COMPOST QUIZ / FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Take our 20-question quiz to see how much you know (or need to learn) about composting. Read each question, then click on your answer choice to reveal the result. When you've read the result, click the answer to close it or simply move on to the next question.
1) I'm having problems with my compost system and I'm not sure of the cause. What should I do first?
a. Add water
b. Add browns/carbon rich material
c. Turn the compost
Most problems associated with composting are due to lack of oxygen in the pile. Turning the compost will introduce oxygen, break up clumps, mix the materials, fluff up the materials, and generally improve the environment inside the compost system. Always turn first — the compost may start performing as desired.
d. Add greens/nitrogen rich material
2) My compost smells bad and I turned it yesterday. What can I do?
a. Add bulky browns/carbon-rich material
Most odor problems often result from either too much moisture, which causes the compost to compact and loose oxygen flow or too much green/nitrogen rich material which off-gas smelly odors (or both). Adding bulky brown/carbon rich material will help absorb the excess moisture and nitrogen rich gasses. You can just add the browns to the top of the compost bin, but if odors persist, you may have to mix the browns in throughout the pile, where the bulky material will help keep the pile oxygenated.
b. Add greens/nitrogen-rich material
c. Add water
3) My pile won't heat up, but I have the proper volume of material (approximately 1 cubic yard), enough oxygen (aeration), and a good balance of carbon to nitrogen (approximately 30:1). What can I do?
a. Add lime
b. Add moisture
Moisture can be the limiting factor for the most efficient composting. Try adding water to a compost system that won't heat up. Your compost should be as wet as a damp sponge. When you grab a handful of compost it will stay in a ball, but not drip with excess moisture. Too much moisture will also slow your composting process and may cause odors.
c. Add potting soil
d. Add clean wood ash
e. All of the above
4) What can I do about flies in my compost?
a. Spray with pesticide
b. Create a separate pile for kitchen scraps
c. No need to act
Flies and their larvae, which look like white grubs, can be part of the decomposition process. If the flies don't bother you, you don't really have to manage your pile to keep out flies. However, most people don't want to breed flies in their compost piles. Flies are most active in wet kitchen scraps. Keep all kitchen scraps tightly covered so that flies can't lay their eggs in the compostables. Make sure to bury scraps deeper in the pile, or cover with at least 4-6 inches of brown cover. Also, flies will be less attracted to a very hot pile.
5) How can I compost in my high-rise condominium or apartment?
a. With a compost bin
b. With worms
You can compost kitchen scraps and organic matter such as trimmings from your house plants using a type of composting called Vermi-composting. This is composting with the help of worms such as red-wigglers. The worms need a place to live, such a small tub or bin placed in a shady section of your porch. Vermi-composting is very efficient and produces material suitable for potting plants.
Learn more about composting with worms.
c. With the in-sink disposal
6) What is the optimal size of a composting system?
a. The bigger, the better
b. Long and narrow
c. About 3 feet high by 3 feet long by 3 feet wide
The ideal size of the backyard composting pile in a bin is about one cubic yard (3' x 3' x 3'). If you generate more than one cubic yard of material, consider using more bins, rather than larger piles. Larger piles might compact and restrict air flow.
7) What can be used as a catalyst or inoculant to get my compost pile started?
a. Finished compost
b. Large pieces left over from screening compost
c. Small amount of organic top soil from the yard
d. Commercially prepared inoculant
e. All of the above
Many of the micro-organisms needed for decomposition already exist in the environment and on the organic material that is being composted. Other decomposers will join the composting process by floating in on air currents. However, you may want to use an inoculant / catalyst to jump start the microbial activity in your pile. The following materials can be added:
- Finished compost, which has a compliment of microbes active and dormant in the material;
- Large pieces left over from screening compost, which will provide bulk as well as microbes to the composting process;
- A small amount of organic top soil, from the yard; and/or
- A commercially prepared inoculant.
8) How do I get rid of fire ants in my compost pile?
a. Leave the pile alone
b. Water and turn the pile
Fire ants usually avoid places that are disturbed so a compost pile that is turned will be an unattractive home for those biting critters. Also, ants do not like wet feet, so keep your pile moist. Reaching higher temperatures in the early stages of composting may also discourage the fire ants. Most fire any activities are the result of abandoning the composting process.
Once the ants become established, it may be difficult to remove them. If they persist or are a hazard to you, try pouring boiling water on the nest. As a last resort, you may use fire ant bait killer NEAR but not in the compost pile. However, avoid direct application of pesticides directly on the compost and follow the pesticide label's instructions for use. For further assistance, consult with you local Cooperative Extension Service Office.
c. Spray the pile with pesticide
9) When is the compost finished?
a. After 6-8 weeks
b. When the compost appears dark, crumbly, and looks and smells like soil
Compost is finished when it appears crumbly and dark, and looks and smells like soil. You won't be able to recognize most of the materials that you put in at the beginning of the process. You may screen out larger woody pieces to remove materials that have not completely composted yet.
To learn more, see "Compost Maturity Tests".
c. When the pile temperature exceeds 131 degrees F
10) What determines how long it takes for organic material to become useful compost?
a. Size of materials place into composting system
b. Carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio of materials place into composting system
c. Level of management/attention paid to the composting process
d. Intended use for finished compost
e. All of the above
A backyard composting system may yield finished soil-like compost in two to three months. This can be accomplished by using small organic pieces less than 2", a mixture of organic materials with a carbon to nitrogen ratio of approximately 30:1, and an actively managed system (where the pile is turned one to two times per week and monitored for correct moisture content and temperature). More time is needed to produce compost if less attention is paid to material size, C:N ratio, and active management.
Compost that will be used as a mulch will be ready for use more quickly than compost that will be incorporated into the soil for immediate planting.
11) Must I cover the compost bin?
In Florida, covers are not necessary for environmental reasons. However, if you need to deter animals from getting into your compost, a cover will be required. Covers are often used in northern climates where snow accumulations could compact the compost and saturate it with moisture.
12) What items may harm my worms if added to my vermi-composting system?
a. Alcohol or vinegar
Substances such as alcohol or vinegar may harm the worms.
b. Coffee grinds
c. Oranges or other citrus
d. All of the above
13) It I can't compost it, what can I do with it?
d. All of the above
- Reduce: The best environmental action is not producing waste in the first place. If you don't need it, don't buy it.
- Re-use: Buying durable products that can be used many times, helps save resources over time. Clothing, dishes, toys, lawn furniture, and many other household items may be sold at garage sales, or donated to charity.
- Recycle: Most municipalities have either curbside or drop-off recycling for materials such as glass, paper, plastic, aluminum cans and metal.
14) Must I use a manufactured composting bin?
No, not necessarily. Many people like manufactured bins because they generally have a much more finished look than homemade bins. However, you can construct attractive composting structures made of wire, wood or concrete blocks, depending on your personal tastes. Of course, the sheet, trench, and heap composting systems (see the Cold/Slow section under "Composting Methods") require no building materials at all, and can be integrated in your existing landscape – under trees, in annual beds, etc.
15) What is the lowest-cost backyard composting system?
a. Pile, trench, and sheet composting
Pile, trench, and sheet composting systems cost nothing and require little effort. Even minimal attention to material size, moisture, and turning will lead to successful composting.
For more information on each of these composting methods, see the Cold/Slow section under "Composting Methods".
b. Manufactured bins
c. Self-made bins
16) What best accelerates the decomposition of oak leaves?
a. Water the pile
b. Turn the pile twice a week
c. Shred leaves before adding to the compost
Shredding leaves prior to composting will accelerate their decomposition by breaking the waxy leaf edge. This creates sites for microorganisms to start breaking down the leaf structure. Watering and turning will also help speed up the decomposition process.
d. All of the above
17) How can I accelerate the compost decomposition process?
a. Active management of the compost system
Composting or decomposition can be accelerated through the active management of your compost pile, including the following basic steps:
- Balance high carbon leaves with a source of nitrogen;
- Add moisture as you build and turn your pile, but do not over saturate the pile;
- Turn your pile once per week; and
- Use your unfinished compost as mulch.
b. Building a bigger pile
c. Adding a compost starter/inoculant/catalyst
d. None of the above
18) How much time does it take to make compost?
a. One hour per day
b. One hour per week
c. One hour per month
d. As little or as much time as I want
You can compost most items with very little effort. Only large volumes of "green" material will require more intense effort during the initial stages. But as with many activities, the more that you put into it the more you get out of it. So the amount of time it takes to make compost varies. Just remember that any effort you make to compost will go a long way to reducing pressure on our landfills, and adds organic matter to our highly depleted sub-tropical soils. You can make a difference.
19) Hot composting and vermi-composting are compatible?
Temperatures higher than 90 degrees F will kill or drive away worms. Use a cold-composting method if you will be attracting worms to your compost.
20) How does composting affect soil pH?
a. Makes soils more acidic
b. Makes soils more basic
c. Has a buffering effect
In general, compost has a buffering effect on soils. Compost made from acidic materials, such as pine needles or oak leaves, may have a slightly acidifying effect on soils. Because many soils in Florida are slightly basic, there is rarely a need to add lime to neutralize even acidic composts.