Complete Guide to Backyard Composting
We started our compost pile about six years ago. Before then, I knew absolutely nothing about composting. To the Googles, I went. We opted for a three-bin compost system since we had the room for it. We love having a compost bin and want to share with you a complete guide to backyard composting.
Why You Should Compost
Composting reduces how much waste you send to your landfills. It also saves you money on fertilizers and soil amendments. You have all you need for your garden in your backyard.
Where To Begin
Place your compost bin in a dry spot and out of the direct sun. Ideally, it should be near a water source. Containers are readily available online. We made ours out of wood and chicken wire. This Old House has plans for a DIY bin here.
What to Compost
For the perfect compost pile, add green and brown materials in alternating layers. The green materials add nitrogen to the pile where the brown materials add carbon. The two marry to decompose.
Brown (carbon) Materials
- Dry leaves
- Sawdust (untreated wood)
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded nonglossy paper
- Wood chips (untreated wood)
- Shrub prunings
- Straw and hay
- Pine needles/cones
- Shredded cardboard
- Corn stalks/cobs
- Paper bags
Green (nitrogen) Materials
- Fresh grass clippings
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea and tea bags (remove staples)
- Chicken manure
- Lawn or garden weeds
- Spent plants (insect and disease-free)
Ideally, the three parts of the pile are brown materials, and one part is green materials. But let’s be serious. There is no way to keep up with that! Add what you can when you can. It will still break down and create excellent compost.
What NOT to Compost
Do not compost meats, bones, oils, fats, dairy products, and eggs. If these items are in a compost bin, it invites critters to scavenge.
Since metal, glass, and plastic do not break down quickly, do not put those in your compost bin.
Do not add diseased or insect-ridden plants or plants treated with chemical pesticides to your compost.
Finally, avoid adding black walnut tree leaves and twigs, pet waste (except chicken and rabbits), coal, and charcoal ash to the pile.
How to Compost
Moisture is key to the organisms staying in your compost. Your compost pile needs to be kept moist but not saturated. The organisms that help break down the materials in the compost pile need water to live.
40-60% water content is ideal. No, you don’t have to go out and buy a fancy water meter. Take a handful of compost and squeeze it. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge. If it doesn’t and falls apart in your hands, it is time to water.
Stirring or turning your compost helps keep the pile aerated. Oxygen is also essential for the microbes breaking down your pile. Air movement keeps the smell of your compost down. If it is getting enough air, your pile should not smell.
Aeration also aids in the release of carbon dioxide. This release of carbon dioxide, in turn, creates a hotter environment. Breakdown of materials is faster in higher heat and weed seeds and pathogens die.
Below is an illustration of how we turn our three-bin system.
When Is Your Pile Ready
You will notice your compost getting darker and darker. When it is dark, without any visible waste scraps, it is ready to use. Use it to amend the soil in your garden, potted plants, flower beds, and yard!
One Last Tip
We keep a small kitchen compost bucket on our counter by our sink. It makes taking scraps to the bin easy and not a tedious chore. Once the bucket is full, we walk it out, empty it, rinse it, and repeat. There is a charcoal filter in the top, so it never gets smelly!
We hope this article is helpful and has provided a complete guide to backyard composting. Let us know if you start composting.
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I have over 30 years of experience in the horticulture and landscaping field. Sharing my knowledge of all this plant-related is a passion of mine. I also enjoy spending time outdoors, whether hiking, canoeing, or sitting by a campfire.