If you’re here because you’d like to learn more about backyard composting, you’ve come to the right place. I believe the single biggest reason more people don’t compost, or quit too soon, is because they think it’s too complicated. I’m here to tell you, that is simply not true. In fact, it comes down to just three simple but important steps to make great compost.
Of all the things you could put into your soil to help your plants grow, compost is the single best amendment you can add. Compost makes any soil better. It provides organic nutrients to feed your plants naturally. Compost destroys or suppresses diseases living in your soil that can affect your plants. And beyond your garden, compost keeps waste out of our landfills and reduces greenhouse gasses.
Recipe for Making Great Compost
While the following recipe may seem surprisingly simple, it is the essence of classic backyard composting. Once you know the process, adding your personal touch will help you cook up the perfect compost every time.
Ingredients: Air, Water, Carbon (brown waste) and Nitrogen (green waste)
- Combine generous portions of all ingredients and allow to cook outdoors for several months. Just starting piling up the ingredients in a convenient place A corner of your yard is a common option.
- Continue to add brown and green ingredients until the pile is approximate 4’ x 4’ x 4’.
- Mix often (every week is good) and add water to moisten (about like a damp sponge).
Compost is ready to serve when the ingredients are unrecognizable, the internal temperature is ambient, and the contents smell rich and earthy. Add to the existing garden soil at about 30% by volume and mix into the top four inches of any garden bed.
The time it takes to make compost from start to finish in a home environment typically is several months. There are many variables that determine how quickly compost breaks down that are beyond the scope of this article. However, I’ve written all about it in my Complete Guide to Home Composting for those details and much more.
More about the ingredients
When you understand that compost is made up of billions of beneficial microscopic living organisms, it’s easy to see why air and water would be key ingredients to sustaining life, even for the smallest forms.
It’s this oxygen and moisture that allows them, and other organisms in the process, to utilize the other two ingredients — carbon and nitrogen (the greens and browns) — to biodegrade the raw material into finished compost.
Air (Oxygen, really): Microorganisms can’t live without it. It’s that simple. Mix up your ingredients often (at least once a week) to keep it aerated.
Water: When it comes to remembering how wet your compost should be, think in terms of making and keeping it at the moisture level of a damp sponge.
Keeping your composting material aerated and consistently moist is a major factor in making compost faster.
The raw material: Fortunately, you don’t have to know anything about science to figure out how to get a reasonable balance of the carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) into the mix. I think in terms of anything that came from the earth originally in some living plant form (no matter what it is today) is biodegradable and can be added into your composting system. And that’s pretty much my guide for considering what I put into my compost.
Common examples of brown ingredients include dried leaves, small twigs, yard debris, coffee grounds, shredded paper and newspapers, paper towel rolls and brown paper bags.
Common examples of green ingredients include fresh grass clippings, plant trimmings and food scraps such as vegetables and salad greens.
A few common things you might be tempted to add to your compost should be avoided. If you want to play it safe, keep these out of your compost:
What Not To Add – From Outside
- Weeds going to seed (you don’t want weed seeds surviving only to sprout in your garden compost next spring).
- Diseased While it’s possible the diseases won’t over-winter, the safe bet is to leave them out of your compost ingredients.
- Animal waste (from carnivores)
- Chemically–treated plants and grass. While most consumer lawn and garden chemicals break down rather quickly when exposed to the elements, some do not. In fact, they’re very persistent.
What Not To Add From Inside
- Animal products. This includes meat, bones, grease, and dairy. Reasons to keep these away from your compost include the risk of potential disease pathogens, short term odor, and critter attractant. While all can be composted, that doesn’t mean you should. In home systems, tend towards the conservative side, especially when starting out.
While this information will truly get you started to backyard composting, it is the tip of the iceberg if you want to learn more. I’ve written an eBook for that very purpose. If you want to learn a lot more, while still keeping it uncomplicated, download my free comprehensive resource: The Complete Guide to Home Composting. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about composting and more.