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What is Compost?

Benefits of Composting

Using Finished Compost

Compost & Nutrition


Composting Systems

Siting Your Compost Area



What to Compost

Stages of Composting

The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio

Compost Activators

Turning Your Compost


Quick Start Guide

The Add-as-you-go Pile

The Batch Pile

Grass Clippings

Food Scraps

Leaves, Weeds &
Garden Debris

Compost Tea

Worm Composting


Troubleshooting Guide

Ask Professor Rot



Professor Rot says:

If you are of the "Dump-and-Run" mentality, than this method of composting is just for you.

Don't feel guilty — most people compost this way!


Okay, you want to do your part to recycle (compost) up to 35% of your kitchen and yard waste. But, if you are like most people, you want to do it quickly and then move on with your day. Take heart! The Add-as-You-Go method of composting is just your style. And most people use it.

Now, before you consider using this method, make sure you understand this one very important fact: Because you are choosing to add waste to your compost bin or pile gradually over time (as compared to the Batch Pile method in which you make a large pile of compost at one time), the organic material will decompose slowly over a long period of time. Why? The pile cannot adequately heat up enough because you keep adding to its volume, perhaps on a daily or weekly basis. For this reason this method of composting is also called Cold or Passive composting.

Have no fear, however. You will eventually get finished compost, but it will be a little slower in the making.

add food to pileMost composting at home requires a few tools. Some you may already have in your garden shed or garage; other tools are more specialized to composting and you might desire to acquire them later. Here's some basic items necessary to easily compost at home using this method:

  • A compost bin (manufactured or homemade) to hold the organic material you are composting. Place the bin on soil or unused grassy area. If placed on a deck or other surface, ensure that it has a bottom or drip pan; decomposing matter creates a liquid leachate at the bottom that can ruin surfaces.
  • A garden hose with spray nozzle to moisten your pile
  • A shovel or pitchfork to place waste material into the bin
  • A compost aerator to turn your compost. A shovel or pitchfork will do, but they are labor-intensive; good luck using them in the popular manufactured bins with smaller top openings. A compost aerator is a perfect invention for the job it was created for: to turn small piles of compost!
  • A kitchen scraps pail (and possibly a couple of 4-5 gallon buckets in which to stockpile your food scraps before throwing them into the compost bin)
  • Optional: compost activator, compost thermometer, a couple of Snickers candy bars


add as you go pile

From Home Composting Made Easy by C. Forrest McDowell, PhD & Tricia Clark-McDowell
4th edition Copyright © 2007 by the authors


Tips and Troubleshooting
the ADD-AS-YOU-GO Compost Pile

With this method of home composting, you will likely need to troubleshoot. Now, don't get all depressed. You're not a bad person for wanting to compost this way. Think positively by considering the following as general TIPS that will aid in successfully and easily composting.

  • Alternate disposal of GREENS & BROWNS (as best you can!)
    If you are confused about these terms, read about The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio. Otherwise, remember that GREENS are fresh nitrogen sources of organic material, such as kitchen waste. BROWNS are drier materials like leaves and are sources of carbon. Both are necessary in a compost pile to help it heat up and decompose.
    KEY POINT:  Most people who compost using the Add-as-You-Go method are regularly adding daily kitchen waste to the pile; therefore, a little stockpile of BROWN material is beneficial to have around.

  • Keep food scraps covered by a BROWN layer
    Use leaves, straw, hay, or a sprinkling of activator, sawdust or peatmoss. Adding finished compost to cover food scraps is also an acceptable practice.
    KEY POINT:   DO NOT ever, never have exposed food scraps dumped on top of your pile (in your compost bin). You'll be sorry! Why? This is the quickest way to attract rodents, gnats, fruit flies, smelly compost, bill collectors, you name it!

  • Dry out fresh grass clippings, weeds or leaves
    If you seem to be disposing too many Greens and not enough Browns, this method increases the carbon richness of grass clipping, weeds and leaves.
    KEY POINT:   Never stockpile grass clippings in plastic bags, unless you are a glutton for punishment: when you open the bag brace yourself for a God-awful smell, if not squishy grass (which is mostly water by content, anyway).

  • Chop it small
    Chop garden debris with a shovel, shears or a machete, or use a chipper-shredder or lawn mower to shred material. Chop up larger kitchen scraps before/after adding to pile.
    KEY POINT:   Smaller pieces of material compost faster because they have more surface area.

  • Have adequate air and moisture
    Most life on earth needs a certain amount of water and air to survive. The microorganisms in the compost pile function best when the materials are as damp as a wrung-out sponge and have many air passages. Extremes of sun or rain can adversely affect the balance of air and moisture in your pile. The air in the pile is usually used up faster than the moisture, so the materials must be "turned" or mixed up occasionally to add air that will sustain high temperatures and control odor.
    KEY POINT:    Adequate air and moisture are two Rules of Composting. Keep a hose nearby to moisten the pile. A dry pile will not decompose. Check the pile's temperature with a compost thermometer. A cheaper method is to thrust your hand into the pile to feel its warmth, or lack thereof. Wash up afterwards.

  • Try to compost with a good volume
    Compost piles trap heat generated by the activity of millions of microorganisms. A 3-foot square compost pile is considered a minimum size for hot, fast composting. Piles wider or taller than 5 feet don't allow enough air to reach the center. Most manufactured compost bins are much smaller than recommended but because they are well-made to allow air flow, as well as to hold heat and moisture, they can be just as efficient as larger bins. Therefore, they are adequate for the Add-as-You-Go style.
    KEY POINT:  Adequate volume is another Rule of Composting. But follow these tips and you can still get compost over a longer period of time.

  • Turn the pile now and then to intermix Greens and Browns
    To learn more about the advantages of turning your compost, read Turning Your Compost. The regular turning and intermixing of ingredients in a compost bin solves a lot of problems (see Troubleshooting Guide for more information) and helps to sustain heating of the pile over time.
    You may also shovel some finished compost from the bottom of the pile (removed through trap door on some bins) and place on top.
    KEY POINT:   Make it a habit to turn your pile weekly or so. Otherwise, you might find that you are dumping more GREENS than BROWNs into the bin, clearly one of the most common causes of smelly compost, squishy contents, and low heat build-up.

  • Stockpile valuable ingredients
    Collect fallen leaves, dead-headed flowers, weeds without seeds, etc. when they are available; and/or, keep a supply of kitchen scraps in airtight pails. To learn more about this strategy, see Stockpiling.
    KEY POINT:   Make stockpiling a part of your composting routine and you will thank yourself many times over. Most people eventually find themselves short on GREENS or BROWNS sometime in the year.

  • Keep some type of activator on hand
    A small bag of inexpensive chicken or steer manure can perk up a slow heating or cold pile when added to it. Sprinkle just a little on top of new additions to your compost pile. Learn more about the value of activators here: Compost Activators.
    KEY POINT:   Most compost piles created over time by regular additions simply do not heat up well. It is not a sin to use a small amount of activator now and then to help spark it.

  • Time and Temperature Control
    The most efficient decomposing bacteria thrive in temperatures between 110 degrees and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, the hotter the pile, the faster the composting. The Add-as-You-Go compost pile struggles to get hot at such high temperatures. However, if you achieve a good balance of carbon and nitrogen, provide lots of surface area within a large volume of material, regularly turn the pile, and maintain adequate moisture and aeration, the temperature will rise enough (especially during warmer weather) for decomposition to occur.
    :   Don't ever beat yourself up if you can't get hot temperatures in your Add-as-You-Go compost pile. Someday you might try the Batch Pile method and discover what you've been missing. If you insist on getting angry (or think you're a terrible failure), take an anger control class or go gnaw on the side of a house! P.S. a pint of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream also works.

  • Plan ahead
    It takes planning to stockpile as well as to make a batch pile. However, it is well worth the effort!
    KEY POINT:   Consider composting by using the Batch Pile method.

  • Consider sharing a bin or materials
    A neighbor may have extra materials to help fill a bin all at once. Now you have a batch pile, hence faster compost! Perhaps a local gardener or landscape maintenance business can periodically bring you some compostable materials. Check around. Materials necessary for your success at home composting are readily available.
    KEY POINT:   Love and kindness are everywhere, both readily available and sharable! Remember the Gardener's Motto:  "Peas on Earth. Always expect a marigold!"


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