If I am adding material to my pile, when and how can I harvest?
If you only have room for one bin, harvest finished compost from the bottom of the pile and keep layering fresh material on top of the pile. Some compost bins have a door at the bottom for easy harvesting. With other bins, use a pitchfork to scoop out the actively composting material into a pile until you reach the finished compost. Fork out the finished compost into a wheel barrow. Return the active pile into your bin. This can be a bit of work, but it's a great way to turn your pile while reaping the benefit of finished compost.
Another method if you have one bin is to stop feeding it for a month and then harvest the bulk of the compost, returning large uncomposted bits back into the pile for further composting.
The ideal is to set up two bins. Use one for active composting (the bin which you are currently adding material). When that bin is full begin using the second bin. The first bin should have time to finish composting before the second is full. Harvest from the first bin before beginning the cycle again.
A three-bin system is a great bin for ongoing composting. For more information, including building instructions, check the Build or Buy a Compost Bin page.
How can I tell when the compost is done?
Finished compost should be dark and crumbly with a sweet earthy smell. Generally, you shouldn't be able to identify the original materials you added to the pile — those broccoli stems and leafy greens should have "disappeared," although egg shells and woody materials can persist. You can use a wire mesh screen to sift the compost and return the larger pieces back to your compost pile.
Dig compost in. If you are creating a new bed, spread 2 to 4 inches of compost over the soil and then dig it into the top 6 to 12 inches of the bed. If you are putting in individual plants, dig a hole that is as deep as the rootball and 3 times wider than it. Rough up the sides of the hole. Mix 1 part compost with 2 to 3 parts soil to backfill the hole after putting the plant in.
Topdress freely. Spread fully decomposed compost around new and existing plantings. Put it under trees and shrubs and in garden beds, but leave 6 to 12 inches uncovered at the base of every plant. Use a layer no more than 2 inches thick, to ensure that air and water can easily pass through. Replenish every 6 months to a year, as needed.
Where should I put my bin?
It is best to put your backyard bin directly on the soil and out of the direct sun. Placing it on the soil (instead of concrete) allows decomposers easy access to the pile. Direct sun can dry out a pile and require more careful monitoring of the moisture. Over time the sun can also damage the integrity of a plastic bin. Most important is to place your bin in a convenient location that allows for easy access and use.
My bin smells and is attracting fruit flies, what should I do?
The most common cause for odor and fruit flies is exposed food waste. Make certain that all food waste is covered. When adding fruit and vegetable trimmings to your pile, dig a hole in the center of the pile and mix in your food waste. Then cover with a layer of brown material (dry leaves or straw for example). If you have a fly infestation cover with dry brown materials and refrain from adding more fruit and vegetable trimmings for 3 weeks.
I have ants in my bin. Is that a problem?
Check the moisture. Ants are not harmful to the compost process but can be discouraged from nesting by adding moisture and turning the pile.
Can I put meat and dairy products in my bin? Why does my curbside program say I can put meat and dairy in my green yard waste cart?
Although meet and dairy products are compostable, you shouldn't put them in your home composting bin because they can attract flies, rodents and other pests.
Large-scale composting facilities that process the food waste from curbside collection programs are designed and managed to handle all food waste, including meat and dairy.
Should I put my bin in the sun so it can heat up?
A pile heats up because of the activity of the decomposers (bacteria, fungi, and bigger creatures such as sow bugs and worms), not because of the heat from the sun. It is best to place your bin out of direct sunlight so that the pile doesn't dry out too quickly.
Can I compost weeds? What about ivy or noxious weeds?
Yes and no. If you are hot composting, the hot temperature of the pile will kill weed seeds. If you are more of a laid-back composter, it is best to avoid weeds that have gone to seed. In general, it is best to avoid noxious weeds in the compost pile and instead place them in your green waste cart.
My pile isn't heating up, what should I do?
You may have too much brown, carbon-rich material. try adding more greens — nitrogen rich materials, such as food waste or fresh grass clippings. Check the moisture of your pile, it may be too dry. Add water until the pile is slightly damp and turn.
Can I add pet waste to my bin?
No. Don't add pet waste because it can carry harmful pathogens.