Published Saturday, August 21, 2021, 5:42 pm

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Virginia Cooperative ExpansionComposting is a great way to recycle household waste and increase garden productivity. Unfortunately, many gardeners make composting mistakes that can lead to problems like compost that doesn’t decompose or attract rodents.

Greg Evanylo, Virginia Cooperative Extension Specialist and Professor at the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, recommends home gardeners follow these compost best practices:

  • Make sure the compost heap is large. If space is an issue, reduce the surface area of ​​the pile by creating a compost bin. The bigger your pile, the more heat it will generate. The average pile size should be at least one cubic meter.
  • Make sure to spin your pile to get oxygen in. Without enough oxygen, the microbes starve to death and the pile becomes anaerobic. This is not good. Turning it over also ensures that all of the waste is shredded evenly.
  • Be sure to monitor your moisture levels. To do this, perform a squeeze test. Scoop a handful of compost and squeeze it out. Is water leaking? If so, the compost is too wet. If it’s squeezed and water doesn’t come out but sticks together, the moisture level is perfect.

“Ultimately, what gardeners want to achieve with composting is to develop a soil amendment that improves the properties of their soil for gardening,” said Evanylo.

According to Evanylo, compost is useful for improving soil health, promoting beneficial microbial populations, recycling nutrients, and increasing the organic matter in the soil.

Composting is also good for the environment. Organic waste in landfills is converted into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change. When leftover food is recycled into a compost heap, the waste is kept away from a landfill.

Compost dos and don’ts


  • Have a 2: 1 ratio of brown to green. For example two parts of dry leaves (brown) to one part of leftover food (green).
  • Have an average particle size distribution – some large pieces, some small, but mostly in the middle.
  • Monitor Your Moisture Content! Water the compost as needed, but not too often or too much – do a pressure test to check.
  • Bury food waste and keep it covered in shades of brown to avoid insect and rodent problems.


  • Composted wood or chemicals (paint, pressure treatment, etc.).
  • Inoculate your compost! Microbes exist naturally.
  • Compost meat, dairy products, or pet waste.
  • Compost diseased plants if the pile is less than 130-150 degrees.

Devon Johnson story