Sunday, July 10, 2011


So you have been composting for a while. You may ask a question: Is my composting working properly? One of you asked this question in the Composting Challenge survey. I hope this article will help to answer it.

If you are composting correctly you should get a pleasantly smelling compost pile that has heated up to about 135-160F. To have some fun with your bin, buy a thermometer to see how the temperature of your pile changes over time. Once the composting pile is warm enough, the composting process begins. To help the composting pile to heat up, many composting bins come in dark, often black, colors. Make sure that you position your composting bin in a sunny place to speed up the process.

High temperatures of the composting pile are important for destruction of pathogenic organisms and weed seeds. Decomposition is also much faster at higher temperatures. The temperature of the pile is influenced by moisture content, oxygen availability, and microbial activity. As the microbial activity increases, the temperature of the pile rises. The optimal temperature is between 135-160F. The temperatures above 160F are too high for certain microbe populations to survive. This will cause the temperature to decrease. When the temperature starts decreasing it is time to aerate the pile. Enough moisture is also important for composting microorganisms to flourish.

Another important thing to watch for is the mix of your compost. You should be properly mixing greens and browns. Too many greens in your composting pile will result in a smelly rotting pile of garbage. Typical greens are grass clippings, kitchen scraps such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells and tea bags, houseplant cuttings, weeds and green leaves. For browns you can use coffee filters, stale bread, paper napkins and towels, shredded newspaper, dry leaves, dried grass, cornstalks, straw, and sawdust.

It is always a good idea to mix your kitchen food waste into the middle of the pile to avoid smell of rotting food and fruit flies. When I started composting I had hundreds of fruit flies in my composting bin. It was not very pleasant to open the bin. I did some research and found out that my problem was too much fruit scraps in the bin. I added a good pile of old leaves and dried grass from my lawn and the problem was solved! Please share your experiences with others, so we can support each other and share the best practices in composting. Did you run into any problems? What was the solution that helped? Also, please feel free to post any questions to the blog. Posting a comment will help us to create a supportive community for this fabulous process of reducing the waste and creating a healthier environment for all of us to enjoy.

Happy composting!