Can Compost Go Bad? 9 Tips for Storing Compost

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Finished Compost

This is a time of year when gardeners are likely to use stored up compost from the previous summer. Excess material is leftover quite often towards the end of the warm weather season. To keep it from going bad during the winter months, many gardeners utilize a combination of storage tips.

Most seasoned gardeners have surely wondered what happens to unused compost. Can it go bad? The simple answer is yes, it certainly can. However, that ONLY happens if it has not been stored in the correct manner.

As long as gardeners maintain the correct levels of oxygen and humidity within the compost pile, everything will be fine. No nutrients will be lost and any possible rotting or onset of fungus can be avoided.

Importance of Composting

Firstly, any gardener who prepares and uses homemade compost deserves a pat on the back. Doing so is an easy waste reduction method that will significantly improve the soil in any yard.

According to an article from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as much as 30% of any household waste is made up of food scraps and garden trimmings.

Reusing these food scraps and yard trimmings as compost is an excellent way to enrich the soil in the backyard and to behave responsibly towards the environment.

Composting for a garden is always a good idea. Anyone who is in the habit of doing so can save close to 280 pounds (approximately 127 kilograms) of waste every year according to The Daily Gardener.

Summers are usually ideal for preparing compost. The high temperatures enable quicker decomposition of kitchen and garden waste. As a result, the compost pile will likely be ready for utilization in the fall.

We like to promote using your finished (or even half-finished) compost in the garden in the fall by applying 1-2 inches on top of your soil. However, if you have too much compost, it is also possible to store it by applying some of the tips that we will talk about later in this article.

Contents of Good Homemade Compost

Shredded newspaper, grass clippings, wood shavings and ashes, hedge trimmings, fallen leaves (preferably shredded), cornstalk, straw, manure, hay, and plant waste from the garden are just some of the many things that can be used in homemade compost.

Furthermore, kitchen scraps and food remains are among the most important elements of home composting. They are readily available and easily decomposable. Things like vegetable and fruit waste, stale bread, used tea bags, coffee grounds and unconsumed meals are a regular occurrence in many households.

They can easily be used in the preparation of compost that will keep garden soil rich and fertile. However, it is important to be selective when using kitchen waste. While there are many good options to add to a composting pile, some things are best kept away.

The table below summarizes what should and should not be used in a compost pile.

Kitchen Waste Items for Home Composting

Teabags and coffee grounds.

Banana peels, rotten apples, and all other fruit and vegetable waste.

Fruit pulp from the preparation of jams, juices, sorbets, etc. 

Stale bread, pizza, cookies, donuts, and other similar items made of flour.

Eggshells and chopped corncobs.
Meat scraps, fat, bones, and skin.

Leftover fish and fish waste.

Oil and grease of all types.

Spoiled yogurt, cheese, sour cream, butter, and other similar dairy products.

Meat scraps, grease, bones, and dairy items are likely to attract cats, dogs, rats, and other animals. An unpleasant odor may also emanate during decomposition. Moreover, fats break down slowly which tends to increase the time needed for the compost to be ready. 

A Word of Caution

It might be a good source of oxygen, but be careful when handling animal manure. Make sure to wash hands thoroughly after dealing with compost that contains any kind of manure.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14

Effective Compost Storage Tips

Compost Mulch

Those who plan on using the prepared compost at a later time must maintain proper storage. Any exposure to unsatisfactory environmental conditions may cause damage and lead to its eventual decay.

Of course, as someone with a passion for no-till gardening, I would first advise gardeners to add 1-2 inches of compost to the top of the soil every year. It can really work wonders. Only then should any leftover material be reserved.

The main aim while storing compost should be to protect it from unwanted fungus growth and the loss of essential nutrients for the soil. To do that, it is important to stop extra moisture from getting in and keeping the storage area sufficiently aerated.

Different methods are out there that can be used for storing compost. The one(s) utilized will ultimately depend on the kind of compost and the amount of time the gardener wants to keep it unused.

For instance, if a gardener plans on using it after a short while, then there aren’t likely to be many problems. However, longer periods of inactivity will require different strategies.

Read on for some storage tips that will keep compost safe and nutrient-rich for as long as desired.

1. Storage for the Short Term

For the most part, short-term storage of compost doesn’t pose any serious problems. The only thing necessary to be careful of is the possible exposure to harsh weather conditions like non-stop rain or high humidity.

In case of such an occurrence, just make sure that the compost pile is adequately aerated and unneeded moisture doesn’t find its way in.

2. Storage for the Medium Term

Those who plan on storing compost for a few months with an expected rainy period in between should use stakes and a tarp to cover the pile.

Put up the stakes in the same way that the tarp is kept over the compost to shield it from bad weather. Not only will this keep the material safe but also allow for enough air to pass through regularly.

3. Storage for the Long Term

Those who are planning to store compost for more than three months will have to do things a little differently.

This is especially the case in winter because a constant flow of air needs to be enabled while protecting the pile from moisture in the ground. Having walled storage is a good way to do that. It may be best to store the compost in a shed, barn, or garage.

4. Storing Finished Compost

One of the simplest ways to store finished compost is to do it on the ground if enough space is available in the garden.

An even better approach would be to look for a sheltered area where mature material can be kept away from excess moisture and high humidity while still being exposed to insects and worms that can make it better.

5. Storing Fresh Compost

Plastic bags and garbage cans are the most practical storage solution for fresh compost. They can keep it preserved for long without having to do much.

Just turn the pile, if possible, every now and then so that the material stays healthy and ready to use whenever it is needed.

Also, it is important for the compost to still have access to oxygen, so leave the bag or container loosely open or make holes in the top/sides.

6. Storing Compost Tea

Compost tea is something that can be stored more comfortably than most other kinds of compost. Besides, it is a wonderful fertilizer substitute that keeps away harmful pests and insects while adding some much-needed nutrients to the soil.

By putting it in a sealed container, compost tea can be conveniently stored for almost a week. For longer storage periods, look for a canister that comes with an attached blubber stone or aquarium pump to support aeration.

7. Use Containers for Winter Storage

For the winters, simple garbage bins made of plastic can be good enough storage units for compost. Merely drill some holes in them for aeration and it is all set. In terms of bin size, go for the relatively smaller ones so that the material can be handled more comfortably.

Use black-colored containers or simply color the bin black. That way, the temperature within the compost will be increased. This strategy is quite practical when using a bucket with a fixed lid. It will enable the gardener to rotate the compost and allow for aeration without much difficulty.

Also, remember that plastic cans have a tendency to expand when the compost within begins to freeze. This makes them ideal for storage. On the other hand, those who plan to save the better quality compost for potting soil should simply put the storage containers in the basement or a similar place to keep the material from freezing.

A similar approach for storing finished compost during the winters is to use 5-gallon buckets that have a loose lid. Leaving the containers in the garage/shed will work well. Those who are still looking for more ideas, here’s a great article we wrote on easy compost bin solutions.

8. Build a Solid Shelter

This works best during the dead of the winter. Building a solid shelter will shield compost from the cold and snow. The garage or woodshed can be perfect for this, provided adequate space is available in these places. If not, prepare a simple shelter made of some solid material to preserve compost.

9. Be Careful with the Ingredients Added

During summer time, it’s not necessary to be to worried too much about what is being added to the compost pile. However, the same cannot be said for the winter because the decomposition process is considerably slower.

Besides, a chance of unwanted rats, rodents and other wildlife finding their way into the compost pile in search of food is always present. So, as a precaution, be more careful about the things added during colder climates. 

These were some valuable tips that can be used to store excess compost. For more information on compost, use the search box at the top of our site or check out this great article on compost management and tips – 5 Reasons Compost Gets Slimy and How to Fix It.

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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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