication, and a chance to ask questions. Here are a few of those frequently asked.
Do I need a bin? Perfectly good compost can be made in a pile. People in towns and cities tend to use bins to save space (you can build taller piles), to improve the appearance of the compost site, and to keep critters of various sizes out of the compost. Most bin designs also retain moisture better, which helps the compost process. (See our brochure for more bin and pile info.)
Where should I put my bin? It is helpful for a pile or bin to get sunshine in the spring to help thaw the pile and then be in shade for the remainder of the summer and early fall. Placing the bin in the shade of a deciduous tree is a good way of achieving this. Other things to consider are convenience, and whether it will pose a problem for neighbours if an odour problem develops. (Well-maintained bins do not have a bad smell.)
I put things in but nothing seems to be happening. There are two major causes of “no action”. One is dryness. The compost process is carried out by microbes and they cannot eat things up unless there is some moisture. The aim is to have the compost mix as moist as a wrung-out sponge. The other common problem is a lack of nitrogen. If the materials are moist but the breakdown process is very slow and cool, mix in some grass clippings, some cattle or horse manure or a cup of high-nitrogen fertilizer (avoid “weed and feed” type products). (See our brochure - Troubleshooting; or our article on water and compost.)
Won’t the bin stink? The compost process should be relatively odour-free. There are two main sources of smell: too much nitrogen and too little oxygen. When there is too much nitrogen in the mix, the microbes send it off into the air—your nose smells ammonia or a manure-like smell. When the compost mix is too wet or compacted, the microbes cannot get enough oxygen and they start using other ways of decomposing the materials which lead to sour, sulphury smells. Both problems are easily fixed in much the same way: mix in some leaves, straw or shredded paper along with a shovelful or two of topsoil.
Won't the bin/pile attract pests? The best way to avoid pests is to keep an active, properly moistened, pile, and to cover added food scraps immediately, and stir the pile often. A secure lid will keep bigger scavengers away. See our Pests and Compost article for more information.
Can I compost paper and cardboard? Yes, including such things as pizza boxes, waxed paper and cardboard, boxboard, paper towels, newspapers, to name a few. The are generally considered "browns" in the compost mix. See The Paper Compost Connection.
How do I know when the compost is ready to use? Here are a few common methods for judging the compost's readiness: it should be dark and crumbly; you shouldn't see the original "ingredients"; and it should smell pleasantly "earthy". There are also in-depth lab tests that can be done for municipal piles and the like, but for a home composter, these three tips should suffice. For more information, see "Is it done yet?".
I’ve got so much stuff, how will I ever use the compost? It is really hard to make too much home compost because the materials shrink as they decompose. Compost made from grass, leaves and food scraps will have only a quarter the volume when the compost process is complete. The compost can be spread as thick as 2 inches (5 cm) on garden or flower bed soil and dug in. It can also be screened and spread in a half-inch layer on the surface of established lawns. The compost adds slow-release nutrients to the soil at the same time as it improves its air- and water-holding capacity. Compost also helps to protect plants from some fungal diseases. (See our brochure - Use.)
Can you keep adding food scraps in the winter? Yes, you can keep adding food scraps to a compost bin throughout the winter but they will not break down until spring. It is important to mix in some leaves or straw and a bit of soil to the scraps as soon as they melt in the spring to avoid smell and insect problems. Some people find it handier to store their frozen food scraps in lidded pails or other containers and then add them to the compost bin with leaves and soil in the spring. (See Composting in Winter)
Are those just regular earth worms in that worm bin? No, these are red wiggler worms, a type of earthworm that lives in manure piles in warmer climates. They don’t mind living in the damp ‘foody’ world of the worm bin. Regular earthworms like to live in a soil environment. (See our Vermi brochure more more on the worms.)
Where can I get vermicomposting worms? The worms reproduce fairly quickly in an uncrowded bin. You can get red wigglers from another person who composts with worms or you can purchase them from a few sources in Saskatchewan. SWRC keeps a list of people with worms for sale. Call 931-3242 for more information, or see our Vermi brochure.
(Source: May 2007 WasteWatch)
Back to Composting main page
Back to Resources main page
Back to Home page