How to Compost: Composting Tips

picture of a compost bin

Composting remains one of the easiest and most efficient practices for maintaining a healthy lawn and garden. In its simplest form, composting amounts to recycling appropriate yard and food waste to make soil. When done with a bit of thought, compost supercharges all soil types, from clay to sandy, because its texture improves air, water and nutrient flow important for root development.

Types of Composting

picture of a compost pile

Composting practices range from simple to complex. For convenience sake, compare the pictures on the page, a compost bin and a compost pile and you come up with two basic types of composting, closed container and open air.

Geography and practical goals usually determine the most appropriate composting practice for any individual household. Heat is an important element in the composting process, and the classic compost bin with a lid, provides a practical and clean way to apply consistent heat throughout the process. Additionally, classic compost bins provides an element of critter control during the process, an important point to think about in smaller yards. Compost bins come in shapes and sizes suitable to a variety of needs. Some, for example, come in barrel form, with a handle for turning the barrel to mix the compost.

Households with larger yards and less concern about critter control can easily opt for an open air compost pile placed somewhere strategically in the back yard. Any three foot by three foot space will do.

Composting Tips

picture of a hermit thrush on a compost pile

Successful composting is a matter of knowing what to add and what not to add to the compost bin. For example, all experts agree on the importance of avoiding adding meats, oils and diseased plants to the pile. Meats and oils spoil the soil, and the probability of producing unhealthy soil with diseases increased when diseased plants are added.

The standard household composting program consists of placing daily vegetable and fruit waste on the pile, and mixing it with a gathering of appropriate yard waste. The reasoning is simple.

First, think of compost as the organic meal for soil microorganisms. Assuming that healthy meals produce healthy soils, your basic five star compost menu consists of a fixed ratio of carbon and nitrogen ingredients (30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen).

The presence of unusual odors, such as ammonia, indicate an excess nitrogen content. It can be remedied by adding more organic material.

Composting as meal preparation, follows a logic of layers. Typically, organic products such as coffee grounds, and fruits and vegetables constitute the first layer. Nitrogen products such as grass clipping and other yard wastes constitute the second compost layer. Pro tip, seeing birds attracted to your compost pile because it’s a worm magnet is a very good sign that you’re doing it correctly.

Every other composting tip adds a twist to the basic compost recipe. For example, many compost advocates who use an open air set up, recommend adding a top manure layer. Think of them as efficient gardeners. As their compost pile gets watered, flipped and aerated over time, the end result of the pile is a perfect loam mixture ready to be placed in a wheelbarrow and distributed across the flower and/or vegetable plots. Of course, there’s always a hidden twist to any specific compost tip. Adding a manure layer attracts flies, making it a less palatable option in smaller yards.