decommission a compost bin

How do I decommission a compost bin and remove it?

This mom needs to decommission a compost bin:

“My daughter started organic gardening two years ago and has containers of compost. She now has a job and has no time for gardening. I want this stuff gone so I can reclaim my yard. What can I do? HELP!!!!!”

As this S.O.S. attests, life changes can result in the need to decommission abandoned compost piles and bins.  Sometimes, the task falls to family members with little knowledge about or interest in composting.

There is good news for anyone who wants to do away with an abandoned compost heap.  Clean-up is really very easy to do, especially if the pile has been sitting for a period of time.

Not interested in wielding the rake yourself? This project is easy enough for a neighborhood teen or even your grandkids … under your supervision, of course.

Does the compost bin still contain recognizable food scraps? Either remove the food for proper disposal or allow biodegradation to continue until the food is gone. Using material containing partially-decomposed food could attract vermin.

Reclaim that yard space
  1. Empty all bins into a single pile.
  2. Rake through the contents, pulling the bigger pieces (overs) to one side.
  3. Using the back of the rake, smash down on the overs.  See if you can break them up into smaller pieces.
  4. Rake through the contents again using a light hand.  Pull the larger sticks and clumps to the side, but leave the lighter material (fines) behind. The action is very similar to breaking up dirt clods or removing stones and pebbles from a freshly-dug garden bed.
  5. Shovel up the fines and spread evenly, 1/8- to 1/4-inch deep, over existing planting beds and lawns. Rake in. For trees, apply and spread compost to the drip line. Typically, one would run out of compost from a backyard pile long before running out of lawn.  But if you need to dispose of additional compost, spread material 2-4 inches deep in planting beds.  The compost will serve as mulch. Over the next few months, earthworms will till the compost into the soil for you. TIP:  Do not pile compost (or soil) up around the base of trees and woody ornamentals. This practice encourages insects.
  6. Prepare the remaining sticks and leaves for curbside collection as per your community’s requirements. Live in a rural area? Simply scatter the remnants of the bin under trees or shrubs in an out-of-the-way area of the property.    Nature will take care of the rest.
  7. Dismantle and recycle the bins or donate to a gardening neighbor or community garden.
  8. Smooth out the area where the old compost pile(s) and garden once stood.    Reseed, sod, or consider taking advantage of the compost-enriched soil.  Create a new perennial bed or other garden feature, instead of restoring the lawn.

Backyard composters, what tips can you offer non-gardeners to help them decommission an abandoned compost pile?