This post may contain affiliate links.

How NOT to Compost: 16 Ways To Screw It Up

how-not-to-compost-16-ways-to-screw-it-upI started my first compost bin in 2008 and I was so jazzed up and excited about it.  I was going to turn my yard and kitchen waste into black gold!  Grow awesome vegetables!  Save the earth!

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

I never thought about how not to compost, I figured stuff just naturally breaks down all on it’s own.

My first compost piles were too small, to dry, and too full of woody sticks.  I spent ages and ages turning them only to find that they hadn’t broken down at all.

I had my husband build a fancy-schmancy new compost bin that was going to solve all my compost problems.

Yeah, that didn’t happen either. 

This compost bin was hard to turn, too soggy, and packed way too full.

It eventually did break down into compost, but it didn’t look (or smell) that great in the process, and it was a pain in the neck to get it out.

Plus, with chickens, goats, and rabbits, I NEEDED more compost bins, so I set up a jumbo size three bin pallet compost bin that would make awesome compost.

And yeah…didn’t happen.

THIS compost bin took too much time for me to keep up with.  It was either too wet or too dry, to full or too small.

Because I was lazy and throwing ALL my kitchen scraps into it, including meat, milk, and oil it slowly became a bed and breakfast for the rodent population.

I did my best to get it cleaned up and stopped adding in kitchen waste.

Unfortunately, rats discovered that the neighbor’s dilapidated shed on the property line made a cozy house.

They also seemed to think the chicken feeder in our yard an excellent grocery.

It was gross.

It took quite some time and effort to get THAT little nasty homestead adventure under control.

Now, it wasn’t until we got new neighbors who actually took the time to clean up their side of the fence that I felt comfortable tackling the issue of the not-composting compost again.

(Hey!  Did you know if you let your compost get too dry you’ll find rat babies in it?  Yaaaaaay.  Not.)

Maybe you are just starting composting, and want to avoid trouble, or maybe you tried and it just didn’t turn into the crumbly, earthy goodness we all imagine.

But don’t worry, here’s a list of the best ways to mess up your compost!

(Aaaaaaand…I’ve actually done all of these…)

Here’s how NOT to compost:

  • Put the bin too far away
  • Make the bin too small
  • Put in large sticks and branches
  • Toss oils, fats, meats, and milk on the top of the pile
  • Let it get soaked with rain
  • Let it bake in the sun
  • Put in spilled dog food
  • Have no way to get the compost out of the bin
  • Put a lid on top that’s too heavy to move
  • Never, ever, EVER turn it
  • Keep adding more until it’s packed full
  • Harvesting it before it’s done “cooking”
  • Put in glossy paper
  • Accidentally dump your spoons in with the kitchen waste (I have found SO many spoons when harvesting my pile it’s embarrassing)
  • Chuck in the seedy weeds you kept meaning to pull
  • Assume the blackberry plants are dead before you put them in (those demons can root ANYWHERE…unless I intentionally plant them).

I know there are compost gurus out there that can make it all work, but that isn’t me!  Luckily, I’ve found some tricks that help keep the waste off the curb.


How I Compost Now

Now I have a little bit of a different way of doing it than the traditional compost bin, but it’s been working, and the soil is happier (me too!).

I give all my kitchen scraps from the day before to the chickens in the morning.

If they don’t finish it, any fruit or veggie scraps go into the compost bin.

Make Sure Your Compost Bin Is Easy To Access

I rarely have leftover meats; the chickens usually polish those off.

If I do, they go into the city compost can or the trash can (unless I have a nice hot pile going, which does happen occasionally when the stars all align.

For more information on composting “forbidden” things check out the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, or Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon, and then go build yourself a composting toilet).

I do deep litter for the chickens, and it breaks down in place until it’s time to spread it on the garden.

If the chicken and rabbit bedding is dry enough it just goes right into the no dig garden for a layer of mulch.

The rabbit litter boxes have a lot of urine that I don’t want to put right on the garden.  Those go into the compost bin along with things that aren’t safe for the animals to eat, like onions, potato skins, and apple cores.

This is a much smaller bin that doesn’t take me long to aerate or check the moisture level.  It’s also closer to the house, so I check on it more often.

These changes have really made a difference in actually making compost and improving my soil, instead of just mucking around in big bins of yard, animal, and kitchen waste.

Another trick I’ve found is to let the chickens do as much of the work as possible.

Do you compost?  Is it smooth sailing or a disaster?

Want To Grow Fruit In The City?

You can save money at the grocery store without a time intensive garden or committing to raising livestock. Sign up for the Backyard Orchards email course today!

Powered by ConvertKit

69 thoughts on “How NOT to Compost: 16 Ways To Screw It Up”

  1. Nice! I’m glad you found it! When our silverware drawer is looking sparse I know it’s time to move the compost.

  2. I have way to many large sticks in my pile. We have a large Chinese Elm in the yard that drops tons every year. Last year I filled the City bin and still had a lot left so I started breaking them small for the pile. Then got lazy, lol. Also, my pile is open to sun, rain, snow, etc. Guess I need to find a decent cover, lol.

    • Bigger sticks work well for a huglekulture bed, but they do take FOREVER in a regular compost pile. Fireplaces can be good for the stickier sticks too.

  3. I enjoyed reading this. My kids are grown and I take out my kitchen scraps myself so no lost spoons but have lost a peeler in there lol as for meat and dairy I was told never to toss it into the compost bc of flies so my old dogs enjoy those if there are anything to toss out I just mix it in with there food. I also started off with a small compost bin with worms in a small old foam cooler to try once my husband and I got the hang of it we upgraded to something larger, but still only toss eggs shells, veggies, fruit, tea and coffee grounds/filters and paper but I make sure it’s cut up. Our worms multiply like crazy, so they must be happy.

    • Yes, if the PH balance is off it can make a difference. If you need to add a ton of one PH level, balance it out with something else.

  4. Why would you EVER think you could put meat and oil into a compost bin? That’s common sense are you kidding me. This made me so upset to read everything was such basic knowledge. Basically like reading blah blah blah.

    • It sounds like you have had successful experiences with composting. Are there any particular tips you could share with those of us who have had a steeper learning curve?

    • Please remember not everyone who reads articles like this are as experienced and well informed as you. I personally learned a few things from the article that the author took the time and energy to write for those of us who do not reside in your lofty level of composting.
      In the future, you may consider responding with comments in a less condescending manner for the sake of us all.

    • Starting out on my first compost experience and it’s always nice to be reminded what can and cannot be added to the bin. Thank you for taking the time to write this! It was a fun read and it always makes people feel better to know they’re not the only ones who don’t get it right the first time 🙂

      Yak, if you didn’t find the article helpful, just move on from the page. No need to comment unless you just enjoy trolling websites and feel better by putting others down. What a shame.

    • She never said she was an expert. Stop being so rude. You obviously read the article so you surely read where she said she made mistakes. I actually am glad I’m not the only one who struggled at first and I thank her for her sharing her experience.

    • I have. Even composting successfully for many years using 55 gallon food safe drums with a tightly secure lid. Actuall l use 3 of these barrels and rotate them. One is for current use, one is composting, and one is ready to empty. I drill holes in the sides, top, and bottom- like 1/4 inch holes. When a barrel is ready to empty, I turn it onto its side and shovel it out easily. Due to the secure nature of these barrels, I am able to put in meat, oils, etc. All will compost just fine and rats are not a problem. Worms appear in droves somehow – must be from the holes in the bottom. I put thin layers of rice straw and rice straw between layers of household garbage. I also compost any paper products. You can turn this co post occasionally by laying the barrel on its side and rolling it, though I have never done that till it has composted and it’s not so heavy then. So this is a way to compost meat scraps if you don’t have chickens or a dog and not attract varmits.

  5. Thankyou!!! Starting my 1st ever compost bin tomorrow.. Its a 55 gallon drum. Have drilled holes on top bottom and 4 lines on sides. Should I turn it every 3 days? Or 1once a week. Egg shells, Vegetables fruits, cardboard and chicken shit only. Brown to green 3:1

    • Exciting! If it’s easy to turn I’d say go for every three days. If not, once a week won’t hurt it. The more you turn it the faster it will break down.

  6. Can you tell me if the composting bags used for kitchen composting bins can go into the pile. They say on the box that they are compostable?

    • They need to have a hot compost pile and do better in a commercial composting situation. However if the label says they’re appropriate for backyard bins, it’s probably worth giving it a try with a couple and seeing how they do.

  7. I think your article is very good and helpful, not everyone is an expert at composting. We are all beginners at one point and we learn from others who are more experienced. Much of what you wrote made me chuckle, because it brought back memories of my own beginning composting errors. Thank you for sharing!

    • It depends on your climate. If you put your bin in the sun, it may heat up more, but it will also dry out quicker and you may need to add more water to it. If its in the sun, it may be cooler, but also may retain moisture better. Here in Texas, ours are in the shade.

  8. Thank you for taking the time to write this, your tips have been very helpful! Good to know what I should and shouldn’t add:-)

  9. I thought your article was informative and entertaining . I’ve tried composting a few years ago. Super yucky experience and a lot of work for naught. Since I’ve retired, I’m thinking maybe I should give it a go again. I don’t want to go big though. I have a small yard.

    • The hard part with small composters is they take a long time to break down. You may want to look into vermiculture.

  10. I have been composting for about 10 years and still learning! Sharing is fun
    I love all this info.
    One thing that happened last year our house sitter put in noodles! Awful
    we came home to a maggot pile. We all learned from that thank goodness,
    Also if you shred documents as long as there is not allot of colored ink it is
    A great material to add to your compost.

  11. I just bought a juicer and I started thinking about the pulp and what to do with it. I get the “green” but not sure about the “brown”. I live in a condo with raised garden boxes and very little of anything else. When I trim the dead flowers would that count as “brown”. Also, pine needles and pine cones drop from nearby trees, could I use those?

    As a prospective composter I appreciate your “do’s/don’ts” vs trolls who offer nothing but negativity.

  12. My brother has farmed his backyard for years. He built a compost bin with metal fence staves, rabbit wire and a cattle guard. I’m a beginner and this article was REALLY helpful. I feel a lot more confident.

  13. Fairly new to composting and would like clarification on a nagging question. At what point do you starting turning your pile? Do I wait til my alternating layers get about 3 feet high or begin turning it as soon as I have a a couple of green and brown layers?

    • Both options will work, it depends on your preference and how quickly you want the pile to break down. Turning it more frequently takes more time and effort on your part, but it will break down more quickly.

  14. I live on the Southern coast in England and have been composting for around 35 years using a recycled compost bin with lid. In the Summer I regularly add a couple of lawn mower container clippings to our compost bin and this seems to aerate the compost, producing more worms. I love reading your comments and seeing what works for you in the USA. Thanks Kathryn 😀

  15. Helpful and amusing. Once, I put excess citrus about 100 oranges in the compost pile. It didn’t break down easily drew flies, rats and stunk! We all live and learn.
    Currently, my Compost pile evolved in to a worm farm. I got lazy didn’t turn it often and it happened naturally. (good conditions) I had extra red worms from a fishing trip and dumped them in the pile and 2 years later it has thousand of happy worms.

  16. What are the best ingredients for compost? egg shells, coffee, left overs. Do you just add leaves, cardboard and mix it all together? I also have plants that don’t make it sometime can you just add the soil from the dead plants and mix it all up?
    New to this!
    Thank You !

    • Yup! That’s all great stuff for your compost! As long as the plants don’t have a disease you’re trying not to spread, you can totally add them and the soil.

  17. Thank you for sharing your experiences. They are very helpful regardless of your level of expertise and very comical 😂. I’m a beginner and I think some people may find it easier to remember the “how NOT to compost”. I appreciate your advice and learning from the other helpful comments.

    Happy composting everyone!

  18. Great article full of useful information. Anyone who has tried composting and failed to produce a useable material should read this. It would be helpful if you included some guidelines on percentages of different types of materials to maximize the composting action. I add about 10% of commercially produced composted manure to my other materials and it seems to perk up my mixture of kitchen waste, grass clippings and shredded leaves.

  19. Thank you for this informative article. We have just started our first compost project. We repurposed an old and unused 35 gal. plastic tub with a lockable lid and drilled holes into the top and sides. I found your tips on what not to do very helpful, especially the tip explaining onions and citrus should not be added as they throw off the Ph balance. Thank you! Fingers are crossed that our first endeavor works out. 🙂

    • Good luck! It sounds like it might be the perfect container to add some red wriggler worms in to help break down everything.

  20. Hi. I’ve had a fail or four, mostly because I get busy with other stuff. I made a two bucket composter & was religious about adding and rolling it. Not much happened. Do I need to start all over or can I just get better about the process? I loved your article and chuckled a few times. I live in Palm Springs, CA. What do u think about sun and shade requirements? Thanks!

    • I’ve not had a lot of luck with bucket composters, I think because they lack the micro-organisms and worms and other helpful things that migrate to an open compost pile. In California, it’s okay to let it get hot, just make sure to keep it nice and damp, which may be a challenge over the summer.

  21. I make LOTS of sweet tea every day and I steep the sugar- water and tea bags together…think I can use the tea bags in compost,or will the sweetness just attract pests? Also,I can’t seem to keep my indoor scraps in a bowl/bucket from looking moldy…can I still add to outdoor bin? Thanks for all the info!

    • Tea bags should be fine, as is moldy items. Now that we are in Texas I store a compost bowl in the fridge and take it out to the bin once a day. Otherwise it’s too gross sitting out on the counter in the heat.

  22. There are so many blogs about “how” to do it that I found the “what Not to do” very helpful. I almost made the mistake of putting it too far away (good thing my husband just finished it so it’s empty!) Thanks for taking us on your journey!

  23. Enjoyed the article, thank you. Brought back a few memories of the not-great results of our first attempts, especially over-filling and trying to turn a bin full of over-wet material.

    These days, we have lots of worms, good mix of kitchen scraps, grass clippings, dried maple leaves, and “poor dirt,” which I find helps to speed it along.

    As for sticks, twigs and small branches, one or two (literally) can be okay to create little highways for the insects. Mostly my dry sticks go into the bbq kindling bin, to help building awesome fire with charcoal for big bbq sessions.

  24. I have a small container for my food scraps & it gets emptied daily. It goes into a tumbler bin, and I toss in some paper that has been dampened with water. I also toss in clippings from my organic vegetable garden when I prune my plants, after inspecting them for insects and plant diseases.
    Have you ever tried the compostable bags?

    • Nice! I have had the compostable bags break down in my backyard bin, but I don’t usually buy them, just to save money. They are very nice if we need to use the city yard waste bin for composting though.


Leave a Comment