Backyard Composting

What is Compost?

When organic materials such as grass clippings and food waste decompose, the result is a crumbly, dark, earthy material we call compost. Compost is similar to humus, and can be used to fertilize and condition the soil.

When you mix compost with topsoil you add organic material and volume. This helps to aerate the soil and retain moisture, improving soil quality. Compost should always be mixed with topsoil since by itself it is not a good growing medium.

Why Compost?

Cut waste - Yard trimmings and food waste account for over 22% of our nation’s waste (according to United States Environmental Protection Agency statistics). When you compost, you help reduce this large component of our waste stream, and you create a valuable renewable resource.

Save money - When you compost, you don’t need to spend money on expensive artificial fertilizers or plastic bags. And your municipality can save on costly landfill and hauling fees.

Better gardening - Composting retains moisture and adds nutrients to the soil, which means that you get better gardening results with less watering. It also provides exercise, relaxation, and a chance to enjoy the outdoors.

What do you need?

You’ll get the best compost from a mix of "green" and "brown" organic materials. Grass clippings, fresh flowers and kitchen scraps (such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and egg-shells) are examples of good "green" materials that are high in nitrogen. While dead leaves and twigs, which are high in carbon, are examples of good "brown" materials.

Pick a good location - The success of your composting will depend on the location of your compost pile. The average pile should be at least a cubic yard in area and should be located on grass or soil. A warm, slightly shady area that is not overexposed to excessive wind or water is best. If you want to compost in winter, however, you may need a sunny location. Just keep in mind that direct sunlight may dry out the pile.

Provide ventilation - Compost needs oxygen, so be sure to keep your compost pile well ventilated. Turn it regularly to ensure that air is reaching the center of the pile. While a well-ventilated compost pile is virtually odorless, offensive odors may occur when oxygen is not present.

Provide moisture - Composted materials should be kept moist but not soggy or over-watered.

How to Compost

A compost bin or enclosure saves space and prevents blowing debris. You can build one easily using shipping pallets, concrete blocks, snow fencing, stakes, or chicken wire. Or you can purchase a bin at a local garden center. The compost pile should be at least a cubic yard in size, and not more than several feet high.

If you prefer, you can compost without a bin or enclosure. Simply dig a large hole and bury the material, building a mound above the ground. You can also turn vegetative material right into the soil (sheet composting). A compost pile built in layers of different material should compost more quickly and with fewer odors. Worms can eat your garbage. This is called Vermicomposting. It is done in a sealed plastic container you keep in your garage or basement. House plants love this compost!

Do's and Don'ts

Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and may produce an odor if they are the only material in the pile. It is better to mix grass and leaves together, or to leave clippings on the lawn.

Do NOT compost meats, cheeses, oily items, or greasy products such as sauces and gravies since these may produce an odor and attract pests.

Do NOT compost diseased plants or weeds that have gone to seed, or human and pet feces.