Page - April 19, 2007
Organic materials are broken down naturally by bacteria and fungi. Composting speeds up this process by providing an optimum environment for the transportation of organic wastes to the nutrient-rich end-product: humus. The whole process takes anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the composition of the pile. Composts add moisture and nutrients to your soil and improve soil structure so you will have a healthy and productive garden.

Getting Started

You can start your compost in a heap in the corner of your yard in a well drained spot. You can also buy a compost bin or make a wooden box for the compost. Just remember to leave space between the slats of wood for air circulation.

Alternate layers of garden waste and food scraps with a thin layer of soil. Keep it moist and stir up the compost every 1 to 3 weeks with a shovel.

The smaller the pieces of food and yard waste the faster it will decompose.

Composting slows down in winter, but you can continue to add organic materials. It's fine if your heap freezes, but if you want your heap to continue decomposing throughout the winter, add an insulating layer of plastic over the heap.

In Spring and Summer

When your compost is dark and crumbly rather than lumpy, work it into soil for a general conditioner. You can add your compost to gardens and lawns throughout the growing season.

In the City

You can start a compost wherever you are with a garbage bag. Compost made in a plastic bag will be more moist than outdoor piles and will therefore decompose faster.

Put your small scraps of kitchen waste in a black plastic bag, try to add coffee grounds and a few cups of top soil. Tie the bag and place it outside in a sunny spot. Composting should be completed in two to three weeks.

Empty the contents of the bag in a corner of your backyard or leave the bag open, dig in some more top soil and let the pile continue to work for a few days. You can add your compost to indoor plants, your garden or potted plants outside.

You can also investigate vermicomposting. The main ingredient in vermicomposting is red wiggler worms. The worms are kept in a box with bedding made from such materials as straw, grass clippings, or shredded paper. Within a few months a dark rich compost can be harvested for house plants and the garden.

Good Materials for Composting

In general, yard wastes and organic foods are good: grass clippings (if not recently treated with chemicals), dead leaves, shredded twigs and branches, weeds (avoid the seeds), flower cuttings, pruned material, all fruits, vegetables, grains, egg shells, baked goods, tea bags, coffee grounds, manure, hay and straw, even human hair and nails.

You Should Avoid

Roots of hardy weeds, dog or cat feces, diseased plants, meat, poultry, fish, fat or oil, dairy products, bones, highly fatty foods such as salad dressing, paper wastes, large amounts of wood ash and any toxic materials such as household cleaners.