Can I put pickles in my compost?

pickles for composting

QUESTION: Can I put pickles in my compost? My husband says no because of the salt. – Joan R

ANSWER: You’ve probably seen pickles listed as something that should not be composted, and we’ll explain why some people don’t recommend it. But realistically, the amount of pickles that the average person is likely to compost will not pose a problem, so go ahead and include them, unless you’ve got a special case and have gallons of pickles you’re looking to dispose of. 

In short, pickles are much more acidic than most of what goes into the compost bin, and in excess they can disturb the pH balance of your compost and harm the valuable microbes that break things down. Pickles also contain high amounts of sodium, and salt isn’t good for the health of your plants if they absorb it in large amounts. In addition, commercially produced pickles come along with lots of preservatives to make them shelf stable, which means store bought pickles can take a while to decompose in your compost. However, you won’t see this problem with homemade pickles, as they don’t contain the same preservatives as the pickles you’d buy at the store.

Although the come along with drawbacks, pickles also have a lot to offer when it comes to composting. For one thing, the vinegar in pickles is an excellent pet deterrent—a valuable trait for the compost pile. The same goes for the garlic that’s used to flavor many pickles. In addition, the same high level of acidity that has the risk of disturbing your compost heap’s pH level will help to kill any weeds looking to take root in compost that contains pickles. The cucumbers and dill used to make pickles also contain valuable nutrients, which they’ll pass along to your compost and, later when the compost is used, will also be provided to next season’s plants in the garden. These nutrients include copper, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.

In short, although pickles come along with some disadvantages that land them on some “do not compost” lists, they also have a lot to offer the compost pile. That’s why as long as they’re used in moderation, we recommend allowing pickles in your compost ingredients. (One minor caveat: If you’ll be using pickled foods in vermicomposting, alternate feeding your worms food that contains pickles with food that does not contain pickles the next day. You can also use lime sprinkled into the worm farm to counteract the acidity the pickles contain, which worms can be sensitive to.)