Can You Put Citrus in Compost Bins?
Can you compost orange peels? Do lemons peels go in the compost pile? Read on for the answers and the caveats about whether you can put citrus peels in compost piles and how to compost citrus.
If you’re into composting, you’ve likely come across a recommendation at some point that citrus can’t be composted. Let me tell you straight up – that blanket statement is wrong.
Can I Compost Citrus?
Yep! You can put citrus peels in compost bins. You can compost orange peels, lemon and lime peels, and even the whole citrus fruits themselves.
But before we get too tart about lemons in the compost buckets, let’s dive into this consideration and discuss it in more detail.
Citrus Decomposition in Nature
Somewhere during the discussion of the dos and don’ts of composting, the idea spread that citrus doesn’t belong in a compost bin. The reasons for this supposition vary. Some say citrus peels take too long to compost or simply never break down. Others suggest citrus makes the compost too acidic which harms the worms and other beneficial organisms in the compost. I’m sure there are myriad other reasons for this belief.
But what happens when an orange falls from a tree to the ground and is left alone? Do you think it rots and eventually decomposes? You better believe it!
In essence (no citrus pun intended), an orange falls from a tree and eventually decomposes in the soil underneath the tree. This is effectively composting.
If the tree is lucky, the seeds inside the orange might even sprout a new citrus tree in the neighborhood. It’s all part of the natural circle of life and nature’s fool-proof nutrient recycling system.
So let’s debunk this “citrus is bad for compost piles” myth.
Citrus can definitely go into a compost pile.
Why Can I Compost Citrus?
Simply put, you can compost citrus because it is organic matter that is part of nature’s nutrient recycling system – decomposition and the circle of life. Anything that has ever lived can be composted.
Composting is simply the process of breaking down dead or rotting organic material, natural compounds, organisms, chemicals, and matter into smaller and simpler elements so they can be reused to create and feed new life. Why would oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and other citrus items not be included in this natural process??!
Nature has phenomenal recycling skills. But for human intervention, everything lives, dies, and becomes new life again. Humans, however, have unfortunately done a really great job of extracting more from nature than we put back in while also using advanced science to turn matter (like oil) into complex compounds (like plastic) that take centuries or longer to break down. And we are doing this work at breakneck speed.
Unlike plastic, however, an orange peel or a leftover lemon will break down in a matter of weeks or months when added to a well-managed compost pile. It’s just another type of organic matter with a rightful place in the circle of life-giving nutrients that pass from one organism to the next in nature.
What Issues Does Citrus Cause In Outdoor Compost Bins?
Primarily, citrus is accused of being too acidic for compost bins and taking too long to break down. While citrus is acidic and does take longer to decompose, that doesn’t necessarily make it a problem for compost bins when properly managed.
Timing | How long does it take an orange peel to decompose?
The amount of time it takes for citrus peels to break down in a compost pile depends largely on how the pile is managed. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to well over a year.
In industrial or commercial composting settings, where piles are managed more actively and at higher temperatures, citrus scraps like orange peels and lemon rinds will break down in a matter of weeks along with everything else in the pile.
In a lazily-managed backyard compost bin (like mine) that doesn’t get too hot and isn’t turned all that often, the scented scraps could linger for many months or a year. As you use the finished compost over time, you may need to sift out citrus scraps and leave them in compost piles longer than other types of produce scraps.
Additionally, you can speed up the decomposition of citrus in compost bins by cutting up the citrus scraps into small pieces. Citrus scraps will also break down more quickly if you keep the compost pile hot, damp, and well-aerated to provide a great environment for the critters and microbes to get to work.
It’s true that citrus scraps take longer to break down than many other food scraps (especially other produce items). But just because something breaks down more slowly than other items in the bin doesn’t mean the citrus scraps should head to landfills (where they will languish even longer).
Thus, even though citrus isn’t the fastest organic matter to break down in a compost pile, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in the bin. Recycling the nutrients from citrus to return to the soil is much better than sending citrus food waste to a landfill, even if the process is a little slower.
Acidity | Is citrus too acidic to compost?
Citrus is acidic, and the acidity of citrus can change the acidity of the compost pile if you have an excessive amount of citrus in the mix. Much like everything else in nature and life, compost piles are most effective when well-balanced, and that includes a balanced pH (or level of acidity).
If you compost at home and include a variety of food scraps from everyday life in your compost bin, you won’t have any issues with periodic additions of citrus in compost bins. We’ve been adding all types of citrus and citrus peels to our compost bins for years without any issues. The aroma of a bit of citrus in the pile might even help deter curious critters and wildlife from exploring your compost pile.
Excessive amounts of citrus may make the compost pile more acidic than you’d like. This can slow down the decomposition process and create less-than-ideal conditions for some of the microorganisms to perform their work.
However, you won’t likely have any issues with an overabundance of citrus in your pile unless you add loads and loads of citrus to your compost. An orange juice maker might have way too much citrus, but a regular family or household adding a variety of food scraps to a typical compost pile won’t have trouble with too much citrus as part of their everyday composting.
Acidic Scraps in Composting Worm Bins
Worms (especially the species used for vermicomposting) don’t love citrus because they don’t thrive in an especially acidic environment. I mean, would you? The myths around excluding citrus from compost bins probably stem from vermicomposting, a type of composting by which special (seemingly very hungry) worms chow through food scraps to create compost at a pretty quick rate.
Too much acidity in a vermicomposting environment could kill the special worms adept at living, working, and reproducing in the conditions of a vermicomposting system. So it’s advisable to be a bit more cognizant of acidity levels in a vermicompost environment because the worms are particularly sensitive to such conditions.
To protect against potential issues, some vermicomposting gurus simply discourage the introduction of citrus to the environment. I suppose this is a solution, so long as we don’t conflate citrus management in a worm bin with citrus exclusion in composting overall.
Nonetheless, it’s okay to include some citrus scraps in a worm bin so long as you’re careful. If you have another way to compost, you might be better off feeding your worms other scraps and saving your citrus scraps for the other pile. And if you don’t have another option to compost citrus, use the citrus scraps for home products like cleaning solutions, holiday decorations, or one of these seven ways to repurpose orange peels.
Bokashi Composting to Mitigate Acidity of Composting Citrus
Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning “fermented organic matter” and relates to composting using special bran in an environment with limited oxygen to allow anaerobic bacteria to break down organic matter. Bokashi is not a complete composting method that results in a finished compost suitable for soil amendment, but it does reduce the acidity of citrus scraps.
Allowing citrus to ferment in a Bokashi compost system prior to adding it to a compost pile will limit the impact of the citrus acidity on the overall pH of the pile. It could help manage the unintended impacts of excess amounts of citrus if it’s becoming a problem in a compost pile. As a bonus, Bokashi fermentation prior to adding organic matter to a traditional compost pile adds useful bacteria and microorganisms that speed up the decomposition process.
Don’t Waste Citrus Scraps in Landfills
So there you have it. The myth of citrus being bad for compost bins is debunked. You will need to manage the pH of your compost pile no matter what you put in it. Loads of citrus could amp up the acidity and deter beneficial bacteria from making a home in the pile. But citrus can definitely be composted when managed properly.
Do you compost citrus in compost piles?
If You Like Citrus in Compost Bins, You Might Also Like
Can I Compost…? Interactive Tool
9 Non-Food Household Items You Can Compost That Might Surprise You
About The Author
Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.
You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.