Composting at Home
Composting at home is as easy as 1 – 2 – 3 (-4 – 5 – 6)
Folks who are short on space may opt to utilize CSWD’s Drop-Off Composting program. But if you have a little space you can easily set up your own Backyard Composting system.
1. Select a container
The pile should be at approximately 1 cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) in size. Piles that are significantly larger or smaller may have problems. Compost bin options:
Build your own bin — It can be as simple or fancy as your skills and time allow.
Compost Bin Plans
- Purchase a discounted SoilSaver Bin from Green Mountain Compost.
- Purchase a Green Cone digesting compost bin. Green Cones are in-ground food scrap digesters that are sited in yards, gardens, even right next to the house. A Green Cone is a great complement to a backyard compost pile, since it can digest all household food scraps, including meat, fish, bones and dairy. Anything scraped off a plate or left over from meal preparation can be put in a Green Cone!
2. Collect materials
Rule of (green) thumb: Whenever you add food scraps, cover them with at least as much brown leaves. By adding needed carbon, it’ll also help reduce odors.
Nitrogen (green, wet)
- Grass clippings
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
Carbon (dry, brown)
- Dead leaves
- Hay or straw
- Corn stalks
- Wood ashes*
- Cotton or wool rags**
*in very small quantities; **shred and add in small quantities only
Any organic material will decompose, but it is a good idea not to add materials to a compost bin that will take a long time to decompose or that will attract animals.
Do NOT add the following to your home compost pile. Unlike the giant windrows at our composting facility, your backyard pile will likely not get hot enough or stay at high temperatures long enough to kill any plant diseases or undesirable bacteria that may be lurking on sick plants or certain food scraps. Other items could contain toxic substances that don’t belong in any compost pile.
- grease or oil
- dead animals
- diseased plants
- fatty foods or any meat or bones
- human & pet waste
- treated wood
- coal ashes
- pine needles, oak leaves (small amounts are ok)
- pesticide-treated plants
- weeds with seeds or runners–they will not be killed at the temperatures present in back yard piles. We recommend bringing these to CSWD as yard debris if you are making compost to spread on your garden.
3. Choose a location
Selecting a site for the pile is a balance between convenience and consideration. Although a well maintained compost pile should not generate odors or attract animals, we advise not placing it too close to outdoor living areas or property lines.
4. Build the pile / Fill the bin
The basic idea is to alternate wet and dry materials. This will help create optimal conditions for the microorganisms that decompose organic matter. Have a leaf pile near your compost bin. When you add food scraps, add at least that amount of dry leaves on top. Not only does that add needed material for the process, but it helps keep odors down.
To discourage insects, rodents, and other “vectors,” be sure to bury food scraps near the center of the pile and cover with dry materials. Do not add meat, dairy products, or fatty foods.
5. Let it cook
The microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects, will decompose the material in the compost pile. It’s just a matter of time. The rate at which this process happens depends on three extra ingredients: air, water, and temperature.
Microorganisms are living creatures and need the right diet as well as air and water to live. To ensure that they have enough of both, as often as you can remember, stick a pitchfork into various spots in the pile and wiggle it to open up new avenues for air and water to enter the center of the pile. The more you do this, the faster your pile will turn into compost.
We all move a little more slowly in cold temperatures, and those microbes are no different. The warmer the air temperature, the faster the microbes work. That’s why breakdown slows considerably in the winter.
6. Harvest the compost
The compost is finished when it is dark brown and has an earthy smell. To remove any large chunks, sift the compost through a garden sieve or milk crate. The chunks can be placed back in the pile for further decomposition.
Use the finished compost in your garden to add nutrients to the soil around plants. It can also be used to re-pot house plants, as a bedding for seedlings, or as mulch around trees and shrubs. Lawns love compost, too — sprinkle about a half inch in the spring and fall and you’ll be amazed at how well your grass responds!