How to - Organic Gardening

Five composting don'ts (and dos)

Katharine Fletcher

Don’t sweat when it comes composting, just follow some simple guidelines

Chatting with gardeners about composting unleashes a raft of reactions. From positives about black gold to complaints about odours and critters, people have opinions. To discover five “Don’ts” (plus tips on “dos”) on transforming organic waste into soil, we talked to two master gardeners: Rebecca Last and David Hinks.

Here are their recommendations:

Don’t choose a composter with a lid
“The one sure thing that a lid does is keep out any rain, so your compost will end up dry as dust and completely inactive unless you water it and, really, why bother?” says Last.

Hinks agrees, noting: “The amount of moisture should be slightly damp, like a wrung-out sponge.” Hinks adds that it’s crucial to place composters in a well-drained location so excessive moisture can run off.

Can’t lids be useful though? “Of course, many gardeners use lids so critters, such as dogs, racoons, skunks, rats and other pests can be avoided. However, if you’re composting the right stuff, you shouldn’t have a critter problem,” explains Last.

Don’t include meat scraps, dairy, cheese or soiled pet litter
It’s a good idea to avoid fats and proteins. “They don’t break down well, smell nasty and can attract unwanted pests,” says Last. “Avoid pet litter and feces, particularly for growing food, because pathogens in pet waste can be transmitted.”

What can you add?

  • Kitchen organics, like fruit and vegetable peelings
  • Tea bags and coffee filters
  • Garden lawn clippings
  • Branches and twigs of trees and shrubs.

Do not add weeds that have gone to seed or mildewed or diseased plants.
Some weeds are okay, but I’m extremely cautious and have several “suicide pits” on my farm, where I put questionable plant material. Much breaks down over time into good earth. I also burn some weeds in my firepit (paying attention to fire bans).


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