Misconceptions Surrounding Composting

Composting can benefit your garden and the planet (when done on a large scale) in many ways. A lot of people may shy away from composting because of some common myths or misconceptions. Listed below are some of the most common untruths followed by the real information.

  • Composting is creating new dirt. Actually composting is not dirt, soil, or earth but it is humus – decayed matter that provides nutrients to soil.
  • It takes a lot of time and effort to compost. Once you have your compost bin set- up all you will only have to add new materials and turn or rotate the piles once in a two day period.
  • Having a compost is too smelly. If your compost bin has a bad odor, something is wrong. You need to ensure there is enough air circulation and the right combination of green and brown foods.
  • If I have a compost in my back yard, animals are going to come and dig through it. If you have a cover for your compost bin and ensure a good layer of brown food (at least one inch) is on the top you will not have any animal control problems.
  • If I don’t measure the exact ratio of green to brown food it will not work.


Composting is not an exact science if you add more green food one week and then balance it out with additional brown food the next week – that is fine. You will be able to tell with time what your compost pile is lacking or needing.

Composting is easy, environmentally friendly, and an inexpensive way to fertilize your lawn, garden, or house plants. With some time and patience your mature compost will be ready to use anywhere from one month to one year.

Store-Bought Fertilizer versus Mature Compost

You may wonder what the different benefits are between fertilizer purchased from the store and compost humus that you make at home. The aim of both is the same, to improve the quality of your garden, lawn, and soil but there are differences too.

Many fertilizers that you purchase at your garden center contain artificial or toxic elements to make your lawn look nice – not necessarily healthier. The benefit of this type of fertilization is the ability to purchase a mix that meets the needs of your specific lawn. If your lawn is too dry, patchy, or has a lot of weeds – there is a product available that can target each problem (be aware that a pesticide is part of this solution). If you are using a commercial mix in your garden, read all labels carefully to ensure the product is safe to use around vegetation that is going to be consumed.

In contrast, when you use compost humus as a fertilizer there isn’t a lot you can do to customize the end result. But the good thing is, you don’t really need to. Mature compost is a process that occurs naturally (in a forest, the leaves on the ground are composted with only help from Mother Nature). The compost contains a wide range of benefits for your lawn that do not involve chemicals.

It will really depend on your personal preference whether or not you use commercial fertilizer or compost. If you like the idea of using compost but not the idea of making it yourself you can purchase the compost from some gardening centers. Also contact your city’s recycling department, they may have a program set-up that allows residents to donate food and other organic waste for composting and then share in the mature compost when it is ready.

Worms for Vermicomposting

Now that you have decided vermicomposting is for you, you need to get some worms (a lot of them). For a standard size composting bin you will need two pounds of worms for every one pound of raw material you add. The earthworms you will need (known as red wrigglers) do not go very deep underground so your pile or bin should be between 8-10 inches deep.

You may be tempted to go to your backyard and start digging up some worms, but you really should invest in the proper kind. The worms in your backyard are not the recommended breed for composting. You will need to buy worms that bear the name of red wriggler (also known as redworms) or brandling worms.

Redworms or brandling worms can be purchased from a bait shop, some local gardening centers or by mail order. An average worm can eat its own weight in material in 24 hours; keep this in mind when you are determining the size of your compost bin and the amount of worms you will need.

With the rate at which the worms consume the food waste, the timeline of getting from raw organic material to mature compost is relatively short. The same principle applies as for regular composting – you need a good mix of green food and brown food (this can be in the form of shredded newspaper). The finished compost is known as worm castings, worm humus, worm manure, and worm compost.

If you are using a hot or active composting method and it is in the maturing stage, you can add redworms or brandling worms to speed up this last step. You will most likely see quite a few more helpful critters in your compost as it matures too – centipedes and millipedes to name a couple.