As you gather food scraps for your compost pile, you may wonder if orange peels are safe.
A compost pile is a must-have for gardeners and those wanting to decrease food waste. It’s easy to compost kitchen scraps like banana peels, veggie scraps, and orange peels – but are orange peels good for compost?
In years past, I believed lemon peels and other citrus fruits were unsafe for composting. Instead of tossing them into my composting bin, I used the peels to make homemade citrus cleaner.
However, I recently learned that was a misconception, and that it’s safe to compost these. The peels are an excellent source of nitrogen for your garden, resulting in the “black gold” we want from our compost bins. Let’s look at why people had this thought process and how to properly compost orange peels.
Related: 15 Things You Should Never Compost
- Are Orange Peels Good for Compost?
- How to Compost Orange Peels
- Are Citrus Peels Safe for Worm Composting?
- Other Ways to Use Orange Peels in Your Garden
Are Orange Peels Good for Compost?
Orange peels are safe to add to your compost pile. Over time, as the citrus peels decompose, they add nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to your compost. Those are three of the most essential nutrients needed by plants.
Along with NPK, citrus peels are a rich source of calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. When you add this fruit waste to compost bins, the nitrogen content fuels the microorganisms to break down the pile.
So, yes, orange peels are good for a compost pile!
Lemon and other citrus fruits belong in the green materials list of composting materials. That means they are a source of nitrogen and other things, such as coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings, and egg shells.
Citrus fruits you can use in your compost include:
- Lime Peels
Add the peels, rinds, and pulp to your composting bin; it’s all safe in moderation – like anything else.
Another benefit of composting citrus fruits is they heat up your pile, speeding up the overall composting process. The strong scent may deter animals and other pests.
Why Did People Think You Shouldn’t Compost Citrus Peels?
The idea that orange peels shouldn’t be in your compost bin is due to the decomposition time it takes for the pieces to break down. Whole citrus peels aren’t ideal for your compost because they take ages to break down.
So, when it’s finally time to use your finished compost, the peels may still be present and not fully decomposed. The way around this is to break down the peels into small pieces, allowing them to decompose faster.
Another reason why gardeners frowned on adding citrus peels was that they contain chemicals commonly used in pesticides. So, it was a concern that they may discourage beneficial insects from visiting your vegetable garden.
However, research shows that this isn’t a concern, and they may keep scavengers out of your pile. Since the peels have a strong scent, they may keep rodents and pests out of the bins, working to your advantage.
Also, citrus fruits are acidic in nature, so it’s possible they may lead to acidic soil in your garden. However, you would need to use A LOT of citrus peels to make this happen.
How Long Does It Take for Orange Peels to Decompose in Compost?
Experts estimate orange peels take six months to decompose, but it depends on the environment. If your pile doesn’t have the proper moisture content, the peels take longer.
Six months is quite a long time compared to other materials that break down faster.
The time it takes to decompose also depends on the skin’s size and texture. Some fruits are treated with a wax film to resist mold throughout the transportation and distribution stages. Typically, the wax breaks down quickly, but it still adds to the length of time needed to fully decompose.
Are Volatile Citrus Compounds a Problem in Compost?
All citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, contain volatile compounds that are highly acidic. One of the compounds is d-limonene, a main volatile component of orange peel oil.
This is an environmentally friendly ingredient, commonly used in household cleaners, degreasers, and pesticides. We know d-limonene kills fleas, tickets, ants, and flies even in low concentrations amounts.
If that’s the case, is it safe for the compost?
Yes! Even though these compounds are powerful, they must be extracted from the peels, and the decomposition process doesn’t do that. Kitchen scraps go through a decomposition process rather than extraction.
How to Compost Orange Peels
Now that you know it’s safe to compost orange peels, you must do so properly.
Collect Your Citrus Peels
If your house is like mine, collecting citrus peels takes no time at all. My kids demolish a bag of clementines in only a few days, and I love lemon in my water.
Use a container with a lid or a countertop compost bin to collect the citrus peels until you are ready to bring them out to your compost pile. I only make a trek out there when my container is full of food scraps I don’t want to give to my chickens.
Make Sure There is No Mold
It’s typically not a good idea to put anything with mold into your compost bin. If mold is on your citrus peels, I suggest tossing them out; the disease could spread through your entire compost pile and into your garden beds.
In general, moldy fruit is a no-go for composting.
Will Orange Peels Cause Mold to Grow in My Compost?
One of the concerns I regularly see is that orange, or any citrus, peels will cause mold to grow in traditional compost piles.
Penicillin mold commonly grows on citrus fruits, so you may be concerned that you’ll end up with useless, moldy compost.
However, the chances of this happening aren’t high. That’s because a properly managed compost pile is quite warm. The center of the pile ranges from 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills off penicillium mold. This type of mold grows best in cool environments, so as long as you take care of it, you won’t have mold growth.
Dice the Peels into Small Pieces
Once you have enough peels to bring to the compost, chop them up into smaller pieces. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose.
Add to Your Compost Pile with Brown Materials
Fruit peels are considered green, so you need to keep the right ratio of green and brown materials. Always add bulking agents like newspaper, shredded cardboard, dry leaves, and wood chips to your bin. This keeps the pile from getting stinky and reduces moisture.
Too much nitrogen causes your pile to smell nasty and attract rodents, but the rate of decomposition will slow or stall entirely if you don’t have enough nitrogen.
Your goal is to avoid putting too much of anything, including orange peels. That’s one reason to have more than one compost pile; you can divide the materials into multiple bins. If you use a lot of citruses daily, like making homemade orange juice, you may want to try to find other ways to use them.
The balance of your compost heap is a delicate matter. Just keep in mind that, while adding nitrogen-rich materials like fresh orange peels is a great idea, too much of a good thing is bad.
Are Citrus Peels Safe for Worm Composting?
If you have vermicompost, you may wonder if peels are safe for worms.
Don’t worry; peels won’t hurt your worms! However, many worms avoid them because they don’t enjoy eating them. So, if you toss some in, don’t be surprised if you find them ignored by the worms.
Since vermicomposting requires the worms to eat the scraps, citrus peels may not work in your worm bin if your worms won’t eat them!
Other Ways to Use Orange Peels in Your Garden
Orange peels help your compost pile, but they also have significant benefits when added straight to your garden beds. You don’t have to compost them at all unless you want to do so!
Here are a few ways to use them up.
A Natural Fertilizer
Experts say that the high nitrogen content of citrus peels acts as a natural fertilizer for the soil in your garden. Be sure to chop them into tiny pieces, and put them below the soil surface, giving your plants a boost.
Citrus has a strong scent; that’s one of the reasons humans love it so much. Insects and other scavengers aren’t such fans, so spreading the peels throughout your garden beds acts as a natural pesticide.
Some of the pests that fruit peels repel include:
- Biting Flies
Increase the Acidity in Your Soil
Some plants prefer to grow in an acidic environment. If you want to naturally boost the acid in the soil, orange peels could help.
Try adding some shredded peels into the hole before planting, or bury them under the soil around your plants. The boost will be small, but that may be all your plant really needs.
If you have extra fruit peels, don’t hesitate to put them into your compost unless you have tons. An overabundance of citrus fruits may cause problems, but otherwise, they contribute plenty of nutrients to your compost.