Do I Need To Add Water To My Compost Bin?

Those who don’t have an innate green thumb sixth sense often manage to kill plants while trying desperately to keep them alive. Because of this, compost is a significant asset. Compost is one of the best ways to amend soil lacking in nutrients. On top of that, it helps retain water, lightens the soil, and gives the plants a consistent source of nutrients. 

Bonus: you send less waste to the landfill by repurposing it for your garden. It’s a win-win. However, in order for your compost bin to do its thing, there are a few things you need to do. For example, do you need to water your compost bin? Stick around to find out. 

How Do You Add Water To Compost?

Water plays an essential role in a composting bin. The added moisture keeps the food scraps damp, providing water to the microorganisms in the container responsible for breaking down organic matter. 

Since the whole point of a compost bin is to break down nutrient-rich scraps, these microorganisms play a vital role in the function of the container. They require a steady supply of water to flourish, which speeds up the composting process. 

On top of that, water helps regulate the temperature of the pile. Like water, temperature plays an essential role in the speed and success of your composting bin. The beneficial organisms in the compost bin will die off if temperatures get too hot. 

Turning the pile can help dissipate the heat and bring the temperature down to a reasonable range, but sometimes, it won’t do the trick. This is where water comes in. The added moisture helps slowly stabilize the compost temperature, ensuring it remains within a decent range. 

When hydrating your compost pile, you need to evaluate how dry the mixture is. Check the center of the pile for moisture. If it’s bone dry, you might need to remove a few layers of organic material from the pile, then add water to the middle of the pile. Replace the material you removed, then hydrate additionally as necessary.

How Much Water Should I Put In My Compost Bin?

Overwatering your compost pile is arguably as bad as underwatering it. You want a good balance between the two – not too saturated, not too dry. Damp compost is an excellent middle ground.  

If you’re unsure whether the contents are too dry or too wet, here’s what you need to do. Grab a pair of gloves, then take out a handful of compost from the center of the pile. Squeeze it tightly in your hand, watching for water coming out of the compost. 

If water flows out of the compost (more than four drops appear), the compost is too wet. If nothing comes out of the compost or it’s crumbly, the compost is too dry. The compost pile should be somewhere in between the two. It should feel damp to the touch, sort of like a damp, wrung-out washcloth or sponge. Damp, but not dripping wet or waterlogged. 

What Should I Do If I Add Too Much Water?

If you add too much water to your compost pile, the microorganisms hard at work will struggle to obtain oxygen, which is essential for the decomposition process. They need plenty of water and oxygen. 

If the compost pile is waterlogged and completely saturated, the air spaces will be filled with water. The aerobic organisms in the bin will begin to drown and die, slowing your composting process drastically. 

While the anaerobic organisms don’t require oxygen for growth, so they won’t die from the excess water, they’re not as efficient at processing organic material as aerobes. The anaerobes, while helpful, release hydrogen sulfide, causing your compost pile to smell.  

While keeping your compost pile moist is essential, this might not always mean watering. Keep in mind that certain food scraps, such as peaches, lettuce, vegetable peelings, and grass clippings, have high water content and are nitrogen-rich. So, if you don’t balance them with dry, carbon-rich materials, you might oversaturate your compost pile. 

Compost maintains a slightly acidic nature, but too much water can disrupt this finite balance. If the pile is oversaturated, it can lead to excessive acidity. To restore the balance, you’ll need to add varying browns, such as corn cobs and wood ash. 

How To Fix A Saturated Compost Pile

An oversaturated compost pile isn’t game over. To help your compost pile and the tiny microorganisms residing in it, aerate the pile. Use a shovel or a pitchfork to turn the compost, which will introduce air and distribute the moisture. 

Add dry materials to the mix, such as straw, newspapers, dried leaves, or wood chips. These materials will absorb excess moisture, helping remedy the problem. Continue adding dry materials and turning the pile until you achieve the proper moisture level. 

In some cases, the overwatering might not be your doing. Sometimes, mother nature has plans, and there’s no disrupting said plans. While you can’t prevent rain from falling from the sky, you can cover your compost bin. Cover the container with a tarp to avoid a saturated compost pile.

What Should I Do If My Compost Pile Is Too Dry?

Like a soggy compost bin, an underwatered compost pile won’t decompose as quickly as it should. The microorganisms in the mix might not grow or reproduce as rapidly when it’s too dry and less heat is generated. This, in turn, slows the decomposition process to a slow crawl. 

How To Fix A Dehydrated Compost Pile

The obvious fix here is to rehydrate your compost pile. While it isn’t hard to do, you need to be careful throughout the process. Otherwise, you might overhydrate the pile, leading you to the other end of a problematic spectrum. 

If your area experiences heavy rain, collecting the rainwater is a great way to rehydrate the pile in dry, hot periods of the year. Some parts of the bin may decompose faster than other areas, especially in hot weather, so use collected rainwater to hydrate the mixture. 

Of course, you can always use regular tap water or the water from your garden hose if collecting rainwater isn’t feasible. Make sure you add water slowly, as you might accidentally overwater if you go too fast. 

A sprinkler or drilled pipe inserted into the center of the pile are great ways to approach the rehydration process. These options allow you to slowly water the pile, which helps you avoid overhydrating. 

Before you add water, check the center for moisture. Sometimes, the outer layers of the pile will be bone dry, but the center of the pile is still moist. So, before you start, check the center moisture level. 

If the entire pile is dried out, remove a few layers of the organic material, as we mentioned above. Then, slowly saturate the center of the pile to achieve the right consistency. Turn the mixture with a shovel or a pitchfork to incorporate the moisture, and continue adding water until the moisture level is in the correct range. 

Remember, the compost should be damp to the touch but not waterlogged. 

Tips To Avoid Overwatering And Underwatering

Finding and maintaining the perfect moisture balance in your compost pile can be a chore. One day, it might be hot and dry, but it’s pouring rain the next day. So, your compost pile could be dry one day and soaked the next. 

To help avoid these significant swings, here are a few things you can do:

  • Aerate the mixture regularly: Twice a week, move the dry materials from the outer ring of the bin to the middle. Turning the mixture helps create even moisture and aeration levels. 
  • Cover the bin with a tarp: If your area experiences a lot of rain, consider covering the bin with a tarp. This will prevent the compost from getting oversaturated under heavy rains. Or, if your area is sweltering and dry, a tarp can help trap moisture and maintain a steady temperature. 
  •  Drill drainage holes: Overwatering happens, even when it wasn’t you who did it (thanks, mother nature!). To help avoid the issues that accompany an overwatered compost bin, drill a few holes in the bottom. Some compost bins have drainage holes, but if yours doesn’t, simply drill a few in the bottom.