There’s a reason the stuff is nicknamed “black gold” in the gardening world.
Rich and full of nutrients, you can make it right at home in a variety of ways.
But, like a lot of elements of gardening, it can smell!
Without storing your compost properly, it can stink up your whole yard. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Now that I know what I’m doing, I’m here to help you avoid those stinky mistakes I made! (Seriously, messing up your compost is not fun, and it’s not for the faint-of-nose, either).
Storing your compost properly is important not only to contain the smell, but also to help you maximize its benefits and to allow the decomposition process to happen efficiently. Keep reading to learn more about how to properly store your compost and avoid some pretty icky mistakes.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- Different ways to store your compost
- Why you should properly store your compost
- What method of storing your compost is right for you
- And so much more!
What Is Compost?
If you’re a beginner gardener, you might be wondering exactly what compost is. No worries, I’ve got a simple explanation for you!
Essentially, compost is broken down green and brown matter that has decomposed and turned into rich fertilizer. It’s a natural process that can be sped up by worms, heat, and mixing up your compost pile.
Okay, what’s green matter? It’s mostly kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, pulled weeds, that sort of thing. Organic matter is another term for it. Most of the green matter in your compost pile will probably come from your kitchen—fruit and vegetable scraps are the best additions, but you can also add old coffee grounds and even washed, crushed-up eggshells.
Green matter is nitrogen-rich but can also contain other vital nutrients, like calcium found in eggshells or potassium in citrus peels. I recommend reading up on the big three nutrients in fertilizer if you’re unfamiliar with them—then you can tailor your compost to your garden’s needs if you’re super dedicated. Otherwise, just chuck your fruit-and-veggie scraps in there and call it a day. Always works for me.
Brown matter is made up of materials like pine needles, paper bags, cut-up cardboard (no tape or adhesive sticks, though), and old leaves. It’s carbon-heavy and because it’s usually bulkier, it provides air pockets in your compost pile. Getting air into your compost is really important for the decomposition process.
Your pile should be roughly 30% green matter and 70% brown matter. You don’t have to stand out there with a scale weighing everything you put in there, though. It’s nature, and there are no set rules or even guidelines. Just eyeball it and you’ll be fine.
Once your green and brown matter break down, they make a delicious-looking, nearly-black material. It’s usually a little thicker than dirt, and maybe even a little wetter, but it shouldn’t be muddy or super dry. If it’s too wet, let it dry out for a few days; if it’s too dry, you can water it.
Your finished compost can be applied right to your garden as soon as it’s done, which is usually what I like to do. I find fresh compost to be the most nutrient-dense, but storing it to use at a later date is fine, too.
If you’re still feeling a little uncertain about how to compost, I recommend checking out our article linked below. It goes step-by-step so you won’t get lost. By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll realize composting is way easier than you thought!
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Why Is Proper Compost Storage So Important?
There are a couple of reasons why you should take care when storing your compost. Storing it properly can help it retain those hard-earned nutrients, as well as keep away critters and prevent mold.
When storing your compost, you want it to retain all of the nutrients it contains already. Improper storage can allow those nutrients to escape in various ways, whether through water runoff or leeching into the soil.
Nutrient integrity is also dependent on how long you choose to store your compost. A few weeks or even a couple of months is fine, but I wouldn’t save an old pile for more than three months, or 90 days. Even that is pushing it.
If you store your compost for too long, there’s a higher chance that the nutrients will leech out and then won’t be added to your garden.
This is more applicable to your active compost pile, but it’s worth noting anyway.
In my area, we have a lot of raccoons. I’ll admit they’re cute with their tiny little hands, but they’re also nosy! If you have an active compost pile, it must be stored properly so that critters don’t get into it. All those apple cores and banana peels look delicious to wildlife.
Even with compost that isn’t actively decomposing, you want to keep it away from animals. If you have a dog, it should be out of their reach—depending on what’s in it, they could think it smells delicious. They might also dig through it or go to the bathroom on it. I definitely don’t want my dog to pee on my compost.
Even outdoor cats could treat your compost pile as a litter box if it isn’t stored properly. Gross!
Mold and Fungi
Did you hear that mushroom is throwing a party? Yeah, he’s a pretty fun-gi!
Okay, I’ll stop now. All jokes aside, mold and fungi on your compost are kind of a no-no for me. While mold can be a sign of healthy decomposition, it also reflects an imbalance in the pile. Green mold is a sign of too much moisture, but white mold means decomposition is taking place.
In general, I don’t like having mold or fungus on my compost. I personally don’t know a whole lot about mold, so it’s best to steer clear. I look at it kind of like how you shouldn’t go foraging for mushrooms unless you are absolutely certain you know what types are safe to eat.
Harmful mold can actually cause serious health problems if too many spores are inhaled, so when mold shows up on my pile, I like to take it off with a trowel (while wearing gloves and a mask) and dispose of it in a sealed garbage back.
You should be using PPE while working with your compost pile regardless of if you find mold; the dust from a dry pile can cause throat irritation, and if something flies up and into your eye, man that’s gonna hurt. Check out this video on gardening safety to learn more about what PPE you should bring outside:
Always better to be safe than sorry! While PPE can help to protect you from chemicals or mold, you should try to make sure there isn’t any on your compost pile regardless. I just find it to be too risky; with mold in there, it could transfer to your garden and harm your plants.
Read More >> How To Dispose Of Fertilizer?
How To Store Your Compost (3 Methods)
And finally, now that you have all the background information you need, I can tell you all about the different methods you can store your compost!
Method 1: Leave It On The Ground
By far the easiest method here, leaving your compost on the ground also has nutritional benefits. Worms are able to get into the bottom of the pile and further break things down, also adding rich nutrients of their own, if you know what I mean. (Don’t worry, worm castings are actually really good for your garden).
This method is great for if your compost is already on the ground, or even in the ground. All you have to do is cover it securely with a tarp so that it doesn’t get too wet or waterlogged, and you’re good to go.
The only downside to this method is that it’s kind of unsightly. If your compost isn’t in the ground, you’ll have a big mound of it sitting in your yard with a tarp over it. With lots of land, or a secluded area of your yard, this is a great option. For those of us with smaller or perhaps more picturesque yards (my mom always goes on and on about the ‘aesthetic’ of mine), this might not be the best option.
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Method 2: Bag It Up
This is a more transportable option for those of us who don’t want to leave our compost pile out in the yard. Use garbage bags or give plastic grocery store bags a new life by filling them with compost and then hiding them.
There are tons of innovative ways to re-use plastic in the garden, this being one of them. I like to use old bags from my local drugstore since I somehow still forget my reusable bags when I go in there.
Make sure you tie up the bags once they’re full, and keep them out of the sun or intense heat. In the summer, I recommend keeping them in your garage or maybe even a basement. While plastic bags don’t typically melt, I don’t like the idea of there being any potential mixing of molecules between the bag and the compost.
Read More >> Which Fertilizers are Best for Blackberries?
Method 3: Trash Bins
The third option for storing your compost is to put it in a bin of some sort. Most people use trash bins, but you could also use a Rubbermaid tub or another storage container.
This is especially helpful if you need to store your compost in a tucked-away area. By using rectangular storage bins, you can save space and stack them on top of one another.
The only downside to this is moisture. Compost should be kept moist but not soaking wet, and you should also turn it with a garden fork every 3-5 days. The wet material on the bottom should be brought to the top, so if you have a tall trash can, this can be quite the hassle!
Like I said, this option is great for saving space and keeping your yard a little more sightly. Unlike bags, however, you can’t just shake it up and call your compost mixed. You have to really get in there to turn it, which can be difficult.
My Final Thoughts On Storing Compost
There is no “right way” to store compost. It’s all about what works for you and your garden. The plastic bag and/or trash can method can be great if you’re tight on space, but you lose the benefit of having worms working at your compost.
There are pros and cons to every method of storing your compost. Like I said, it’s all about what works for you. These are tried and true methods though, and I wouldn’t steer you wrong!
Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of trash you put out while also fertilizing your garden. I love adding rich “black gold” to my fruits and veggies to keep them healthy and happy! I hope you get to maximize the benefits of your compost this season by storing it efficiently and safely.