Yes, you can put rotten vegetables in compost. Making compost is all about organic material going rotten. Vegetables and fruit will become rotten faster than anything else. Vegetables that are only partly rotten can be trimmed and the rotten part can be put in the compost.
If you have vegetables that have become rotten, then, they will have gone through, or started going through, the mouldy stage. The best time to put vegetables or any other organic material in the compost bin, is when you see any signs of mould.
Any vegetable that’s been allowed to go rotten, is going to be a challenge to handle. There will, most likely, be a smell. This may be the indicator that you have something tucked away in the kitchen that’s starting to go rotten.
There’s more about composting.
Fresh vegetables will stay in one piece. Vegetables that have been left to go rotten will be soft. You may not be able to pick it up in one piece to put it in the compost bin.
You may find yourself looking at a plastic bag with a vegetable in it that’s gone rotten. This can be put in the compost but you need to cut open the bag and carefully empty out the contents.
A typical case would be a lettuce that’s been hiding at the back of the fridge. If you’re brave, you may want to investigate it and see if there is any part of it that’s usable. Very often it’s just the outside leaves that are slimy and rotten. The inner part may be edible but in most cases the whole item has been affected and will need to be put in the compost.
Then, we have the question of how safe are rotten vegetables to handle. I’ve seen scare-stories about dangerous bacteria on rotten vegetables with e coli, salmonella and listeria being mentioned.
You can only assume that there will be a whole range of ‘all things bad’ for us in a rotten piece of fruit or vegetable. But you’re not going to be eating it and as long as you wash hands straight after handling anything rotten, you can safely dispose of it.
Looking around, I find some people saying that you can’t put rotten vegetables in the compost. A compost bin, pile or heap is the ideal place for rotten vegetables. If you put fresh vegetable waste in the compost, it will start to break down and become rotten.
The worry appears to be that there will be a build-up of dangerous and potentially infectious diseases that will propagate in the compost. As a result of putting rotten vegetables in the compost rather than putting them in when they are fresh and not rotten, some believe that there will be something bad building up in the compost that’s going to come back and bite them later.
The thing about composting of vegetables or anything organic, is that during the composting process you need to keep the whole digesting mass, that is your compost heap, at arm’s length.
There will be a whole range of risky bacteria, including e coli, in the compost. This won’t be a problem because you won’t be handling this material during the composting period. The only time that you will go anywhere near the compost heap will be when you need to put more organic material on the heap, rotten or not.
You can stir a compost heap, dig it over, or rotate it in a barrel-type tumbler to assist the composting process but you won’t be actually touching any of it.
You won’t be handling your compost until months down the road when the whole disease-infested mass has finished breaking down completely and become finished compost. By the time this happens, all the organic waste that you’ve put in the compost will have been subjected to the ravages of every organism that nature can provide.
This will, in most cases, include worms. Worms have a convenient habit of digesting most of the mass of compost in a heap. Worms digest and remove most, if not all, the potentially dangerous pathogens that emerge from rotten vegetables.
Composting starts with fruit and vegetables going mouldy
Composting starts with moulding
When we put any organic material in the compost, the first thing that happens is mould. We don’t notice this stage of composting because we don’t watch it closely enough to see it happen. If you look closely at the last delivery of vegetable waste that you’ve put in the compost, after a few days, you can often see mould-fur on the surface.
The mould stage doesn’t last very long but it is an important part of the composting process. After the mould stage, the vegetable waste will continue to rot. This is when the microbial life-forms can get at it to break it down. Microbes can’t do anything until the mould has broken down the vegetable waste enough.
This is when we can say that the organic material, vegetable or otherwise, has become fully rotten.
Can you prevent vegetables from becoming rotten?
Yes you can. One easy way to prevent vegetables becoming rotten is to freeze them but this isn’t appropriate for all. If we consider a lettuce or carrots which we want to store and consume in a fresh form, freezing is not an option.
There are ways where you can store some vegetables for two or three weeks without watching them become rotten.
If we take the example of a lettuce, perhaps an ‘Iceberg’ lettuce. A lettuce will become rotten faster than most other vegetables. It will, most likely, arrive in a plastic bag. If you aren’t going to be consuming it for a while, then, you may put it in the fridge. Being chilled will prevent rotting for a short while. It can survive for up to two weeks without showing too many signs of deteriorating.
There is another way to prevent an ‘Iceberg’ lettuce from rotting and it’s very simple. You need a plastic bottle that’s about 3 inches wide. Cut the bottom of the bottle to give you a container that’s about 1½ inches high. Put water in the container until the level is near the top.
Cut away the plastic wrapping of the ‘Iceberg’ lettuce to expose the cut-off stump. Leave the remainder of the wrapping on the lettuce to stop it from drying out. Sit the lettuce on the container of water. Adjust the amount of water so that the lettuce stump is only just touching the water surface.
Don’t allow the lettuce to be immersed in too much water as this will cause the lettuce to become rotten, in which case it would have to be put in the compost.
Doing this, with a lettuce, will free-up fridge space and can keep it alive for up to three weeks. You need to monitor it every two or three days. You can add a little more water if needed. In some cases you may see that the lettuce is putting out roots from the stump.
You will have to remove the outer leaves when you want to use the lettuce but these can be put in the compost. The main part of the lettuce should be crisp and fresh, almost as though it had just been cut.
A similar trick can be played when storing carrots. A lot of people have problems with carrots. They put them in the fridge, usually in the plastic bag in which they came, then, after a while the carrots go black. They may be good in the middle but they look rotten on the outside.
The way around this, is to put the carrots in water as soon as you take delivery of them. Leave them soaking overnight. Then, take them out of the water but don’t dry them, leave them wet. Take two sheets of newspaper. Keep them together so that they open out as two layers thick.
Fold the paper in half along the long way. Put the wet carrots side-by-side in a tight formation along the middle of the paper. Allow for the tops and bottoms of the carrots to protrude past the edges of the paper.
Then roll up the paper and carrots together like a swiss roll. You should end up with a rolled up bundle that has paper between most of the carrots.The carrot tops and bottoms should be slightly protruding so that they can breath.
This bundle can then be placed in the original plastic bag to keep it all together. It can then be put in the fridge where the carrots, stored this way, can last for up to three weeks or more.
Do rotten vegetables need anything to help them make compost?
Vegetables will go rotten when you put them in compost and will become slightly acidic during the process. You can tell when this has happened because, very often you can smell rotten vegetables in the air.
There is one very effective thing that you can do to help stop the smell and increase the speed of turning rotten vegetables into compost. You can put hydrated white lime on the compost. It will neutralise the acids. Hydrated white lime is an easy and safe-to-use white powder.
Can all rotten food be composted?
Yes. All rotten food can be composted. The fact that food is digestible to us should be the clue. When food that’s rotten or fresh is composted it’s being digested by other life-forms that need food to survive just as much as we do.
Food will break down one way or another. Whatever is food to us will be food to something else. We shouldn’t be surprised when we see food, of any kind, go mouldy and then, rotten.
Making compost is all about organic material of all types going rotten. The composting process is just another method of digestion. When food starts to go rotten we tend to talk about it as food going bad. This is true. Food that’s rotten is bad to us but it’ll be ideal for other life-forms, particularly the microscopic microorganisms that are all around us and in the compost bin.
The only thing we need to worry about when we find food that’s gone ‘off’ is that we don’t allow any of the hazardous agents that reside in bad food to become ingested.
Some people appear to panic when they find food in the store has gone bad and started to go rotten. They’re not sure about what to do with it. They don’t understand the chemistry and biology of life enough to know that there is a simple solution.
The compost bin is an ever-open door to all rotten food. Your compost bin is a sanctuary for all rotten food. You can throw it all in the compost bin and forget about it.
Rotten food and vegetables can go in the Rolypig
This is what I do with the Rolypig composter. Making compost the Rolypig way is quite simple. This is an ‘in one end and out the other’ system. The Rolypig sits directly on the ground. You feed food-waste in the mouth. This very often needs to be pushed in; I use a short stick so I don’t have to touch the waste.
When you can’t get any more food-waste in, this is the time to roll the compost barrel over. You don’t need to roll it very far. Just enough to move over the compost in the barrel. This movement will make more room in the barrel for more waste.
The rolling action, however slight, will be enough to open up the forming-compost inside the Rolypig. There are two main advantages of the Rolypig sitting directly on the ground. The first is that it’s easier to roll over. The second is that worms find it easy to find their way into the compost.
Worms play a big part in composting the Rolypig way. They take up residence and multiply to huge numbers. The action of worms in this system often produces usable compost that’s generated in as little as 16 weeks.
The finished compost can be extracted through the pull-out door at the rear of the Rolypig. This works like a scoop that will have compost in it as you pull it out. It won’t be just compost that you’ll see in the scoop. There will often be a mass of worms that come out with it.
You may be tempted to extract some of them and put them back into the compost that’s still forming. This is an option but shouldn’t be necessary.
It’s not recommended to extract any compost until the Rolypig is so full that you need to take out compost at the rear to make room at the mouth end.
By the time that this situation occurs, the compost will have been inside the Rolypig for several weeks and will have had the advantage of being agitated by the occasional rolling and the constant attention of a mass of worms.