So, you’ve been home composting to help the environment, and now your compost pile is getting out of control. What do you do with all that extra nutrient-dense treasure?
Storing your decomposing organic matter can be surprisingly simple, but it’s essential to keep your eye on a few key rules. The way you save compost for later use can be nearly as important as how you set up your system. Poor storage will cause your organic fertilizer to erode, dry out, get moldy, attract pests, or undergo all manner of other corruptions.
Your top priorities when stashing your soil conditioner away are to preserve its valuable nutrients and protect it from fungus growth/other rot. Of course, other types of infiltration can cause your compost to be damaged and consequently decay—and the methods we outline here can prevent all of it.
Don’t let perfectly good compost meet its demise because you didn’t know how to stash it.
Why Store Compost?
To Make Space For More
You’ll clearly want to store your organic fertilizer during any season in which you’re not actively using it (for most people, that’s winter). But developing an efficient storage system is also a great way to free up space in your compost bin or pile, toss in new materials, and keep cooking that gardening gold! You aren’t going to stop producing coffee grounds anytime soon, are you?
Want more information on what you can and cannot compost? Then check this out.
Your Cup Has Runneth Over
There’s only so much good compost you can put to use on your blooming backyard garden (pro tip – your vegetables need some!). Even if you have plenty of space to keep it, you might need a secure storage method to keep excess finished product healthy before you use it.
Increase compost quality
Storing and protecting adequately improves the quality and the richness of the microbiome!
Over time, microbial communities bloom, move, and “cure.” Good fungi and bacteria will continue to flourish in storage. With proper aeration and climate control in the storage area, your compost can come out of hibernation even fluffier and healthier than before.
Protect it from rain
Many people wonder if freezing and frost are detrimental to compost health. Nope! It’s quite alright. In fact, the freeze-thaw cycle throughout winter can break up big clumps of matter and improve its texture.
But what is damaging to the finished compost is excessive rain. If you have a closed system like a bin or tumbler, your organic material should be sufficiently protected from heavy rain. But if you’re using an open-air method, storing compost indoors or under a tarp during a rainy season is a wise move.
Choose a location: inside or outside?
Surprise, surprise: the major factors you need to consider when choosing a location and storage method for your compost are pretty much identical to the things you considered when starting your compost system:
- Control moisture
- Keep it aerated
- Protect from pests
Storing excess compost inside is ideal if you don’t have sufficient outdoor space, or if you live in a location with extreme seasonal conditions. A garage or not overly damp basement is the perfect storage place when composting. Some people even store theirs in the attic or crawl space—but if you have mice or rats, that’s not a good option!
Don’t have a garage? In the backyard underneath an awning or porch eaves if perfect. You’ll love being able to dump your yard waste there.
Is it mildewy in your basement? Keep that soil conditioner out of there! You’ll love being able just to walk your food waste and kitchen scraps down a few stairs.
Keep it in the bin or on the heap
If you’re not going to continue the cycle throughout winter, it’s a fantastic idea to simply store your organic fertilizer stash in the heap or bin where you’ve been cooking it—with a few caveats.
Check off these boxes before you decide to keep your compost in its birthplace all winter:
- Is it sufficiently aerated?
- Is it going to get wet?
- Is it protected from pests?
- Will it be easy to move to the garden when it’s time to use?
If you decide to pause your composting activity for a few months, you can store the finished product in the same container where it was cooking. But before you tuck it in for winter, be diligent about making sure the decomposition processes complete. Mix your compost and ensure that you have a homogenous mixture of rich, dark, broken-down material—no chunks of food scraps or clumps of whole plant matter.
Move it to the garden bed
This storage location is obviously not your choice if you are gardening year-round. But if your garden lays empty in winter, storing compost right on top of the planting area is a brilliant boon.
Beneath a mountain of resting compost, any patch of earth will become super nutrient-rich after a few months or weeks. Be intentional about where you place this storage pile. If you are going to have a latent garden bed, your smartest move is to shovel your finish compost onto it, tarp it, and let the nutrients seep into the soil over a few months.
Wait just a second, compost isn’t soil? Learn more about what compost is here.
But remember that you’ll have to shovel it all off before getting started with planting.
How To Store Compost
As you know, the bottom section of your compost pile, bin, or bucket is the “finished” stuff—the organic material that has been digested by worms and microorganisms, completely “shredded,” dark brown-black, fluffy, and not stinky. That is the part you want to store.
Want to learn how to use worm composting to break down those green and brown materials? Then read this.
Take off the top-most layer of the compost pile—the part that’s not decomposed yet and contains big chunks of waste—which you’ll mix back into the in-progress area.
The compost is likely to be somewhat compacted, since it’s been sitting in a big pile for months, so turning it before storage is beneficial. In fact, the packing and unpacking process is another great benefit of storing compost: the texture will improve even more as big chunks get broken up.
Air flow, air flow, air flow!
The need to consider aeration for compost storage can’t be overstated. It’s even more important than when your compost is in-process because you won’t be mixing or turning it during storage.
Merely tossing a tarp over your compost pile seems too easy to be true. But it’s one of the best ways to keep compost that you don’t immediately need. It’s so great that we’re giving it its own section.
Tarping a pile of excess compost works particularly well if you don’t have a garage or other indoor space to store your fertilizer.
A simple multi-purpose tarp will do the trick. Weigh down the corners of the tarp with bricks or big rocks to protect from strong wind and rain. Use a few wooden stakes to lift the tent slightly off some sections of the pile to create airflow around the compost.
Containers for Storing Compost
Technically made of jute, burlap sacks are an excellent, breathable container for compost storage. Easy to move by rolling. Store them out of the rain or in the garage, remembering that they’ll collect moisture on the outside and make the surface beneath them quite soggy.
Wire mesh corrals
If you’ve been creating your compost in wire bins, you can absolutely leave it in there for storage. Storing compost in open-air wire “corrals” isn’t ideal if you have dogs that like to ransack the yard or little kids who might find it a fun play zone.
If you live in a very rainy climate, cover the bins with a plastic tarp to prevent your compost from getting over-wet and growing mold.
Oh, the good old all-purpose plastic bucket! This well-loved gardening staple is an excellent storage container for your compost. Cover loosely with a cloth to keep pests out, but keep it aerated. You can drill holes in the sides to increase airflow.
Garbage cans are a prime choice for indoor or outdoor storage. Similar to the plastic bucket above, but larger scale. Be sure to drill some holes all along the sides to provide airflow.
Fabric shopping bags
Another household item no one can seem to get rid of: reusable fabric grocery bags. Using them to store compost is surprisingly effective.
These fabric bags make suitable compost containers because they’re porous and breathable.
Remember that the bottoms will leak moisture. Don’t place them on wood; best to keep these in the basement or the garage.
Simple plastic crates are an affordable, easy-to-transport, space-saving option for storing extra compost. Keep them indoors or outdoors.
Remember to make them breathable! Loosely cover the box with plastic or even a thick cloth. Do not completely close the lid over the box so it becomes airtight—your lively microbes will suffocate. If you need to top the plastic box with a lid because children or pets are roaming through the storage area, drill plenty of holes in the box to keep air flowing.
Planters and pots
Got some extra pots, boxes, or planters lying around? Of course you do, you enthusiastic gardener!
Though tedious when it comes to filling and unloading, some people just want to use a storage container they already have. Fill lonesome pots with finished compost and stack them in a sheltered place and let them hibernate. Be sure they are not getting rained on.
This is a controversial one. I would not recommend storing compost in plastic garbage bags, but some gardeners do find success in this method. It is inarguably a method for short-term storage only. If you need to sequester some compost for just a few days, a garbage bag is an option.
Plastic bags aren’t breathable at all and encourage harmful fungal growth, so compost is at high risk of being corrupted by too much moisture and lack of airflow. If you choose to go this route, poke holes in plastic bags or leave them open at the top for some aeration.
One benefit of stashing compost in a garbage bag is that it can be quite easy to move: securely close the bag at the top when it’s time to move, and roll that hot potato over to the garden.