There’s absolutely no reason not to create your own compost pile if you have the space in your garden or yard. It’s a way of reducing the waste you would otherwise throw away while at the same time feeding your garden with incredibly valuable nutrients. It’s a win-win situation.
But if you’ve taken the time to create the nutrient-rich, wonder soil that is compost, you don’t want to lose any of it to the elements. All compost loses volume and nutrients over time, but badly stored compost will lose them much quicker. You’ll need to store it correctly so that it’s protected from the elements and doesn’t rot before you are ready to use it.
To store compost correctly, you will need to cover it, using a tarp, lidded bin, or in a bag, while still allowing airflow to enable oxygen to allow the composting process to continue. Without airflow, your stored compost will develop anaerobic conditions and break down much slower.
If you’re looking to correctly store your own compost, then this article is going to give you everything you need to know about keeping your finished compost in tip-top condition.
How To Store Compost in the Short-Term
If you need to store your compost for a few weeks, it probably won’t come to much harm. That doesn’t mean you should leave it out in the rain or baking heat for this amount of time, but you won’t need to invest in huge storage containers for this period.
Instead, you’re looking for short-term solutions:
Use a Tarp To Cover Your Compost Pile
A simple tarp over your pile and enforced with stakes is a great method of compost storage. The benefit of this method is twofold: it protects your compost from heavy rains or excess heat and yet still allows the air to flow.
Why is Air Flow Important?
Air must be able to reach the depths of your compost heap in order for the composting process to truly happen. Composting is a very complex process of microbes, fungi, humus, organisms, and bacteria all working together to create what gardeners call ‘black gold.’
For the decomposition of your food and kitchen scraps, mulch, grass clippings, leaves, and other material to break down into compost, there must be aeration. Oxygen has to be present to truly get the levels right to transform all these waste products into the perfect garden soil.
Not only that, but worms, crickets, and other forms of life are in the pile, and they need oxygen, too. So however you store your compost, turn regularly so the compost at the bottom, near the ground, can move to the top and prevent compaction.
If your compost pile seems devoid of any bugs or worms, then there’s a chance that there’s no longer any active composting occurring. You’ll also see that leaves and sticks no longer break down. If this happens, get rid of that pile and start afresh.
Create a Lid of Roof For Your Compost Pile
If the tarp method isn’t feasible, then store your compost under a lid or a roof of some kind. For short-term storage, you don’t need to look at moving it, just protecting it. Compost does better on the ground so that excess moisture can drain away, rather than collecting at the bottom of a container.
You can build a storage area over the pile with nothing more than some bricks and mortar, over which you’ll put a makeshift roof. If your construction skills aren’t too great or you’re worried about your creation looking like an eyesore, you could invest in having a designated composting area built in your garden which will last for years to come.
Storing Compost For a Long Period of Time
If your finished compost isn’t currently being used on the garden (for example, it’s wintertime and you’re waiting for the spring), then you’ll want to invest in some more long-term methods of storing your bulk compost so that you don’t lose any of the nutrients.
This is going to mean more long-term solutions than simply protecting from elements such as rain or high temperatures. Once you’ve hit on the best way to store compost, it will keep for months at a time.
Storing Compost In Plastic Bags
The humble plastic bag clearly works for storing compost because if you’ve ever bought store finished compost, you’ll likely have bought it in a plastic bag.
Strong plastic bags like the large, black kind you use for garbage are perfect. You can use white shopping bags but the reason black trash bags work better is that black absorbs heat, which compost loves. Next time you rake your leaves, put them in a black trash bag and voila! You’ve just created the first step to a compost pile.
Poke a couple of holes at the bottom of the bag to continue with aeration, add more organic materials, and the bacteria will continue to do its work until the season rolls around for you to use the compost in your gardening once more.
A Garbage Bin Is Great For Storing Compost
As much as a plastic bag is an inexpensive way of storing your compost, it’s not the prettiest container to sit in your garden, so you might want to consider a garbage bin instead. A regular plastic bin painted a dark green will blend in with the leaves of your plants while storing your compost until you’re ready to use it.
Garbage cans are unlikely to come with holes already made, so don’t forget to create a few holes of your own to give the organisms the oxygen they need. Compost storage isn’t just about having somewhere to store finished compost but to continue with the composting process until it’s in the best condition for use.
Purchase an Additional Compost Bin
Getting hold of a dedicating compost bin is number one on many a list of gardener plans, and there’s good reason. A compost bin is specially designed to not just protect your compost from poor weather conditions but to actively encourage maximum composting energy.
A good compost bin is a great place for you to regularly top up the levels with leaves, plants, grass clippings, kitchen waste and food scraps without you having to do too much work. Better still, you can purchase a container with a turning mechanism so you not only store the compost but continue to introduce maximum aeration and moisture dispersal.
You don’t have to get a specially constructed compost bin but the serious gardener wouldn’t be without one. It will keep compost in great condition all year round and you can dip in and out of it when you need fresh compost for your flower beds or to add to your potting soil. No more moving your compost around depending on the season, so consider this a great investment.
Keeping Unwanted Pests Away
Compost might not sound too appetizing to humans, but animals love it. This is a good reason to safely store your compost all year round. Whether you favor the bag or bin approach, it’s important that you protect your compost from unwanted pests.
A mixture of fermenting soil, mulch, leaves and food material draws rats, raccoons and other animals who can make a real mess of your pile and bring all their buddies, too. Even if you’d rather keep the pile on the ground (still the best choice for draining excess moisture), then be sure to keep your compost covered over sufficiently to stop pests getting in.
Your choice of composting materials will also affect the clientele that your compost pile draws. Keep the material as organic as possible: leaves, plants, grass clippings, vegetable peelings, and the like. Don’t put fats, grease or other such food waste material into the pile, otherwise you’re asking for unwanted visitors and the quality of the resulting compost soil will be poor.
How Long Does Compost Last? Can Compost Go Bad?
Your compost should last around a year. It can take as little as for weeks for rotting material such as leaves and other gardening material to break down and produce the nutrients your flower beds love. But it will only last that long (and perhaps even longer) if you know how to store compost most effectively.
Compost can certainly go bad if not looked after properly. Excess water or moisture that collects deep in the pile can cause the compost to rot, so that it can’t be used on your soil. This is why it’s important to keep your compost turned over throughout the year.
Continue to throw all your dead leaves and organic kitchen waste onto the pile but make sure that you turn your compost every few weeks. Unturned compost that has no access to air will cause the whole pile to rot from the inside out. Bad compost smells and you’ll notice that leaves are no longer breaking down, because effectively there’s no life left.
To get the maximum benefits of your compost’s nutrients, store it well, keep it turned, and be sure to find a way to drain off any excess moisture. Good-quality compost will elevate your gardening to a whole new level, so it’s worth taking the time to look after this all-natural, black gold!
Can You Make Compost in Winter?
You can make your own compost all year around, but there are certain times of year that the process will be faster. Summer is prime composting time, because the heat encourages humidity and oxygen, which are the perfect composting conditions.