Composting Advantages & Disadvantages

Making your own compost can be easy or it can present some challenges. Compost is simply decomposed plant material, sometimes with animal manure added. You can compost in a purchased plastic container, on the ground or inside a ring of heavy-gauge wire or a square of wooden shipping palettes. But if you don't follow a few simple rules, your compost can cause you problems.

Advantage: Help the Landfills, Help the Environment

Many towns and cities, including Durham, New Hampshire, have passed laws prohibiting homeowners from disposing of their "leaf and yard waste materials" in the city landfill. The Durham website informs readers that 25 percent of household waste consists of green waste and food scraps. You can easily compost all of these materials and help rapidly filling landfills have a few more years of life before they become full. The more we compost and recycle, the smaller the problem of overflowing landfills becomes.

Advantage: Save Money

When you compost your yard trimmings and kitchen waste, they will turn into a nutrient-rich, soil-like substance that you can use in place of expensive fertilizers to feed your trees, vegetables and houseplants. You can use compost in several ways: Mix about four cups of compost with one gallon of water to make "compost tea," which you can use to water your plants. Spread your compost around the base of fruit trees and other plants for a constant source of nutrients. Mulch with your compost to prevent weeds from popping up in planted areas and to nourish your plants.

Disadvantage: Compost Can Smell

If compost becomes "anaerobic," meaning it lacks oxygen, it will be heavy and wet and will develop an unpleasant odor. The solution to this problem is to remove your wet, stinky compost from its container, spread it on the ground---no thicker than several inches---and allow it to dry out. When you put it back into its container, add about one fourth of its volume in dried leaves or other crispy, brown plant material. This will give it more carbon, which will help the drainage and the smell.

Disadvantage: Compost Can Attract Pests

Fruit flies, houseflies, maggots, rats and even dogs can present a threat to compost piles. If you live where centipedes exist, they might be an unpleasant addition to your compost pile. To eliminate your compost pile's attractiveness to pests of all types, be careful what you put in it and how you add those ingredients. If you choose to dispose of kitchen scraps in your compost pile, be sure to chop them up into bite-size pieces, and always bury them under several inches of plant materials on top of the pile. Never compost meat, dairy products, bones of any kind or leftover fats or oils: these foods are a guarantee that your compost pile will attract critters that love to eat them, according to Durham, New Hampshire's Department of Public Works.

Disadvantage: Composting Can Take a Long Time

If you choose to use the passive method of composting, where you do not turn your pile regularly, compost will happen in time, but it takes much longer than if you practice the active method, which introduces oxygen to the rotting materials and causes them to break down more quickly. If you don't turn your pile, it can also become anaerobic because of the lack of oxygen.

Keywords: compost pile, organic gardening, natural fertilizer

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.