Home Composting Made Easy

These 10 facts about easy home composting will help you turn organic yard waste and food scraps into garden gold.

  • home composting - fall leaves
    Home composting is a great way to use fall leaves.
    Photo by Barbara Pleasant
  • home composting - making a new pile
    Author Barbara Pleasant makes a new compost pile.
    Barbara Pleasant
  • home composting - potatoes in compost
    A gardening shortcut: Potatoes will grow directly in a compost pile (and pansies like it, too).
    Barbara Pleasant
  • home composting - side dressing
    Compost can be mixed into your garden soil, or used as a side dressing for plants, as shown here.
    David Cavagnaro
  • home composting - decorative box
    Compost bins come in many designs, from simple and inexpensive plastic mesh to decorative and durable containers.
    Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

  • home composting - fall leaves
  • home composting - making a new pile
  • home composting - potatoes in compost
  • home composting - side dressing
  • home composting - decorative box

Many people start composting for practical reasons. Home composting your leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and food scraps reduces the amount of garbage you generate. Plus, compost is essential for a great garden, and starting your own pile ensures a free, regular supply. But I think there’s an even better reason to compost: it’s fascinating. In fact, once you understand the basics of how the process works, composting can be one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of keeping a garden.

Composting mimics and intensifies nature’s recycling plan. A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste.” Left alone, any of these materials would eventually decompose. But when a variety of materials are mixed together and kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates. Compost matures into what soil scientists call active organic matter: a dark, crumbly soil amendment that’s rich with beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms, as well as the enzymes and acids these life-forms release as they multiply.

Adding compost to garden soil increases its water-holding capacity, invigorates the soil food web and provides a buffet of plant nutrients. Compost also contains substances that enhance plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insects and diseases.

Starting a new compost pile can be a fast, easy project. (See Starting a Compost Pile or Worm Bin.) But new composters sometimes feel frustrated as they struggle to learn more about how the process works — an understandable problem since there is a wealth of information available about composting and not one, absolute “right way” to do it. As we take a close look at 10 basic composting facts, it’s obvious that the world of composting is seldom black and white — or shall we say brown and green? At the same time, composting is much easier than what you might have heard.

Balancing ingredients is optional

To help compost decompose rapidly, a balance of “two parts brown to one part green” is often preached as composting gospel, but in truth, keeping a balanced ratio is simply an option. (Dry materials, such as leaves, pine needles and dead plants, are usually considered “browns,” whereas wetter materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen waste, are considered “greens.”) It’s not that balancing browns and greens is wrong; it simply makes home composting more complicated than it needs to be. You can pile up all your organic material without worrying at all about greens and browns, and it will still mature into compost.

Precise balancing of materials is crucial in commercial composting operations, for example, the composting of city sewage, manure from animal feedlots or byproducts from food manufacturing plants. But the needs and objectives of a gardener are far different from those of a dog food manufacturer with a waste disposal problem. The goal of industrial composting is to neutralize the pollution potential of various materials. The goal of home composting is to support nature’s self-regenerating power in ways that work harmoniously with the needs and opportunities of a person’s back yard.

10/28/2020 8:56:34 AM

As many folks here have mentioned, I also have had composting 'roots' in my family for a couple of generations. I am in region 4 with generally cold winters and medium rain. People mention that they never put meat, or very little meat in their composters. I try to personally consume most of the meat products from our household, but certainly there is some goes to waste. It has been my experience that with the round, black composters that I use for the kitchen waste, I have had zero problems with doing this along with the other vegetable compostables and weeds, etc. I also put bones in, which get all nicely cleaned off in the composting process and become fodder for the mulcher when I take the rich compost off in late Spring. Animals don't seem to be interested in any meat in the composter and there is little to no odour. Just thought I'd chime in here with a southern Ontario experience.

11/8/2019 7:48:43 AM

Ive been composting for years now,and collect leaves when i can. I also started a worm bin for the first time this year,and so far so good. Composting is my way of building the soil and giving back to mother earth,besides getting great produce! "Compost your enemies!"

4/27/2013 5:01:11 PM

I have been composting for over 70 years.  When I was young it was from cow manure piled in heaps to cure. Very stinky and lots of flies but worked well.  For the last 20 years I have been sheet composting.  I collect grass clippings and leaves from all over the neighbor hood and spread it out over the garden to a depth of about 1 foot where I am not planning on planting till next year.  Then I do nothing until next spring when I  rototill it.  My garden never needs any kind of fertilizer, herbicides or insecticides.  I am 100 percent organic.

I plant potatoes and onion sets on top of about 4 inchs of grass clippings and cover with about a foot more.  As the plants grow I keep adding grass clippings.  It sure makes graveling for the new potatoes and "digging" to mature potatoes easy.

I keep several tons of grass clippings and leaves out of the land fill every year, which gives me awarm and fuzzy feeling.


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