12 Tips for Backyard Composting
What is Composting?
The process where organic wastes are converted into high quality soil. Gardeners have used compost for centuries to increase organic matter in the soil, improve the physical properties of the soil and to supply some of the essential nutrients for plant growth.
Worms, bacteria and fungi all help to breakdown organic material like grass, leaves, kitchen scraps and garden debris and to turn it into compost. The larger creatures tear and break down the waste while the smaller ones process the matter chemically by eating it. The bugs need a moist environment to thrive and to produce heat which also helps to break down the waste.
Aside from the already mentioned gardening and nutrient benefits associated with composting, it also reduces the amount of waste in landfills every year. While organic materials do break down eventually, it takes longer and they do not serve a purpose once they have absorbed chemicals from other rubbish.
How to Compost:
**Before you get started, make sure to contact your city recycling coordinator for composting requirements**
You can buy or make your own compost bin. Composting in a simple pile is also an option, but it is not as effective and some cities require that composts piles are contained.
When choosing a location for your compost bin, it is important to consider a few factors.
- The location must be a least somewhat shaded, otherwise it dries out too fast
- Ease of access to add materials
- Access to water
- Good drainage
- NOT against a building where compost can eat away at siding and structural materials
- NOT near a large tree which can steal nutrients from the compost and who’s roots can even grow into your bin.
- Size of bin: The ideal compost bin size is one cubic yard (3 feet high, 3 feet wide & 3 feet long) is big enough to retain heat and water while still being easily turned. Home compost piles should never be larger than 5’x5’x5’.
Three things are required to make good compost:
air circulation, moisture and the right ingredients.
Air is introduced by stirring or turning the pile and sometimes adding big or oddly shaped material to create air pockets within the pile.
As far as moisture goes, the compost pile should feel damp, but not soaked. If there is too much water, there is not enough air, but if there is too little water, the microbes that help to produce compost will dehydrate & die.
As a general rule, add three parts of dry ingredients - leaves or dry grass - to one part of wet food waste. Add food and yard waste including:
- Vegetable and fruit scraps, rinds and peels
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea leaves and tea bags
- Egg shells
- Nut shells
- Plant trimmings
- Grass and leaves
Do Not Add the Following:
- Butter, cheese, or dairy products
- Meat or bones
- Gravies or sauces
- Pet waste
- Diseased plants
- Weeds gone to seed
- Ash from charcoal or coal
- Branches and wood chunks
How to Use Compost
After the pile has finished composting you can use it in the following ways:
- Mix compost in with your soil to improve quality.
- Use it to fill in low spots in your yard.
- Use it as mulch for landscaping and garden plants.
- Mix compost in the soil for potted plants.
- Top dress your lawn to retain moisture.
For more yard and garden information, visit the University of Minnesota Extention website.
Have you purchased any materials for your backyard projects at the ReStore? Tell us about it!
By Misha Hemingson, Communications Intern; and Terry Barnes, Homebuilding Support Associate, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.