GARDENING: Composting II: Pick your fit

By Sara Moran, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Midland and Ector Counties

The previous article covered tips on how to compost in our arid climate. Now, we will discuss the different types of compost. Which one is the best? That’s an easy answer…the best compost method is the one that works for you! Here are some popular options:

  • Outdoor Cold Composting. It requires little maintenance, moisture must be maintained, and turning is optional. It is the most common type of compost and is made from a mix of yard waste, such as leaves, grass clippings, branches, and kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels. Outdoor cold composting is typically produced by homeowners in their backyard compost bins or piles. It won’t kill seeds (keep weed seeds out!).
  • Outdoor Hot Composting. A method that involves actively managing a compost pile to achieve and maintain high temperatures. The process relies on the controlled decomposition of organic materials at elevated temperatures, typically ranging from 130°F to 160°F (54°C to 71°C). Hot composting has several benefits, including faster decomposition (about 4-6 months) and efficient breakdown of organic matter. Moisture must be maintained throughout the process.
  • Vermicomposting or worm composting. It is a method that involves using earthworms to break down smaller amounts of organic matter, including kitchen scraps and paper waste. The resulting compost, known as vermicompost or worm castings, is rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. Monitoring is required to maintain an optimal environment for worms. You can get finished worm casting in 8-12 months.
  • Pit compost or dump-and-run composting. Just dig, dump, and run (not really; you do not need to run, but I’m sure you get the point). Dig a hole, add the organic material, and cover it with soil. Nature will take care of the rest. Decomposition might take 12 – 18 months.
  • Manure composting. This compost is made primarily from animal manure, often from livestock such as cows, horses, chickens, or rabbits. Properly composted manure reduces the odor, and since fresh manure has more concentrated salts, it won’t burn your plants. Adding well-composted manure can be a valuable source of nutrients for plants.
  • Bokashi Compost. It is an anaerobic fermentation process, and microorganisms are added to break down organic material. It’s typically done in airtight containers and results in a nutrient-rich pre-compost material that can be added to a traditional compost pile. Bokashi compost can process all kitchen waste, including meat, bones, and dairy. The finished product should be ready in 2-3 weeks.

As you can see, each type of compost has its characteristics and requirements to produce a successful finished product. This article provides brief and basic information on composting types. Do your research. Consider your availability, budget, space, pet’s access, etc. I do not mean to scare you about composting. That is not the intention here! I want you to have a great experience with composting, even if that means the first couple of times will turn out differently than you want it. It is all about learning and doing it better the next time. Take notes (and pictures) to know what works (or does not) for you.

Composting happens, and we can help. If you have questions or want more information, contact your Texas A&M County Extension Office in Midland (432-686-4700) and Ector (432-498-4071) counties. You can also send an email to [email protected]. Happy Gardening!