New to Composting. Need Help

I am sure everyone here is very good at composting and it probably is a very easy process. I am struggling to get my compost pile to even compost.

I have a stand alone bin, of which I read and read that one could layer straw for your browns then a layer of greens and so on. I did that and the straw is NOT breaking down even after 7 months of being in the composter. I add lots of kitchen waste (butternut squash peels, egg shells, green beans, squash seeds, paper towels etc) I also raise meat rabbits and have been adding in some rabbit poop. I stir it about twice a week and add water when it looks to dry. I was hoping to use the compost for this years garden but I don't have any compost just a mix of "STUFF"...

Any advice for a composting newbie?



  • Grammyprepper
    Grammyprepper Posts: 168 ✭✭✭

    I personally don't have a compost pile, but from what I've read and discussed with other folks, patience is advised. Depending on what all you've put in, as well as the ratio of green/brown, as well as how deep your pile is, it can take a year or more to decompose. I am sure others with more experience will weigh in, but maybe you started turning too soon? (Just a guess) I have a bunch of food scraps I have double bagged in my fridge, my neighbor has a composter that I add to, and the scraps start composting in the fridge (be sure to double bag them (yes, I had a bag leak, what a mess!), because it was sorta difficult to reach the compost bin over the winter. That, or a counter top compost 'holder' might also be a help to you. Good luck, and keep us up to date.

    --Another thought, is your bin in a sunny or shady spot? That would also influence the rate of composting.

    --Have you checked the temperature in the middle of the pile/bin? It sounds to me like it's just not getting hot enough

    --When you say 'bin', is it totally enclosed? Does it get air circulation at all? (Again, no expert here, just throwing out ideas)

    --Adding the rabbit poop is a great idea! However, it is not a 'hot' as chicken/horse/cow poop. I believe I have read that rabbit poop is tame enough to use directly in the garden without aging (but double check that)

  • Ruth Ann Reyes
    Ruth Ann Reyes Posts: 580 admin

    I may not be the best composter, so take my words with a grain of salt...

    We use a 3 bin open air system built using old pallets. I literally just throw stuff in it for a few weeks/months and then let it be... I never turn it...and occasionally add chicken poo. After about a year it seems to turn into black gold!

    I've never used a closed compost bin. But, I have noticed...large peels, egg shells, and paper does not seem to break down well for me either. I tend to chop everything into small 1" pieces.

    Keep experimenting! Best of luck!

  • Jimerson
    Jimerson Posts: 291 admin
    edited April 2019

    Also not a compost expert, but have you tried tossing some worm friends in there to help chew stuff up? I get my composting worms through Uncle Jims website.

  • Marc Thoma
    Marc Thoma Posts: 77 ✭✭

    It does take time, as Ruth said up to a year. And in winter your compost will slow down quite a bit. I think key is making sure everything is as small as possible. There are compost accelerators but I wonder if they really work. Sometimes nature takes it's own sweet time.

  • Jens the Beekeeper
    Jens the Beekeeper Posts: 651 admin

    The most important thing has already been mentioned, Take your time.

    You can speed up the process now by watering the bin with 10 Liter of water with yeast und approx 100g sugar added.

    THe rabbit bedding should add enough nitrogen for proper composting. You could try using hay instead of straw as straw is more difficult to break down.

  • Karyn Pennington
    Karyn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    Amber, composting with a bin is not the easiest process. I'll share what I do, but using a bin is my least effective way to get compost. There is definitely a learning curve and you will find your groove.

    In the bin I put kitchen scraps that have been food-processed (leftovers from processing for my worm bin), shredded cardboard and newspaper, leaves and compost/dirt that is already existing. You want to add some of the microbial goodness to get it started. Make sure it's moist enough and spin it every day, sometimes a couple times a day (I do that when I'm working all day on the weekend). (You would not want to add worms to a spinning composter -- for one it would be too hot for them and secondly, I don't think they're much for the tumbling, more harm than good would come from that.)

    Once you add this stuff -- Don't add any more. If/when you continue to add things, you basically start the whole process over again.

    Another jump start is to add urine (from someone who is not on prescription meds) to the pile, it can be diluted with water if you need more liquid or if that makes you feel better.

    In warm weather, I can get it to the point where I will add compost from the bin to my regular compost heap in about 2 months -- but I wouldn't call it good enough to add to the garden. I pretty much use my bin to break down food scraps because I don't want to put food scraps in my compost "heap" (because of critters).

    The compost heap is layered material of the above mentioned partially composted food scraps from the bin, leaves, small twigs, pine needles, grass, coffee grounds, etc. I collect a 5 gallon bucket of coffee grounds about once every 3 weeks from the office cafeteria where I work. This pile, I will keep covered with a tarp and rotate and water every weekend. After about 3-4 turns, I can sift to get some mostly composted stuff and the rest goes back into a new pile, lather, rinse, repeat.

    My third compost is my homemade worm bin. I started with a thick Styrofoam cooler (like something Omaha Steaks would arrive in). These have red wrigglers from Uncle Jim's. They get about 1-2 cups of pureed food scraps per week. This compost is precious and is used for seed starter or a small amount (like maybe a teaspoon) in the bottom of a planting hole.

    I hope you find something useful.

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Jimerson, can you explain... why several responses in different threads today were made in Duplicate & all at 6:54PM ?, & this discussion here had the same post listed no less six times?, or - are my eyes playing tricks ??

  • carlahugs
    carlahugs Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    I never got good compost with a secret to getting a nice hot pile is that it has to be large enough, minimum 1 cubic yard 3ft by 3ft by 3ft. If you are trying to compost kitchen garbage, a bin may be useful as a holding tank, but constantly adding bits doesn't make for good compost. Collect your materials, build a pile with a good mix of carbon and nitrogen materials, covering with a tarp can be good either to keep moisture in dry climates, or keep it from getting rained on. I sometimes use wire fencing to keep it in place, but not really necessary.

    I once resurrected what was really a pile of rotting food waste, by adding straw and turning it----piles have never failed to heat up for me given the right C/N ratio, moisture, and size of the pile. A lot of what's on the market as "composters" isn't really useful.

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    @Jimerson , looks like rainbow was trying to tag you. @rainbow , you were totally right to ask Jimerson about this issue -- just a quick reminder that when trying to get someone's attention, our Forum platform requires you to use the "@" symbol before that person's username. That should bring up a list from which you can choose people to tag....

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2019

    Hi Amber,

    Have you ever walked in or thru a FOREST ? - asking because don't know where you live. A forest is a complete DIY 🙂 project that God in infinite wisdom Intelligently Designed... to be Self-pruning, Self-maintaining, & Self-composting, & Self-recreating. That's right: a forest makes compost, the best kind all on its own, all the time. - How?

    Well, it never concerns itself re: "Have I got the right % ? of browns, & greens & a bazillion other organic matter(s) layered in just the right depth ? Have I used a Bin, or tumbler, or pitch-fork to turn everything over as by humans instructed?, & is my pile high enough ? to generate the right amount of heat to break it all down" etc. etc - Nope, a forest does NOT bother. - Why?

    Well, why complicate your life, with even more human nonsense... , when the Forest totally naturally makes the most successful Black gold continuously... (until humanity in sheer stupidity interferes, & turns nature upside down).

    Don't take my word for it tho. Just go spend some time in a Natural forest, & observe... closely... how... composting happens with next to no thought.

    Have fun in your garden Adventures Amber 🙂

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi @Merin Porter - Thanks for reminding me of, what @Jimerson already introduced me to, & usually I do it right, even as that ^ method is new to me. - Except when I follow someone else not doing it either, then I sorta slip up. I apologize, & will try to me more diligent.

    ok @Jimerson Why were over 10 responses in several different discussions showing in Duplicate & all at 6:54PM ?, & this discussion here had the same post listed no less six times ?

    @Merin Porter & I are very curious critters 😀 lol

  • Karyn Pennington
    Karyn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    Wow! I'm fairly certain I didn't enter that 6 times! I'm still a "newbie" poster, but not even sure how I would do that, so I'm sticking with technical glitch. Thank you for explaining the "@" way of tagging people. That's helpful! I too, am curious whether or not @AmberRomkee has benefited from any of our tips.

    Composting needs to be a large part of our gardening. I'm doing more digging lately, it just seems easier. I still have a pile that I turn, but just one pile, so I have to wait until it's been turned 4-5 times before sifting and then starting a new pile. I hope to dig another one this weekend where next years garlic will go. I just pulled all of mine on Monday.

  • MissPatricia
    MissPatricia Posts: 318 ✭✭✭

    I read an article on composting, maybe in the book that went along with one of the courses offered here, so I made a simple one using fencing with large holes. I failed to water at each addition. Eventually, we had rain; I kept emptying cut grass and my compost pail into it, and occasionally water when I rinsed out my compost pail. The whole cage fell over after 2-3 months, and guess what? The bottom half was beautiful composted material. I was amazed and delighted. I am going to start another one. Sometimes I just bury my garbage otherwise.

  • 4winds2go
    4winds2go Posts: 7 ✭✭✭

    I attest to growing this way. No more hard work composting! I even throw my kitchen compost into pots, mix in some alpaca poo and soil ...plant and watch amazing results. I have started all new beds in an otherwise almost useless ground. Been doing this and expanding the garden yearly. This entire garden has been planted organically this way. I will be dumping the pots and amending the soil to make beds to replace them

  • 4winds2go
    4winds2go Posts: 7 ✭✭✭
  • Foodgardenguy
    Foodgardenguy Posts: 106 ✭✭✭

    Hello @rainbow,

    Can you please elaborate on the wood chips and horse dung "mountain" compost piles that you were able to turn into "black gold" so quickly - in one year? To me that's amazing.

    We happen to have both of the same mountain piles as well, but it takes quite a bit of time before it turns into black gold. We put regular kitchen composts, grass clippings and weeds into ours. The wood chips take forever to break down. Perhaps it's because we have a much colder climate here, only 2 months of hot weather, another 2 months of average temperatures, and then the remaining months rather cool.

    What sort of "organic materials" are you putting into your piles? How are you spreading them into the big piles? Do you water them at all?

    Would really appreciate your feedback. Thank you in advance!

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Pee on your compost pile :) That's a lot of nitrogen to keep the pile warm in the winter, you may be even able to tarp to keep the heat with in.

    We compost many ways. We have worms indoors. We have a three bin system outdoors for overflow.

    We also top dress our garden beds, with leaves and kitchen scraps. Kind of how one might apply mulch to a garden bed. Just add the materials to the top and let the microbes do the work. :) Make sure the greens/kitchen scraps are well covered to keep flies and critters away.

    We also dig holes and bury compost.

    There are so many ways to compost. It all depends on what your goals are for the compost and what works best with your lifestyle.

    Happy growing.

  • merdock111
    merdock111 Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    So I think I may quit before I start :( I was so excited to try composting as I thought over the winter I could make soil for my garden. After viewing some of the 2019 Super food Summit I was going with Tom Bartels advice of using 4" deep compost every new gardening year. To do this I calculated needing 1.8 cubic yards of compost (for my 12X12 /144 sq ft lot). Sooo even if it were possible to have compost by Spring is there any size composer that would even achieve this amount? If not, what do I do? Do I buy a commercial organic compost? Won't that defeat the fun of organic gardening which I thought would be almost "free" to do? My expensive garden center says for a lot almost my size to use: 3-6 cu ft Bummper Crop Soil Builder, 4-7 #'s Garden Tone, Plant Tone or Poultry Manure & 5 #'s hydrated lime... How would I know to use manure or one of the other choices & why add Lime? Would this all be based on pH & what I intend to grow? I have a pH test stick but I'm not sure it's good as my blueberries did nothing for 4 years so I just ripped them out. Anyway, I would love some help on how to enrich my soil & not spend over $150 perhaps? My intentions are to most likely grow a mix of veggies & herbs. I don't have a definite list yet but this could be it: bell peppers, Boston lettuce, mustard greens, lemon balm, holy basil & I wanted to try burdock but after seeing how large it gets...maybe not ideal for my little lot? All advice desperately & thankfully welcome :)

  • merlin44
    merlin44 Posts: 426 ✭✭✭✭

    @merdock111 First thing I would is test my soil to see what might be needed. If you know or can find someone with goats, offer to clean out their barn. That mixture of goat droppings and hay can be put directly on your garden as mulch. That would be a start. I've been composting for many years-I have a bin made of free pallets, weeds, leaves, food scraps, chicken houses cleaning-everything gets thrown in there. In a year or so it turns into rich, black compost. Other ways might be more scientific or quicker but I like to keep things simple and easy. Lots of ways to do it, try one, don't quit before you start. You'll love growing lemon balm and holy basil, both are delightful plants, easy to grow and will be permanent residents. Probably should forgo the burdock on a small lot, it can be a bit pushy, likes to take over and will when you're not looking. Learn from books and other gardeners but don't let the information overwhelm you. Once you start playing in the dirt, plant that first seed and see those little leaves push their way out, you'll understand the magic.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,690 admin


    I am like @merlin44 in that I put everything into my compost bins. I have 3 bins made from used lumber. We turn each pile into the next bin each spring and fall. So by the time it gets to the third bin it has had a full year and is ready to use. We get over a cubic yard of compost every year. Not enough to do our whole garden so we also add well composted and aged manure from local ranches. Alpacas and llamas also produce a manure similar to goats that can be added directly to the soil. I would also avoid burdock. In our area it is listed as an invasive species and it grows everywhere; the seeds spread so easily. My advice when choosing seeds is to start with the ones you like the best and try to find ones with an Easy-to-Grow label. It is very easy to get defeated when trying out some of the more exotic or harder to grow plants. So for first timers keep it simple. You will find so much joy in gardening, so please don't give up before you get started. And getting dirt under your fingernails is one of the best remedies for stress.

  • Grammyprepper
    Grammyprepper Posts: 168 ✭✭✭


    Dont' give up! Look for local folks with animals, they are sure to have extra manure to share! Start composting now and you 'should' be able to use your own compost next fall! Yes, you might need to purchase some compost this spring,unless you can find a 'friend' willing to share. Temper your expectations, start smaller, you won't have to invest as much $. We all dream big, but reality sets in, costs, time, weather, pests, and so on. Maybe a 4x4 plot to start, then in the fall you can start enriching another 4x4 plot, etc. I started with 'about' a 4x4 plot that I covered with cardboard and autumn leaves in the fall, Come spring I still enriched the soil with compost , peat, and topsoil on top of that base. A combo lasagna gardening/raised bed. Be sure to mulch it well once planted! I had a bumper crop that year! Enriching your soil is an ongoing process. Sb even if you have to wait a bit to use your own compost, it is still worth it to get started!

  • herbantherapy
    herbantherapy Posts: 453 ✭✭✭✭

    @AmberRomkee Im so glad you asked! Looks like a lot of newbie composters here!!!

    @merdock111 and @AmberRomkee

    i don’t bother with a bin and just have have 3 large piles of yard debris that I dump old potting soil, used hay bales and some veggie scraps. They are each around 5 foot circumference (I know this is more space than many have available) and they can get up to 6 feet high before I stop piling and make a new pile. Basically this is cold composting. The first pile decomposed to about 6 inches of finished composted on 2 years. There is no bottom, I have sandy soil and I didn’t do anything to protect or preserve the finished product. I just have so much trimming from pruning that is what happens!

    For my veggie and flower and herb gardens I just compost on site. And plant the next year. I’m making an asparagus bed that will be planted in the spring. I dug out all the weeds/ornamentals in the space in May 2018. Layered two layers of cardboard down in June. I set out 3 strawbales on top and planted cucumbers in them for the summer. In September we harvested the cucumbers and spread the straw out over the cardboard. As I harvested veggies in surrounding beds and pulled out the finished plants I tossed the excess on top of the straw and I toss my weekly coffee grounds out there too. I watered it with 5 gallons of diluted fish emulsion in October. It is already turning black and under the cardboard the soil is soft plus I’m seeing lots of earthworms! In February or March I will add a layer of 4 inches of compost and plant in April. My bed is 4 feet wide by 20 feet long.

    The commercial composters all became raised beds in my friends yards because they are too much work, create mold (hold too much moisture) and yield too little. We live in this microwave society where there are ways make things happen quickly but at what cost? Pocketbooks and health! Gardens teach us the natural cycles and rhythms to follow. I find slow composting works for me and is a lot less pressure than “doing it right”.

  • SuperC
    SuperC Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭

    @AmberRomkee when using straw, it’s usually for outdoor lasagne composting since it can be watered to keep it moist so that helps the straw to breakdown and also, the sun. Have you tried (very messy job) removing the straw, then continue with your bin.

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    I've got to be honest -- @Grammyprepper 's advice to "start small" is some of the best you'll receive. I'm completely and utterly guilty of not always following this advice, and when I've ignored it, I've pretty much always ended up with disappointing/discouraging results. Start small, get encouraging results and gain valuable experience and wisdom, and then add a little something to your plan the following growing season....

  • Grammyprepper
    Grammyprepper Posts: 168 ✭✭✭

    @Merin Porter Thank you, and I am also one to not always follow that advice LOL! But it's live and learn...but experimenting with some experience is way different than starting out brand new, dreaming big, and getting burned out. Been there done that too! That is why as our family has downsized (kids gone) I've moved towards more container gardening but still do some in ground gardening too.

  • OhiohillsLouise
    OhiohillsLouise Posts: 120 ✭✭✭

    I have 2 methods to composting:

    1) throw it in a pile and forget it (using four rotating corners of my garden).

    2) vermicomposting (using red wiggler worms to compost in bin). I’ve been doing this about 7 years and find this very effective for general household food scraps and newspaper. The worms do all the work. If you haven’t thought of using worms I suggest doing more research it might be your solution.

  • SandraKay
    SandraKay Posts: 23 ✭✭✭

    I've tried the vermcomposting and it works great, I'm planning to  putting in small buckets with lids and hole for the worms in the middle of my main garden areas to see if it works better for me that way. I'm good at getting the compost but then I tend to forget to add the 'black gold' into my gardens.