How to Compost

Compost heap

It's not just for Northwestern hippies anymore; composting has gone mainstream. The shift is due in part to new local codes which ban brush burning. It's easy to build your own composting system.

Your Compost Pile

It's not just for Northwestern hippies anymore; composting has gone mainstream.

Composting is technically a form of recycling. Many experts disagree on the benefits of open-air and closed-air systems. Just keep in mind that no matter what, you cannot mess up composting. All you have to do is mix the ingredients and churn them several times per week.

Where to Compost

You should locate your compost pile in a cool and dark outdoor spot. It's best to find a place under a tree with low acidity."The compost heap should be located near a garden hose or other water source so that you can easily control the moisture level," says gardener Rachel Klein. The compost pile must also have adequate drainage.

Contained or Uncontained

You can start a compost pile with minimal time, effort, and cost by building a 6x6x5-foot heap. The pile will shrink as it decomposes. To avoid bad smells and sights, consider building a container for your heap. You can also build a simple wire bin, or you may choose to construct a more complex 3 bin system. You can also build a compost heap using a plastic trash receptacle. A wide array of compost bins are available for sale at home improvement centers.

Other Tools of the Trade

While you are shopping at the home improvement center, purchase a pitch pork, aerator, thermometer, and a probe.

The Compost Recipe

While there is no exact mixture for compost, the greater the amount of green materials such as grass and nitrogen rich materials such as food scraps, the better the results will be. Brown materials such as dry greens and wood add carbon. Other supplies include soil, finished compost, bone meal, blood meal, ashes, fertilizer rock dust, and starter material.

Your Yard Waste

Whatever yard waste you would typically throw out can be used for your compost. Keep in mind that moist greens produce odors and that wide surface areas on wood allows it to decompose more quickly. Heat weeds to over 140-degrees to kill the seeds before you add them to the compost. Never include sick plants, acidic plants, or poisonous plants.

Other Ingredients

You can include not only organic food waste, but also manure and paper waste. Food wastes such as vegetable and fruit scraps, breads, pastas, coffee grounds egg shells, and tea bags are all acceptable nitrogen sources for your compost bin. Also add feathers, sawdust, and other such materials.

Items to Exclude

Do not add meats or fats form your food waste. Also keep out rocks, the roots of garden weeds, dairy waste, synthetics, treated wood material, bones, and anything that has been exposed to toxic chemicals.


A healthy and well-maintained pile will not attract insects. Limit the green material to regulate odors. Put food scraps 6-inches into the center to keep away flies. Meats and fats attract rats, so keep them out. Moisture must be regulated carefully. Excess moisture causes the pile to rot, while insufficient moisture prevents. Moisture can be a problem if there's too much or not enough. If it is too wet, the pile will rot rather than decompose. If it is too dry, nothing will happen. The process slows in cold weather.

Information in this article has been furnished by the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors.