5 Common DIY Composting Mistakes

Ever heard: ‘one person’s trash is another person’s gold?’

Well, it’s definitely true, but in this case, your trash is your own gold.

Composting is a great alternative to conventional solid waste disposal that both protects and nurtures our soils.

Although it is no rocket science, it requires a few technical insights for it to really take off. 

Generally speaking, It’s simple: 

you return what you take by allowing organic matter like vegetable and fruit scraps, grass clippings, and green leaves to decompose appropriately.

A few easy steps can make all the difference in creating a healthy and effective compost heap.

Here are 5 common mistakes followed by practical composting tips to set you up on your journey to recycling the gold that the earth gives freely.

1. Missing the Timing

One of the most common mistakes beginners make when figuring out how to compost is missing out on the timing that a heap takes to mature. Depending on the size of the compost heap, the kind of waste, and the way it is treated (we’ll explore a little more of these later), it can take anything between six weeks or over a year to mature.

Adding immature compost to your soil means that organic matter will continue to decompose. The microbes responsible for this process require a large intake of nitrogen and oxygen, which they are likely to pull out of the soil, reducing the supply of both oxygen and nitrogen to the roots of your plants.

Make sure you know what mature compost should look like. 

When the composting process is complete, you should not be able to identify your former organic materials and you want to be looking at a crumbly and dark brown kind of soil that has a rich earthy smell.

Psst, I’ll let you in on a little compost secret: some materials like eggshells will take longer to decompose. You can remove these and add them to another compost heap or your next batch.

2. Forgetting to balance your ‘greens’ and your ‘browns’

The ideal compost heap will have a healthy balance between ‘green’ nitrogen scraps (fruits, veggies, green leaves, etc.) and carbon-rich ‘brown’ materials (like sawdust, cardboard, dry leaves, and twigs). 

Carbon-rich materials will provide the microbes in your compost heap with the energy they need to get the hard work done, whilst your ‘greens’ provide nitrogen which is essential for proteins and enzymes that ensure healthy cell growth.

If you add too much ‘green,’ your compost heap is likely to smell and, in extreme cases, overheat. Whereas too much ‘brown’ will slow down the decomposition process.

The ideal carbon-nitrogen ratio varies between 25-30:01. In other words, 25-30 parts carbon for each part nitrogen by weight.

3. Providing the wrong organic waste

If you are composting for the first time, you might feel a little amiss as to what you should and should not include in your compost bin.

You might have heard that including animal-derived products is a No No when it comes to composting.

Generally speaking, this is true when it comes to the best and most simple practice. Dairy products, meat, and fish are more likely to attract scavengers, flies, and other unwanted visitors, not to mention that it’s likely to reek up an unpleasant smell.

If you can avoid adding these products then go for it, and go ahead and skip over to the next heading.

But if you’re the kind of person who produces a lot of organic waste derived from animal products, do not despair, there are ways to deal with these materials.

The first is to make use of a hot composting system designed to generate heat around 50º-60ºC. This will speed up the decomposition process and help the microbes break down these heavy-duty products.

Secondly, make sure you have enough space. Your pile should be at least 3x3x3 foot cube so that the surrounding atmosphere doesn’t cool it down. 

Make sure to bury your meat at its’ centre, that’s where it will be the hottest. And voilá, you’re good to go – let the microbes do the rest!

4. Not providing the right levels of oxygen

Are things moving too slowly? The likelihood is that your compost heap is lacking oxygen, slowing down the process of decomposition.

The way you oxygenate your heap will vary according to your method and style of composting.

If you’ve opted for the basic small-to-medium-sized compost bin, consider drilling a few small holes on the lid and at the bottom of your container.

For those of you who have decided to go for large-scale compost piles, make sure that you give it a little mix every now and then – twice a week should do the job.

There are other alternatives too, like going for a Compost tumbler, which is neatly designed to help you shake things up, so as to speak.

If you want to delve a little deeper into smart inventions then find yourself a compost aerator, specifically created to aerate piles of decomposing matter. These work well for both large and small-scale composting projects.

5. Going too wet or too dry

A simpler way to keep your compost aerated is to make sure that it doesn’t get too wet. 

Too much moisture will reduce oxygen levels, changing the microbial activity from an aerobic to an anaerobic process.

Anaerobic composting is a valid method in itself, but it is characteristically more pungent, takes significantly longer, and doesn’t reach the high temperatures needed to kill unwanted plant pathogens.

On the other side of the scale, going too dry will cause the microbes in your compost to become inactive, bringing things to a halt.

The exception here is leaf mould, which is a form of composting that consists solely of dry leaves which are broken down by fungi, taking up to three years to mature.

If you’re looking for something a little more straightforward and less time-consuming, then stick to aerobic composting. 

If your pile is too dry, go ahead and sprinkle some water over it. Watering cans are a great option and make sure to give it a mix whilst you do so, providing the bottom layers with moisture as well. Adding more green matter will also help return moisture to the mix.

You’ll know when your compost is too dry because it will have a crispy and shrivelled texture to it

Concluding thoughts

Don’t be so hasty to through away your scraps!

Understanding compost is easier than it sounds at first. It’s all about setting yourself up right – the rest will take care of itself.

Just make sure you know what kind of composting method suits your style and living space. Think about where you want to start composting, the kind of items you consume, and the time you have on your hands. 

If you’re a bit strapped for time, then make sure to opt for a smaller composting system that will keep its temperature more or less self-regulated.

If you’re a little freer, then go ahead and experiment, try out composting slightly more challenging materials such as animal-derived products, experiment with different sizes, with outdoor heaps and bins.

Above all, have fun.

Enjoy watching your waste turn into food for the soil, which returns full cycle as nourishment for your body, adding a rich layer of health and sustainability to your lifestyle.

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