What is Composting?
Composting is a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition. The end product is compost – a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material. Microorganisms feed on the materials added to the compost pile during the composting process. They use carbon and nitrogen to grow and reproduce, water to digest materials, and oxygen to breathe. You can compost at home using food scraps from your kitchen and dry leaves and woody material from your yard.
A backyard compost is perfect for any household with a yard. It is a simple method that requires little effort and few materials.
Ingredients for Composting
The ingredients for composting include a proper balance of the following materials:
- Carbon-rich materials ("browns") include dried leaves, woody plant material, chopped/ground branches and twigs, straw, hay, shredded newspaper or cardboard, and sawdust. The carbon-rich materials provide food for the microorganisms to consume and digest.
- Nitrogen-rich materials ("greens") include grass clippings, yard trimmings, green leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and tea bags. The nitrogen-rich materials heat up the pile to create ideal conditions for the material to break down.
- Water creates a favorable environment for the microorganisms that break down organic material. The compost pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
- Air provides the environment necessary for microorganisms to live and multiply. Turning the compost inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria and speeds up the creation of the finished product.
- Do Not Use meat, fish, poultry, bones, dairy products, grease, lard, weed seeds, Bermuda grass, nut sedge, dog and cat manure, charcoal or Duraflame ashes or treated wood products.
The Six Easy Steps of Backyard Composting
- Obtain a Bin: Compost bins can either be homemade or purchased. Check with your local compost retailer for a variety of compost bins and other environmentally friendly lawn and garden supplies.
- Gather your Materials: Waste is classified as either brown or green material. To begin, use equal amounts of green and brown materials and chop them into 1-inch pieces (the smaller the pieces, the faster they decompose).
- Disperse your Materials Evenly into a Compost Bin: Start with approximately one cubic yard of yard waste materials. Shred yard waste to less than 1″ in size (the smaller, the better). Use equal amounts of green and brown materials and mix thoroughly. Add water (about the consistency of a wrung out sponge).
- Turn or Stir your Compost Every 7 to 10 Days: Stir the bin and add more water every 7 to 10 days. Remember to keep the bin full by adding fresh material regularly.
- Keep your Compost Hot: Keep your compost between 120 to 140 degrees. This helps the materials to break down properly.
- Harvest your Compost: Your compost is ready to use when it’s dark brown, crumbly and smells like fresh-turned earth, generally within 2-6 months. You also should not be able to identify anything that was used to make it. To harvest your compost, remove the finished compost from the bottom of the bin (the finished material naturally collects there) and screen it using a simple 3/8″ size screen.
Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is one of the most powerful actions we can take to reduce our trash, address climate change, and build healthy soil. By turning our food scraps and yard trim into compost, we can transform our waste streams into a beneficial, value-added soil amendment and use it to protect the environment and create resilient communities.
- Composting is a resourceful way to recycle the food scraps and yard trim you generate at home all year and manage your waste more sustainably.
- You reduce the volume of materials that might otherwise be disposed of in landfills or trash incinerators - leaves, grass clippings, yard trim, and food scraps – and prevent powerful greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.
- Composting involves minimal effort, equipment, expense, and expertise and can be fun.
- You save money by producing a free, high-quality soil amendment – compost, which reduces your use of fertilizer and pesticides.
You can use your compost to build healthier soil, prevent soil erosion, conserve water, and improve plant growth in your garden and yard.