Do you have questions about composting? Watch our “How to Compost” and “Compost Troubleshooting” videos that cover frequently asked questions and problems. If you still have questions, please submit your questions to [email protected]. All questions will be answered by Jonathan Stevens, Master Gardener.
Do you prefer an in-person class? Please attend one of our Backyard Composting classes!
Ask a Master Gardener
Jonathan Stevens lives in Fredericksburg and has been composting and gardening for decades. He says that he loves to have something growing in his back yard all year-round; right now (winter) it’s parsley and garlic.
Jonathan has been a healthcare administrator with John Hancock, an employee benefits consultant with Towers Perrin, and a Certified Financial Planner®, and now in retirement he is active as a Master Gardener Volunteer and helps with the R-Board’s efforts to increase composting and recycling in the region.
Jonathan has a BA from Yale and a Master’s in Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a volunteer with, and former Board Chair of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, which helps promote local, healthy food alternatives. He is also a volunteer with the Dr. Yum Project, which helps families and communities overcome the barriers to eating well.
If you have questions about composting, please submit your questions to [email protected].
Ask a Master Gardener Questions and Answers
Is it possible to compost in an apartment? I have a balcony with no dedicated yard space.
The easiest way to compost without a yard would be to save your kitchen scraps in a container in your freezer (no stink) and contribute the frozen product every so often to a friend or community compost space. I have a few friends without yards who give me their frozen compositions and in exchange I occasionally give them some finished “Black Gold” for their potted porch plants or to strain for compost tea for their house plants. And thanks for helping save the planet.
Where should I store my food scrap collection bin? I have been storing it under the sink. However, it smells bad.
The food scrap collection bin should be emptied into your outside compost bin daily so it doesn’t stink. The best alternative is to dedicate a corner of the freezer for a scrap collection container (airtight) and arrange to contribute the frozen composition when it is full, to your compost bin.
Do you have any suggestions for speeding up the composting process?
Speeding up the composting process can be done in a number of ways. You can chop up your kitchen and house plant scraps as you collect them, manually or in a chopper or blender. If they are cut up finely, then they will break down more quickly into wonderful compost. Also, as you put the scraps into your outdoor compost bin, you can cover them with chopped leaves or other “brown” material, and see that the whole mix is dampened, which will also speed things up. As the mix in your compost bin ages, you can turn it over periodically to re-mix the product, allowing fresh access to air and moisture. This is also an opportunity to restore the balance of the compost material to the desired mix, making sure that the “greens” and “browns” are close to a 50/50 mixture and are uniformly damp (like a wrung-out sponge). Greens, as you probably know, are those items that contain more nitrogen, like grass clippings, coffee grounds, fresh kitchen scraps, and such. Browns are carbon-loaded items, like leaves, tiny twigs, straw, torn-up cardboard, shredded paper, and such. And the more often you turn your mix, the faster it will compost! And you’re a hero!
How long before I get compost?
They say it can take three months or so to get compost you can use if you are incredibly diligent about it, but I don’t know anybody like that! Usually, we leave it out there for a while then remember to go and turn it refresh the mix, and rebalance the air and moisture. Composting requires patience, as it takes about a year for well-finished compost. First, the mix will heat up, due to the hot microbes, then it will cool down and other kinds of microbes get to chewing and chomping. Then it has to finish up when the earthworms and other little critters move it and help out. We have to give it an occasional nudge by turning it, rebalancing Greens and Browns as needed, adding moisture if it’s not still damp, and making sure air gets in there to help too. Thanks for helping keep greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere!
When is the best time to start a compost bin?
The best time to start composting is now! It’s always a good time to start. Right now, there are some free piles of leaves still around to go and collect (be careful to ask permission!). I keep a year’s supply of leaves nearby so I can start a new bin anytime. We’re indoors more nowadays, so it’s a great time to start collecting kitchen scraps in a freezer container (no stink). Pick a convenient place in the yard, clear it, protect it all around with fine-holed chicken wire or hardware cloth, and start loading it! Keep an eye out for critters like a neighbor’s dog or a feral cat (or other critters!) Join a compost messaging group and start bragging! Composters are awesome!
Backyard Composting Classes
The R-Board offers backyard composting classes that teach you how to compost your food scraps and yard waste, which compost bin might be right for your needs, and how to maximize your compost process. Composting 101 classes are open to everyone, but only residents of Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg will be able to receive a composting bin from the R-Board.
Get your free Earth Machine compost bin by attending one of our Backyard Composting classes! Bins are free and only available to class participants who are City of Fredericksburg or Stafford County residents. Bins are limited to one per person, and are available for pickup at our Administrative Office during regular business hours.
The Compost-a-Thon is a great way to learn how to compost and get your free compost bin!
The R-Board is holding a Mini Compost-a-Thon weekend in 2024. Details will be posted closer to the event date. Attendees can visit any time during the event to receive a free countertop food scrap bin, learn about composting, and register to receive a free compost bin.