How to Compost

What is Composting?

Composting is Nature's way of recycling and is one of the best and easiest things you can do to reduce waste and grow healthy and sustainable garden or houseplants. Under controlled conditions, organic material decomposes and is transformed by critters in the soil such as bacteria, insects, earthworms and fungi that recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients into humus. You can reduce the amount of food waste in your garbage by backyard composting your fruit and vegetable wastes.
(If you are looking for information on curbside yard waste collections, click here.)

Why Compost?

  • Save Time And Money in reduced soil and fertilizer purchases while decreasing local disposal costs. By composting, you won't have to bag and drag yard waste to the curb for collection!
  • It's good for the environment. Often, organic material decomposes without air in landfills producing methane, a gas that contributes to global climate change. In addition, food waste contains over 50% water, which is released during decomposition. In the landfill, rainwater collects contaminants when it comes into contact with garbage. This liquid, known as leachate, could pollute neighboring ground water, lakes, and rivers. By composting your organic materials, you are helping to reduce greenhouse gases, preserve water quality and conserve landfill space!
  • Enrich The Soil. Compost reduces erosion by improving soil structure and adds essential nutrients to the soil, helping to grow trouble-free plants with less water, fertilizer or pesticides. Plants love compost!
  • Learn And Have Fun!

What can I Compost?

DOs DON'Ts
  Browns (carbon sources):
  • Leaves, Twigs, Pine Needles, Wood Chips & Sawdust
  • Straw & Cornstalks
  • Shredded Newspaper, Cardboard, Paper Towels, Napkins, & Tissues
  • Branches over ½ “ diameter
  • Sawdust from Plywood
  • Treated/Painted Wood
  • Coated Photo & Copy Paper
  • Colored Paper & Waxed Cardboard
 Greens (nitrogen sources):
  • Grass Clippings, Weeds & Garden Trimmings
  • Dead House Plants & Potting Mix
  • Vegetable & Fruit Scraps, Bread & Grains, Eggshells, Tea Bags, Coffee Grounds & Filters (Moldy or lightly soggy food scraps are fine)
  • Hair & Lint
  • Manure from Farm Animals
  • Alfalfa Hay/Meal & Blood Meal
  • Seaweed
  • Meat, Fish, Poultry or Dairy Products
  • Pesticide-Treated Grass Clippings & Diseased Plants
  • Invasive Weeds & Weed Seed Heads (set out for Curbside Yard Waste Collection)
  • Pet Waste & Litter

How to Compost

Composting at home is easy and can be done indoors and outdoors. All you need is a bin, organic waste, air, moisture, and a shovel or other turning tool!

Mix and layer brown and green materials, keep it damp and aerated.

For faster decomposition:

  • Chop materials into small pieces.
  • Aerate the pile frequently.
  • Add more greens – specifically fresh grass clippings.
  • The more frequently you mix the pile, the faster the pile will turn to compost. If you mix the pile once a week, the compost should be ready in one to two months. If you don't turn it, it will be ready in six to twelve months. A lack of oxygen will slow down the composting process and cause odors, so make sure to turn, fluff and poke your pile. In terms of moisture, the pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge, but not dripping wet. Leaves should be damp when added. Keep a cover on to retain moisture in hot weather.

Using Finished Compost

Composted materials are ready to use when it looks like rich, brown soil. Try to harvest your compost in the late summer or fall to make room for new leaves.

  • Potting Soil: To make potting soil, mix equal parts of compost, sand and loam. Remove large particles and return to pile.
  • Soil Amendment: Apply ½-3” of finished compost and mix with the top 4” of soil one month before planting.
  • Lawn Top-Dressing: Spread it ¼” deep over the entire lawn to reseed and rejuvenate turf.
  • Moisture-Holding Mulch: Apply 2-3” around garden plants, shrubs and trees.
  • Compost Tea: Steep a shovel full of compost in a 5-gallon bucket for a few days to pour on plants. Use more water or less compost if watering seedlings.

Outdoor Composting

(Live in an apartment building, or don't have easy access to your yard? You can also try indoor composting with worms, called Vermicomposting. Click here for more information.)

1. Purchase or make a compost bin.

The City sells low-cost, animal-resistant composting bins! (Click here for more information)

Or to make a bin, drill holes in a trashcan. In urban areas, compost bins must have a secure cover, floor and openings no wider than ½”.

2. Set up the bin in a convenient location close to the house.

Store kitchen scraps bound for the compost bin in a tight-lid container, use a pitchfork or shovel to aerate the pile and bury new materials, and a screen to harvest the humus (a milk crate with openings of 1” or less works quite well).




3. Start the pile with a layer of coarse material.

Use small branches or hay to allow for air movement and drainage. Alternate layers of "brown" and "green" materials with a shovelful of soil on top of each layer. Shred or chop leaves to shorten the composting time. Bury food scraps in pile's center to eliminate odors.

4. Add water as you build the pile if the materials are dry.

Keep the compost damp to ensure decomposition.

5. Keep your compost pile aerated.

As time goes on keep oxygen available to the compost critters by fluffing the pile with a hoe or turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile - so the top becomes the bottom - in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.

6. Harvest your compost!

Try to harvest your compost in the late summer or fall to make room for new leaves.

 

Troubleshooting

  1. Keep animal products out of your compost pile; they will cause odors and attract unwelcome critters
  2. For smelly compost piles, make sure to bury food scraps and add brown materials. Remember to turn, fluff and poke your pile for air movement.
  3. If outdoor pile is dry and/or not composting, add water, turn pile, add greens and chop/remove large woody materials.
  4. If food scraps in worm bin are building up, limit scraps, add worms or build another bin.

For Faster Decomposition

  • Chop materials into small pieces.
  • Aerate the pile frequently.
  • Add more greens - specifically fresh grass clippings.

 

Resources

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