It isn't just a matter of tossing things into a compost heap and letting them decompose into crumbly, nutrient-rich material for your garden.

There isn't much middle ground when it comes to making compost. You're either successful or you're not.

These six steps can help you better understand the requirements for making good compost.

1. It takes time

clock faces

Cold composting takes about six months to a year and sometimes longer. This method has two steps: add to the pile whenever you have something compostable; then wait. The time needed for finished compost is difficult to estimate since it depends on the contents and volume of your pile. The smaller the size of the materials, the faster they break down.

Insects and animals love cold compost piles so you'll see more flies and rodents around your compost with this method. Fencing can help keep away larger critters.

You can speed up the process by adding materials and turning the pile more frequently. But if you need compost quickly, you'll definitely want to consider hot composting.

Helping Bacteria in Compost Piles We can help bacteria in compost piles by adding the right ingredients to our compost heaps and by regularly turning our pile to increase oxygen, which supports decomposition. While compost-enhancing bacteria do most of the work for us in our compost pile, we must be diligent about how we create and maintain our pile to produce the best conditions possible for them to do their jobs. A good mixture of browns and greens and proper aeration will make bacteria found in garden compost very happy and speed up the composting process.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Compost Enhancing Bacteria: Information On Beneficial Bacteria Found In Garden Compost https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/basics/compost-bacteria-information.htm
Helping Bacteria in Compost Piles We can help bacteria in compost piles by adding the right ingredients to our compost heaps and by regularly turning our pile to increase oxygen, which supports decomposition. While compost-enhancing bacteria do most of the work for us in our compost pile, we must be diligent about how we create and maintain our pile to produce the best conditions possible for them to do their jobs. A good mixture of browns and greens and proper aeration will make bacteria found in garden compost very happy and speed up the composting process.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Compost Enhancing Bacteria: Information On Beneficial Bacteria Found In Garden Compost https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/basics/compost-bacteria-information.htm
Helping Bacteria in Compost Piles We can help bacteria in compost piles by adding the right ingredients to our compost heaps and by regularly turning our pile to increase oxygen, which supports decomposition. While compost-enhancing bacteria do most of the work for us in our compost pile, we must be diligent about how we create and maintain our pile to produce the best conditions possible for them to do their jobs. A good mixture of browns and greens and proper aeration will make bacteria found in garden compost very happy and speed up the composting process.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Compost Enhancing Bacteria: Information On Beneficial Bacteria Found In Garden Compost https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/basics/compost-bacteria-information.htm

2. Not everything is compostable

list of things you can and cannot compost

Those little plastic labels on fruits and vegetables are not biodegradable and should not go into the bin or pile.

various fruits with stickers

3. The pile doesn't need to get hot, but there's a big catch

Hot container composting differs from cold composting by creating compost without losing heat. Heat loss is the primary reason a pile can take so long to decompose. The two keys to success with hot composting are monitoring soil temperature and moisture and turning the pile regularly.

hand holding a thermometer in the soil

The optimal temperature range is 135°-160°F. However, excessively high temperatures (>160˚F) can inhibit microbial activity since few thermophilic organisms actively carry on decomposition above that. Don't maintain higher temperatures for extended periods. Measure with a soil/compost thermometer or stick your hand in the pile. If it's uncomfortable, it's the right temperature.

Microbes begin breaking down organic matter and reproducing at high rates at temperatures of 130°-140°F. This temperature is also hot enough to kill most weed seeds and harmful bacteria.

Monitor the temperature daily, if possible. Turn the pile once it begins to cool below 135°. This will aerate the compost and jump-start microbial activity again.

compost bin next to cactus plants

(my compost bin)

Moisture is essential. The contents of your compost pile should feel like a damp sponge. Too dry diminishes microbial activity. Too wet and anaerobic microbes take over, resulting in unpleasant smells and halting decomposition. Cover with a tarp if rain keeps the pile waterlogged.

If your pile is too dry, water it then dig down a little to make sure the moisture penetrated all the way through. If it's too wet, turn it and add shredded newspaper or other "brown material" such as dry leaves, chopped straw, or hay to help soak up excess moisture.

Green matter, such as grass clippings, is nitrogen-rich. Brown matter is carbon-rich. Mix these in a ratio of 2 parts green to 1 part brown for a well-balanced compost pile.

4. Mice and rats love it

No explanation necessary here. Rats and mice are definitely unwelcome visitors.

rat eating

5. It can breed harmful bacteria

Composting kills bacteria if you allow the temperature to rise above 150°F (65.5° C). However, certain beneficial bacteria are also destroyed. Some people intentionally lower the temperature, allowing the good bacteria to thrive.

E. coli, salmonella, legionella, histoplasmosis and actinomyces are some common dangerous bacteria found in compost. Contamination occurs most frequently when meat scraps or pet waste is added and occurs in unfinished manure far more often than in fully composted manure. Don't ever add dog or cat feces to your compost. Always wear gloves when you’re handling compost material.

something growing in a petri dish

Composting isn’t a surefire way to kill bacteria. Compost can actually harbor all types of good and bad bacteria throughout its existence. If you properly maintain a pile, it should be fine. Keep in mind that whatever goes into the pile will either attract or repel all sorts of pathogens.

158° F (70° C) will kill most types of bad bacteria but not all. Bacteria in the Thermus group thrive in hot temperatures while psychrophillic bacteria are capable of growing and reproducing in temperatures from −4° F to 50° F. They are found in places that are permanently cold, such as the Polar regions.

Never spray toxic chemicals on a compost pile.

6. It shouldn't stink

hands holding earthworms

Compost releases nutrients slowly over time, making it highly beneficial for plants. It should look like dark, crumbly topsoil. It has a pleasant, earthy odor and should not smell like ammonia. With a few exceptions, the original materials should no longer be recognizable.