Compost Guide

Compost Guide

Static Composting | Compost Guide

The following guidance is for household composting only. For commercial composting, you will need to get notification approval | Learn More >

What is static composting?

For static composting, organic matter is piled up and then broken down by bacteria. As the pile decomposes, nutrients are released back into the compost and heat is released. The amount of heat determines whether the pile is considered hot or cold:

  • Hot Pile (reaches between 113°F and 160°F) allows for faster decomposition and rids of weed seeds, pathogens and parasite eggs, which can survive for several days at temperatures up to 135°F. Because they must sustain a constant high temperature, hot piles require more maintenance than a cold pile. Proper aeration and moisture levels are essential to maintaining the microbial activity, regulating the temperature, and making sure heat is evenly distributed throughout the pile.
  • Cold Pile (reaches between 70°F and 90°F) temperatures are dependent on the surrounding ambient air, so the pile’s overall temperature is a lot lower and results in significantly slower decomposition. Weeds and anything that can carry parasites or pathogens should not be added to a cold pile because it will not reach temperatures needed to kill them off. Cold composting requires less maintenance because there is no need to maintain a constant temperature range. You can simply toss greens and browns in a pile and turn occasionally.

Static Composting How-To

Step 1: Determine how much space you can use to compost.

Depending on the size of your space, an economical option would be to purchase or make a small capacity (10 to 30 gallons) or larger capacity (40 to 80 gallons) bin. Small capacity bins are inexpensive to make and larger capacity bins can be made from a garbage bin or wood/mesh to form an open pen for the pile. Commercial stationary bins and tumblers are also available, and if space isn’t an issue, you have the option of an open pile, worm tower or an automatic composter, depending on how much you want to spend | View Container Options >

Step 2: Select a space for the composter.

Outdoor bins and piles will often attract some sort of insect or invertebrate to your compost. If you don't want insects or worms in your compost, consider having a small capacity bin indoors or bokashi or using composting drop-offs/services.

Location will also determine the size limits and container type you can have. Small capacity bins are ideal for indoors. Having outdoor space can accommodate pretty much all container types or allow for no container at all.

Step 3: Figure out how much you want to spend and pick a container type.

  • Outdoor compost bins can be made cheaply or free from wood or mesh. You can also opt to not contain your pile for free.
  • If using a drop-off or composting service, you can either use plastic storage containers or a bag to store your scraps.
  • Compost pail or other vessels for collecting your scraps are also fairly inexpensive, ranging from about $5 to $20.
  • A homemade plastic tote bin can be cheaply made for $10 to $20.
  • Large trash bins range from $65 to $120 and can be turned into a large capacity bin.
  • Tumblers can be made from a 50 gal drum (some local businesses might be willing to part with these for free), PVC pipe, rolling casters and wood.
  • Commercial large bins and tumblers can range from $75 to $200.
  • Automatic composters come in a variety of sizes, range from $200 to $700, and have both indoor and outdoor options.

Step 4: Add greens and browns.

Alternate between layers of greens and browns, ensuring your scraps are covered well by browns to not attract pests | Learn More >

Step 5: Maintain your pile.

Turn your pile once a week to prevent anaerobic decomposition.

If the pile looks a little dry, add some moisture by adding a little water. The pile should be moist, not wet.

For hot compost piles, check the temperature in multiple parts of the pile and turn when the temperature is over 140°F to maintain a liveable environment for the microbes (helpful bacteria) while also ensuring destruction of pathogens and weed seeds. 

Step 6: Wait a few months and then harvest.

When your bin is nearly full, stop adding material. Continue to turn regularly and maintain moisture levels. Once the compost looks dark and smells earthy, it should be ready for harvest. Compost in a hot pile is typically ready around four to eight weeks and a cold pile is finished in about six to 12 months.

What do I do with my compost? | Learn More >