Here's How To...

Each year more than 3.5 million tons of recyclable yard waste is unnecessarily sent to landfills. Viewed by many as rubbish, home gardeners see this waste as "gardener's gold."

Yard waste can be converted into compost. It's simple to construct a container which would save much in purchasing bags of amendments.

Use what you have

A compost container can be anything from a wire cage to pressure-treated lumber or whatever material you have available.

Trying building two 4-by-4-by-3-foot bins side-by- side.

You can continuously add material throughout the process. Work out of the first bin and build the second for later.

Whether you choose a freestanding or a contained bin, decomposition requires four things: an adequate mix of carbon and nitrogen materials, plenty of air, sufficient moisture and a population of organisms. Place your bins in a full-sun or partial-sun location.


Compost Heap

Here are the basic steps to building a compost heap:

1. Find a shady and sheltered position in your garden for your compost heap.
2. Purchase or build a secure container to hold your compost in position and to protect it from rodents and other pests. 
3. Using bare soil aerated by a covering of branches or straw creates a good base for the compost heap.
4. Build on the base by piling vegetable matter, garden rubbish and weeds into a heap so that it can rot and turn into compost. Well rotted horse or cow manure is a good addition to any compost heap as manure speeds up the composting process and is vital to producing rich humus for your garden.

How to start the process

To begin your composting project, start with a 6-inch layer of ground leaves, grass clippings, egg shells and any raw vegetable scraps. To that layer, add an inch of soil and shredded newspaper. Moisten and continue with the next layer.

Ground materials collected from a mower grass bag or a chipper-shredder decompose four times as fast as those not ground. Make sure your yard waste isn't contaminated with disease.

Compost bins need brown as well as green material for adequate decomposition. Don't add meat products or you will attract rodents."

If you add manure, make sure it has been aged at least one year to prevent the risk of E. coli contamination.

To jump-start the decomposition process, add a very small amount of ammonium nitrate or any nitrogen-containing fertilizer. A can of beer poured into the heap can help get things started.

The bins should eventually heat up to 170 degrees after a few days and decompose gradually. Through the natural breakdown process, in six months a pile 3 feet deep will gradually decompose to 1 1-2 feet.

Stir weekly, or have worms do it

To maintain your compost, turn the pile weekly and keep the material moist, but not wet.

To attract worms, add vegetable scraps and corn meal.

Worms are great turners of the pile, and as they work, they put out their body weight of manure each day..

The finished compost should be an odor-free, ready-to-use amendment for gardens or flowerbeds. It can also be used as potting soil.

To prevent still viable seeds from germinating, you may add either a pre-emergent (herbicide) or a 3-inch layer of mulch. Otherwise, you may have tomatoes, peppers and other unwanted plants in your compost.


A key to successful composting is layering. Composts should have alternating layers of green and brown organic materials. The green organic material should consist of fruits, vegetables and grass clippings, for example, whereas the brown organic material should come from dry leaves, twigs or small pieces of wood. If there is too much green organic material the compost will become too high in nitrogen, whereas too much brown organic material in the compost will make it too rich with carbon. Too much nitrogen may cause slime and too much carbon may cause the composting process to move too slowly.

Composting with Coffee

Coffee grounds provide a valuable source of nutrition for your garden if used properly. The proper amount to be used depends on the condition of the soil and, more specifically, what you are growing in your garden.

When Is the Compost Pile Finished?

Coffee grounds can be applied directly to the garden along with other materials as a side dressing for vegetables, roses, and other plants. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, but are also acidic. Adding brown material such as leaves and dried grass to the mulch will help keep a balanced soil pH.

When mixed in with other compostable mayterials, coffee grounds act as a green material with a carbon-nitrogen (C-N) ratio of 20-1. They make an excellent addition to your compost. Combined with browns such as leaves and straw, coffee grounds generate heat and will speed up the composting process.

Sharon Omahen, University of Georgia
Massachusetts Audubon Society

Worm Tea
Fertilizers and Compost

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide
The Complete Compost Gardening Guide


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