Composting, that magical process of turning waste from the yard into wonderful soil building, plant nurturing compost. The challenge is getting the "mix" just right. The goal of this article is to give you the nuts and bolts of composting.

What you'll need

  • A place to put your pile. The best compost pile will end up being about 3'x3'x3'. Choose a location that is partially shaded and preferably big enough for two piles side by side. It will make it easier for turning on a regular basis. The pile can be simply a pile or can have walls made of wire, wood, concrete blocks, whatever you have available. You should avoid anything treated such as treated lumber as you don't want the chemicals to leach into your wonderful compost.
  • Access to water
  • Your stuff to compost... aka, ingredients
    "brown" "green"
    items high in carbon items high in nitrogen
    leaves & dry yard debris fruit and vegetable trimmings
    newspaper green weeds and yard debris
    straw grass clippings*
    hay aged manure
    wood chips

    *For grass clippings, only use those where you have not used any chemical fertilizer or herbicides. If you have recently used any of these, make sure you add only the third and later cuttings to add to your compost.

What NOT to put in your compost

  • meat and bones
  • dairy products
  • fat or grease
  • leftovers with any of the above
  • human or pet waste


  • Add your ingredients in layers, aiming for approximately equal amounts of brown and green
  • Add water to keep the pile damp
  • Turn regularly. The more frequently you turn, the faster it will compost. Ideally, you would turn every 3-4 days to keep the pile aerated.
  • Once you have a good pile (3x3x3) that has been regularly turned, let it sit to finish. At this point, you can start over again with a new pile.

A few tips

  • Compost needs to stay moist but not wet. It should be like a sponge after it has been wrung out. If you have a lot of rain, cover your pile. If it is hot and dry, use a sprayer end on your hose and spray the pile.
  • The smaller items are when they go into the pile, the faster they will decompose. I chop stems into 1-2" pieces. Dried leaves are best to be run over with a lawnmower to help speed up decomposition.
  • A note on using newspaper. I've read mixed comments on whether you should use these items. Newspapers used to be printed with lead based inks. These days, most papers are printed with soy or other vegetable ink. I would recommend contacting the producer of the newspaper you plan to use and ask what kind of ink they use. It would also be important to ask about all those ads that are added to the paper and what kind of ink is used on them. I typically recycle the slick ads and use only the "duller" looking ads in my compost and around my yard.

I think the most important point is to keep it simple. My Grandmother used to dig a hole in the corner of her garden every spring. Throughout the year, she would throw all of her kitchen scraps, yard debris, etc. in the pile. The next spring, she'd spread the resulting compost over her garden. If there were any big pieces left, they'd go back into the bottom of the new hole. Whether you compost in a hole in the ground or in an expensive composter, the ideas are the same and the end result is compost to help build the soil in your garden.

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