Compost is simply decomposed organic matter. Making your own compost is an easy way to “recycle” up to 50% of your household waste into a nutrient rich, living soil amendment that you can use in a number of ways around your landscape to enrich your flower beds, veggie gardens and even your lawn. The practice has been mentioned as far back as 160 BCE in Plato the Elder’s writings and has been used and studied throughout history.
Backyard composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly. As you dig, turn, layer and water your compost pile, you may feel as if you are doing all of the work, but the bulk of the work is actually done by numerous types of fungi, aerobic bacteria and macro & microorganisms.
Your compost pile needs 4 things to ensure success:
1. Carbon (“Browns”)
2. Nitrogen (“Greens”)
Creating the proper balance of these is the key. A common rule of thumb is 80% Brown: 20% Green. A lot of first time composters will throw JUST kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and yard waste, all “greens’’, into their pile or bin. Without enough carbon materials to add volume and create space for oxygen, this creates an “anaerobic”(lacking oxygen) environment and the materials will just rot and smell bad.
What can I compost?
– Fruit & Vegetable Scraps
– Coffee Grounds & Loose Leaf Tea
– Lawn Clippings
– Green leaves trimmed from houseplants and landscape
– Spent Flower arrangements
– Jack-O-Lanterns (smashed)
– Cooked Pasta or Rice
– Pet Waste/Bedding(herbivorous pets; Hamsters, rabbits, chickens, etc.)
– Dead Leaves – Egg Shells
– Dead twigs & Branches(broken into pieces smaller than 2”)
– Newsprint & Uncoated Paper (shredded/torn into small pieces)
– Dead Houseplants and their soil
– Toilet paper & Paper Towel Rolls
– Used Tissue & Paper Towels
– Paper Bags
– Bills, plain paper docs., receipts, Envelopes(remove plastic window) – Pencil Shavings
– CraL paper/Paper party streamers
– Coffee filters & Natural tea bags
– Cereal, pasta, oatmeal boxes (remove any plastic windows/lids)
– Shredded cardboard (Amazon boxes are PERFECT!!)
– Sawdust (From untreated & Uncoated wood only)
– Ashes from Fireplace or Fire-Pit (NEVER CHARCOAL ASH)
– Cardboard Egg Crates
What NOT to put in your compost
– Dog & Cat Waste
– Charcoal Ash
– Fish & Meat Scraps
– Glossy/Coated Paper
– Fruit & Veggie Stickers
– Large Branches
– Citrus Peels & Onion Scraps (In small piles, the natural chemicals & acidity can kill worms & microorganisms. Occasional small scrap is okay)
How To Start Your Compost Pile
You will want to contain your compost pile somehow to keep out unwanted foragers(squirrels, possum, etc.). Depending on the amount of space you have, a 3’x3’x3’(1 cubic yard) bin or pile is an optimal size for home composting. If you have the room, a 3 bin system will keep you with a steady supply of fresh compost throughout the year. A simple wire mesh bin will be the least expensive way to begin.
The most popular containers seem to be commercially available “tumblers” that come in a variety of sizes and price ranges. While they provide ample space and are easy to stash in a corner of your yard, a lot of them lack adequate ventilation and your input materials will usually wind up in an anaerobic state. If you do decide to use a tumbler, just be sure to rotate it twice a week and keep your 80:20 C:N ratio.
We prefer the 3 bin system as it allows for 3 piles in various stages of decomposition; 1 for new materials, 1 “working” and 1 finishing pile.
How long does it take to make compost?
Small scale composting takes about 6 months to produce a complete rich finished product. Keep in mind, the smaller the scraps, both green and brown, the faster they’ll break down, but if you don’t feel like chopping up your banana peels and other scraps, don’t worry. Just be patient, it will break down eventually. Once you have your pile started, you have to remember to turn it once every week or so to introduce fresh oxygen to the inner part of the pile.
As your compost begins to actively breakdown you will notice that it’s producing heat. This is what you want! The heat is generated by the bacteria and microorganisms eating and multiplying while breaking down all of your materials. If your pile isn’t heating up, Three factors are usually to blame: poor aeration, too much moisture, or not enough nitrogen-rich material in the pile. Remember your 80:20 ratio and adjust where needed, OR you may need to water the pile a bit as you turn it.
Download the full guide here.