Getting Started Composting Getting Started Composting

 You probably know there are lots of good reasons to compost. It’s a natural soil amendment that costs virtually nothing since it uses products many of us just throw into the trash. Compost improves soil composition and texture naturally as well as helping garden soil retain moisture to get your plants through hot dry spells.

Sounds good, but isn’t composting complicated, messy and smelly? Fortunately, composting doesn’t need to be any of those things. Just think about it. Composting is the natural decomposition of organic material and it happens continually in Nature and you usually don’t even notice it.

Understanding composting is easy

  • You use two types of materials when composting, greens and browns, and it works best when you combine greens and browns in a 50:50 ratio.
  • Greens are things like vegetable peels, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings and green leaves that provide nitrogen to the compost.
  • Browns are things like dry leaves, sawdust, wood chips, shredded cardboard and that provide carbon to the final product.
  • Composting also requires air and moisture, that’s why you need to turn a compost pile periodically – to get air into the pile and expose the material in the middle to air on the outside of the pile. Your compost pile will generally get enough moisture from the ‘greens’ in the mixture but in long hot spells, adding some moisture can keep the process moving.
  • You never add meat, dairy products or fatty foods to a compost pile. Think of it this way, if it came from the ground it can go back into the ground (through composting).

What about messy?

  • Composting doesn’t need to be messy. Sure, a pile of grass clippings and yard waste combined with kitchen scraps can look pretty unsightly. However, you can keep the kitchen scraps out of site by covering them with yard clippings and you can shield the whole pile from sight by planting shrubs or tall flowers between the pile and your house or building a frame from wood or concrete blocks.
  • You can also buy a home composter at garden centers and home and hardware stores or build your own. Putting your raw materials into a composter will obviously hide them from view.


Composting done properly doesn’t smell bad. Compost smells like soil.

  • If your compost smells something isn’t right. It could be too wet (a compost pile should have the consistency of a wrung out sponge) or the green /brown ratio in wrong. (Too much green will start to smell like ammonia).
  • A common problem with compost piles is grass clippings smelling. Shredding some newspaper and putting it in the pile before adding a load of grass clippings should ensure no smell.
  • If kitchen scraps give off an odor, bury them in the pile in a different spot each week.
  • Turning the pile allows air to get in and speed up the decomposition process.

So, now that you know how easy composting is, why aren’t you composting at home?

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer. His work has covered a wide range of topics, but he specializes in home maintenance and how to have. He has more than 500 articles published on the web, as well as print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada.

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