Tips for composting in the summertime

Tips and tricks to keep in mind when managing your backyard compost pile during the summer.

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Managing your compost pile is important to create a nutrient rich soil amendment for your gardens or crops and avoid smells and pests in your compost bin. Photo by Eliza Hensel, Michigan State University Extension.

When the weather warms and our gardens come back to life, so do our compost piles. Managing your compost pile is important to create a nutrient rich soil amendment for your gardens or crops and avoid smells and pests in your compost bin. When composting during the warmer months, here are some things to keep in mind that may help your compost produce a finished product quicker, more efficiently and without attracting unwanted critters to your backyard.

Tips and tricks for composting during the summer months

  1. Choose a suitable location. Place your garden compost bin or pile in a shaded area if possible or shade it with a lid, tarp or other similar materials. Direct sunlight can unevenly heat up the compost and dry it out too quickly. Dry compost piles stop biological activity until they are moistened again.
  2. Balance green and brown materials. In hot weather, compost can dry out faster. Ensure a good balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Greens provide moisture and nutrients, while browns help with aeration and moisture retention. Two-to-three parts brown to one-part green is a recommended ratio.
  3. Water Water your compost pile regularly to keep it moist, especially during dry spells. Aim for a consistency like a wrung-out sponge — damp but not soggy. If your compost is near your garden, you can water it at the same time.
  4. Cover your compost. Use a lid or cover materials like leaves, cardboard or straw on top of your compost pile to retain moisture and regulate temperature. This also helps prevent it from drying out too quickly.
  5. Turn the pile. Turn or aerate your compost regularly to mix the materials and introduce oxygen. This helps speed up decomposition and prevents the compost from becoming compacted or If your pile overheats it can dry out, keeping it turned can help prevent overheating. Add new cover materials or replace the cover after turning.
  6. Use larger pieces. During hot weather, consider using larger pieces of brown materials (like cardboard or woody sticks and stems) to help create air pockets and improve airflow within the compost pile. Larger pieces take longer to decompose and can be reused.
  7. Shred. Shred or chop larger pieces of kitchen scraps and garden waste before adding them to the compost. Smaller pieces decompose faster and help provide more surface area for decomposing organisms for a balanced compost pile.
  8. Avoid meat. During hot weather, it is best to avoid adding meat, dairy and oily foods to your compost. They can attract unwanted pests and may not decompose rotten odor free in the heat.
  9. Monitor Hot weather can intensify odors from compost. Ensure your compost is well-balanced, is not compacted, is not too wet and is aerated to prevent unpleasant smells. If odors persist, adjust the balance of materials, turn and increase aeration or add more browns.
  10. Harvest compost regularly. As your compost matures, harvest it regularly to make room for new materials and to prevent overheating in the pile. Use mature (cured) compost to nourish your garden or plants.

With these tips, you can support a healthy and productive compost pile throughout the summer months, ensuring efficient decomposition and nutrient-rich compost for your garden. One of the more frequent summer questions we get is the problem that many backyard composters encounter with flies. Some files and fruit flies are normal but if there are swarms of them in or around your compost pile you may have a problem.

Tactics to help mitigate biting and fruit flies

  1. Cover it up. Add a layer of brown materials (such as leaves, shredded paper, or straw) to cover kitchen scraps and other green materials in your compost pile. This helps to minimize odors and prevents pests from being attracted to any exposed organic
  2. Maintain. Ensure your compost has a good balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Too much green material can create excessive moisture and odors that attract biting and fruit flies. Aim for two-to-three parts brown to one-part green materials by volume. One pail of kitchen scraps two pails of leaves, straw or garden refuse to cover.
  3. Aerate. Turn or aerate your compost regularly to introduce oxygen. Flies and other pests are less likely to inhabit well-aerated compost piles because the increased airflow speeds up decomposition and reduces odors. They also do not like to be disturbed.
  4. Avoid certain foods. Avoid adding meat, dairy products and oily foods to your compost, especially in warmer These materials can attract flies and other pests seeking proteins for reproduction.
  5. Cover ventilation holes. If your compost bin has large ventilation holes, you can optionally ensure they are covered with a mesh or screen to prevent flies and other pests from entering while still allowing airflow.
  6. Regular maintenance. Consistently monitor your compost and take proactive steps to manage odors and keep a healthy balance of materials. Regularly harvesting mature compost can also help reduce fly populations by removing attractive breeding

Following these handy tips can help you to keep your compost going strong year around. Composting is incredibly beneficial for your garden because it enriches the soil with essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are crucial for plant growth. It improves soil structure, promoting better drainage and moisture retention, which helps plants develop strong root systems and withstand drought. Additionally, compost enhances soil fertility by supporting beneficial microorganisms that break down organic matter, creating a healthy environment for plants to thrive.

Overall, using compost in your garden leads to healthier plants, increased yields of fruits and vegetables, and a more sustainable approach to gardening. Using these tips can also help you to start your own garden compost bin. If you would like to learn more about how to compost, building a bin and maintaining a healthy compost pile sign up for MSU Extension’s FREE Master Composter Class at this link. Master Composter course topics include the history of composting, composting basics, composting methods, vermicomposting, soils and compost, compost use and fertility and yard waste reduction.

For more compost questions, reach out to MSU Extension’s compost systems educator, Eliza Hensel at

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