Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (2023)

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Why compost:

There are many good reasons to make your own compost or join a community composting program. First, organic waste (kitchen waste) that goes to waste ends up in our local landfills. Under anaerobic conditions, the decomposition of organic matter in a landfill releases methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and can be explosive if not handled properly. Second, most solid waste plants encourage home composting in hopes that you will divert this waste from the landfill, thereby helping to slow the rate at which the landfill is reaching capacity and needs to be closed. Diverting waste from landfills reduces our tax burden on maintenance. Finally, making compost for your yard and garden is great for the health of your plants and landscape and can be used in place of traditional wood mulch.

Compost is formed when microorganisms (usually bacteria) consume and decompose organic waste. When you create a compost pile, you help create ideal conditions for these organisms to thrive and do the composting work for you. The bacteria needed to do this are all over the place, but when you start a new pile it can be helpful to inoculate or bring in some of these bacteria by adding a few shovels of finished compost to the new pile. The heat generated in a compost pile is the by-product of bacteria. When bacteria eat the waste, they turn the material a dark brown color. You may also notice other organisms in the cluster, such as B. the Actinomycetes fungi. This looks like a white cobweb when piled up and is useful for breaking down complex organic matter such as cellulose, lignin, chitin and proteins. You may also see ground beetles, wild boar, centipedes, spiders, springtails and mites.

Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (1)
(Video) EASY COMPOSTING FOR HOME GARDENERS | Complete Tutorial on Making Compost

What to compost:

Almost all organic waste can be composted with some considerations. Remember, if you are composting bulky material such as branches or tree stumps, you may need to cut them down to a smaller size or wait a significant amount of time. In a small, household-sized pile, bulky materials can take a long time to fully decompose.


  • kitchen scraps
  • Card
  • wood chips
  • sawdust waste
  • straw leaves

DO NOT compost

  • Pet or cat litter - May contain pathogens
  • Bone - Will take a long time to decompose into a small pile
  • Meat - Can attract animals
  • Diseased Plants and Weeds with Seeds - Proper composting can kill annoying pathogens and weed seeds, but ensure every part of the pile reaches 150-160°F to properly kill these pathogens. Avoid recontamination by avoiding these materials.
  • Morning Glory, Buttercup, Quack, Confrey - These plants can become a nuisance in the garden and can be difficult to kill without the right temperature.

make the stack:

A key tenant of composting is getting the right ratio of brown to green in the pile. Composting is most effective when there are 30 parts brown to 1 part green. This ratio is based on weight, not volume. Brown represents carbon-rich materials such as sawdust or straw, and green represents nitrogen-rich materials such as kitchen scraps and green grass. See Table 2 for the C:N ratio of common organic wastes.

Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (2)

Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (3)

A pile of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen decomposes faster and at a higher temperature than a pile of 60:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. A pile with a lot of green or nitrogen often stinks and can attract pesky animals.

It's best to store brown stuff like fall leaves, straw or sawdust near your compost pile. Whenever adding kitchen scraps, be sure to cover them with a healthy amount of brown materials. Keep a pitchfork or shovel close to the pile to mix the materials whenever you are there to keep the pile active and well mixed. Overlaying the stack with brown, then green, then brown, and so on is the best way to make an active stack.

(Video) Composting for Beginners | The Dirt | Better Homes & Gardens

Be sure to always cover food scraps with brown material to avoid attracting wildlife.

Size:The compost pile should be at least one cubic foot in size, we recommend 3 feet wide, 3 feet high, and 3 feet long. A pile that is too small will not generate enough heat to break down materials. If you are making a large compost pile, a long, narrow pile will compost more efficiently than a tall, short pile. The size of the materials also plays a role. Small-sized or small-diameter materials, such as grass clippings, break down quickly, while coarse materials, such as corn stalks, create pore space to keep the pile aerated. The cuttings should contain a mixture of natural and fine materials.

Container types:

Three containers:These systems allow the compost to be turned over regularly and are best suited for gardeners with a high volume of waste. These are normally made from wood and wire.

Commercial composters:While they may be more expensive, they can be the most effective at keeping pesky wildlife out of the group. There are two main types, those that are fully enclosed and can rotate, allowing for easy stack shuffling, and those that lie flat on the floor with an open bottom.

"Low tech" composter:This system is in the ground where worms and other insects can find the pile and help with composting, and can be made from found or recycled materials like old wire and some garden stakes. This system can be easily moved.

Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (4)
(Video) Create Living Soil, Good Compost, & Intensive Growth in your home garden.

Composting for the home gardener [fact sheet] (5)

What went wrong:

The stack is inactive, it will not collapse:You probably don't have enough green material or the pile is too dry. Try adding materials like fresh green grass or kitchen scraps, and when the pile is dry, try watering it. Make sure the pile is well mixed as well. If this pile is new, adding a few spoonfuls of finished compost will help inoculate the pile with beneficial bacteria and microorganisms.

Pile is wet/stinks:You added a lot of kitchen waste and little garden waste (brown). Incorporate more Browns, make sure there is enough air space in the pile so it can breathe properly and doesn't become compact or anaerobic.

Compost Usage:

Make sure you are "soon":Your compost will be "ready" in perhaps 6 months to 2 years, depending on size, materials, and how often you mix it. Well-administered commercial compost can be ready in as little as 6 to 12 weeks. The finished product should be thin and light. The moisture content should be around 40% moisture, in other words if you take a handful of finished compost and squeeze it it should be moist but only release a drop or two of liquid. If your finished product still contains coarse materials, you can sift out the fine particles with a ¼ inch hardware cloth. Place rough materials back in the pile.

It's not a good idea to use unfinished compost in the garden. The material must be completely degraded before bringing it into the garden. Stack should no longer generate heat after turning. Adding "hot" compost to the garden can have negative effects on your plants.

Compost should not be considered your main source of nutrients for the garden. Most of the nutrients in compost are in organic form and therefore not available for uptake by plants. They become available slowly over time and should not replace your regular fertilization routine. When you add compost to your yard or garden, you improve the soil's water and nutrient holding capacity, infiltration rate, porosity, and microbial diversity.

(Video) HotBin Composter

The following is taken from the 1993 Master Recycler Composter Training Manual from King County, WA, edited and revised by Nancy E. Adams, Cooperative Extension, University of New Hampshire:

Using compost as mulch

In flower and vegetable beds:Sift or compost compost to remove large woody materials. They are less attractive and compete for nitrogen when mixed with soil. Apply ½ to 1 inch of compost to the entire bed or place in a ring around each plant, extending to the outermost leaves. Always keep the mulch a few inches from the base of the plant to prevent pest and disease damage.

In grams:Use screened commercial compost or homemade compost screened through a ½ inch or finer mesh. Mix with an equal amount of sand or sandy soil. Spread the compost/mix in 1/4 to ½ inch layers after mulching or gutting and before seeding.

On trees and shrubs:Remove grass from trees and bushes as far as the branches can reach. If this is not practical, mow the grass in a circle at least 4 feet in diameter around the plants. Use coarse compost or material left over after sorting. Only remove the branches and larger stones.

For erosion control:Spread coarse compost or materials left over after sifting in layers 2 to 4 inches deep across the planting area or in rings that extend to the drip line. Cover exposed slopes or areas prone to erosion with 2 to 4 inches of coarse compost.

For more information:
let it rot! by Stu Campbell
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals

(Video) Composting Masterclass with Monty Don

Granite State Gardening video interview on home composting


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