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Compost Queries

A question came in this week from a Gardenerd student:

“I’m sharing a Biostack [compost] bin with my neighbors in my apt complex and the
question was raised on whether or not it’s acceptable to put whole
fruit, apples, oranges, etc. into the bin.  I’m trying to keep the bin
simple for people so I am hesitant to tell people to cut up their fruit
to help accelerate the composting, but my neighbor thinks they should
be. Can you tell me what the recommended way fruit should be put into
the bin? People put compostable wear in there so I figure, a whole
apple will probably decompose in the same time, if not faster than the
compostable wear. Thanks so much. Jennifer”

Great question!  First let me say that your choice of the Biostack is a good one.  This is one of the two bins currently for sale at the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation‘s monthly subsidized bin sale.  The Biostack is built in a way that makes it easier to turn your pile, which results in finished compost more quickly. What you do with the material you put in the bin can take that even further.


The more you cut up your food scraps, the more surface area is exposed to the elements, which results in faster decomposition.  If your composting crew is eager to have finished compost, you might consider making a team effort to chop away before adding those kitchen scraps to the pile.  The rule of thumb for anal people like me is to cut things into  2 inch pieces.

That said, if your compost bin is active (meaning that it is generating heat through proper combination of browns, greens, and water) whole fruit and food scraps will break down anyway.  It will just take a little bit longer.  When you turn your pile, you can use a shovel to break up larger pieces and that will kick-start the composting process with the new surface area that you’ve created for fungus, bacteria and insects to go to work on.

And yes – that compostable fork will probably be in there for a couple of years, long after your your whole orange has degraded.  I have a collection of compostable cutlery in my compost bin that remains completely in tact from a party in February.  I just keep putting it back into the pile and eventually it will break down.

So rest assured that you and your neighbors will have successful compost regardless of whether you cut up your produce or not.  Just have some good reading material on hand while you wait.

Thanks for writing in!

Hey fellow Gardenerds – let’s take a pole: Do you cut up your kitchen scraps and garden waste before feeding your compost bin?  What works for you? Share it with us here.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Thank you for the great responses! This was extremely helpful and I feel a little more knowledgeable about composting!

  2. Liza

    I usually do cut up my kitchen waste. I have a hard plastic tub w/ lid next to my sink, and cut things up as I have them. I take them to my bin outside when the tub is full. I find cuttin’ them up does speed up the composting process. If I don’t have time, I’ll add them whole, but I usually do cut them up. For yard waste, I really only add cut grass, and some smaller twigs and leaves and such. The rest I put in my city green bin. I want the composting to happen quicker and don’t want to cut up the big tree branches and don’t want weeds in my compost. I also add shredded paper to my compost bin. I often find I don’t water it enough, so that’s where I have to pay attention. When I do water, I have great big happy worms in there, and the composting can happen in as fast as a week or two.

    I also have a worm bin, and did an experiment with whirring up food waste for them in the food processor before adding it to their bin. It disappeared in days, instead of the usual weeks! I was amazed. So now, I try to at least cut it up small if not actually blending it up for them. Yeah, the smaller the faster. Better? Just depends on how impatient you are, I guess! Thanks Christie for all your great work!

  3. Dan R-M

    We don’t cut up our kitchen scraps, but they are a relatively small part of our compost pile anyway. And lately most of the kitchen scraps have been going to the chickens – it’s about the only thing that will round them up when it’s time to put them back in their pen…

  4. Christy Wilhelmi

    You’re actually on the right track.  Compost will reduce in size as it decomposes.  That’s a good thing.  You will probably end up with a pile that is about half to one-third the size of your original pile.  The more material that is broken down, the more finished compost you will have.  Sift out the big pieces and add the sifted compost to your garden – about 1/2″ to 1″ per bed.  I do this at the beginning of the season and again in the middle. 

  5. Pia

    and about cutting my kitchen scraps, I don’t, with the thinking of decomposition…cutting it up first is best…if i have the right tools!

  6. Pia

    hello Gardenerd Christy!
    why is my compost pile in my bin sinking? is there something i should have done to begin with a year and half ago? i was happy to harvest my first black gold then now i can’t even get to that point!????? help!

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