Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leading Your Dry Compost Bin to the Watering Hole

What in tarnation is going on out there? Tumble weeds are blowing by and your compost bin feels drier and dustier than a John Wayne movie. You probably need to wet your compost’s whistle (i.e. add some water).

Water is an essential ingredient to keeping your compost pile healthy. The compost bin is the one place you’re actually trying to support bacterial life and those helpful composters are most happy when your pile is about as wet as a wrung out sponge.

But hold your horses, compost cowboy!

Don’t pull out the hose just yet. Water straight from the tap is full of chlorine. Chlorine added to kill bacteria in order to make the water safe to drink. So what do you think will happen when you spray chlorinated water right on your pile? Yup. You ain’t plumb weak north of the ears. Chlorine = dead bacteria.

Well, dang, what are us city slickers supposed to do?

John Duke, Master Composter extraordinaire, gave me some advice better than “don’t squat with your spurs on” (well, at least more applicable). John recommends pouring the water first in a bucket to let the chlorine evaporate. Luckily chlorine evaporates fairly quickly.

Here’s what I do when my pile gets thirsty. After emptying my kitchen collector into the bin, I fill it up with water and let it rest. After about 20 minutes or a few hours depending on how long my garden distracts me, most of the chlorine has evaporated and I can pour it on my pile. An added bonus: my kitchen collector gets a little cleaner too!

You could also use water from a rain barrel since it has not been chlorinated. Or when you see the clouds rolling in just remove the lid from the bin to collect some rain. But don’t let the pile get too soggy, a wrung out sponge is the best level of moisture.

Happy trails, ya’ll.


  1. Hi Michelle,

    I agree with you that a compost pile needs to be watered judiciously to be sure it's healthy but doesn't go anaerobic. I don't think, however, that you have to worry about the chlorine in tap water killing all of your good bugs that are degrading your compost. Chlorine is very reactive and will react quickly with organics and inorganics on the surface of the compost pile, leaving freshly dechlorinated water to trickle into the pile.

    I haven't seen a study done that supports either side of this question. But from a theoretical standpoint, I think you're okay squirting tap water onto your pile.

    Of course, saving some rainwater to pour on your pile and water your plants may be the best idea.

    Debbie Moll, PhD
    Environmental Scientist

  2. Thanks, Debbie, that's a great point! I'll do some more research to see if anyone has conducted studies on this topic.

  3. Replies
    1. Yeah -I heard that works well, too! Lol!