Turning Spoils to Soil: A Simple Guide to Backyard Composting

Compost Happens!

image002Composting  is a natural process that occurs everyday in nature. It is the process of  organic materials decomposing, or breaking down. The process is carried out by  microorganisms, worms, and insects that eat the organic material.

When we compost in our backyards, we are simply speeding up what happens  naturally by creating the ideal circumstances for decomposition to happen. We  provide bugs, worms, and microorganisms with everything they need to survive:  water, air, and the right materials to eat.

Why Should We Compost?

About 1/4 – 1/3 of the residential waste stream is compostable. Backyard  composting is an easy way for you to recycle your food scraps and leaf & yard  waste. This will help to preserve disposal capacity and reduce your town’s solid  waste costs.

The finished product, called compost or humus, is a nutrient-rich soil  amendment that can be added to your garden. Compost will reduce the need for  fertilizers, balance the pH, and help the soil retain water.

Basic Steps of Composting

image0041.  You can either use a compost bin or an open pile. Just make sure you pick a  fairly level spot with good drainage and equal amounts of sun & shade.

2. Add both “greens” and “browns”. The ratio should be about 4 parts “browns”  to one part “greens”. You need to start with a pretty big pile to get the  process going. Make sure to cover any food scraps with leaves.

3. Keep the pile moist, but not sopping wet. The materials should feel like a  wrung out sponge. If the materials get too wet, add some leaves to suck up the  moisture.

4. Provide oxygen to the pile by turning it with a pitchfork, shovel, or  aerator.

5. It’s as easy as that! Just keep your pile moist and aerated and keep  adding more materials (in the right ratio). Your pile should heat up as the  materials start to decompose. For troubleshooting advice, see the back.

Examples of Compost Bins


Molded Plastic Bin


Snow Fence Bin


Pallet Bin





The following can be composted easily in your backyard!


Grass Vegetable & Fruit peelings Egg Shells Plant / Yard trimmings Coffee Grounds & Tea Bags


Leaves Hay / Straw Sawdust / Woodchips Napkins / Paper Towels

The following cannot be easily composted in your backyard

Meat, Fish, or Poultry; Dairy Products; Grease or Oily Foods; Diseased Plants; Pet feces


Although composting is a fairly easy process, problems may arise from time to  time. These problems will be minor and easy to correct. With just 15-30 minutes  per week, you should be able to keep your pile in good condition. Listed below  are some potential problems and what you need to do to correct them:


If your pile starts to smell like ammonia, you have added too many green  materials. You can fix this by adding some leaves, or other brown materials, and  giving the pile a good turn.

If your pile starts to smell rotten it may be either too wet or too  compacted. Again, the solution is to turn the pile and add some browns.


If it appears that critters are visiting your compost pile, you need to do a  better job of covering up the food scraps. Also, remember not to include meat,  fish, poultry, or dairy products. These materials attract pests.

Nothing’s Happening

If nothing seems to be happening in your pile, it can mean a couple of  things. You might not be adding enough green materials. Another possibility is  that your pile might be too small. It should be at least a cubic yard.

Other Questions

Can I compost during the winter?

Sure. Just keep adding materials to the pile. Your pile will freeze and there  won’t be much decomposition taking place, but it will heat up again in the  spring.

How long will it take to make compost?

It can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year to get a finished  product. It all depends on how much effort you want to put into your pile. You  can speed up the process by paying close attention to the ratio of browns and  greens, chopping the materials, keeping the pile moist, and turning the pile  frequently. If you don’t want to be that involved in the maintenance of your  pile, remember; compost happens – you will see a finished product in about a  year or so.