Composting 101: Turning Waste Into Garden Gold

Composting is an eco-friendly and efficient way to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich feed for your garden. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the basics of composting, including the benefits, the different methods, and the do’s and don’ts of creating your own compost pile.

Composting offers several environmental, financial, and gardening benefits:

  • Reduces Waste: By composting your kitchen scraps and yard waste, you can significantly reduce the amount of waste in landfills, which helps minimize the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Enriches Soil: Compost improves the structure, texture, and nutrient content of the soil, providing essential nutrients for plant growth and promoting healthy root development.
  • Conserves Water: Compost helps soil retain moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering and conserving water resources.
  • Saves Money: Making your compost is an economical alternative to purchasing commercial fertilizers and soil amendments.
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What Can and Can’t Be Composted

Understanding what can and cannot be composted is crucial for creating a healthy and efficient compost pile. Here’s a list of common items that can and cannot be composted:

Compostable Materials

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Small branches and twigs
  • Straw and hay
  • Wood chips and sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper and cardboard
  • Dryer lint
  • Hair and fur

Non-Compostable Materials

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Fats, grease, and oils
  • Bones
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds with seeds
  • Chemically treated wood products
  • Pet waste from carnivorous animals
  • Synthetic materials, such as plastics and textiles
green plant on white and purple floral ceramic pot
Photo by Lenka Dzurendova on Unsplash

The Basic Components of Compost

A successful compost pile requires a proper balance of three main components: carbon, nitrogen, and moisture.


Carbon-rich materials, also known as “browns,” provide energy for the microorganisms that break down organic matter. Carbon-rich materials include dried leaves, straw, wood chips, and shredded newspaper.


Nitrogen-rich materials, or “greens,” provide essential nutrients for microorganisms and help accelerate decomposition. Nitrogen-rich materials include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells.


Adequate moisture is essential for the microorganisms in the compost pile. The material should be damp but not soaking wet. If the pile is too dry, decomposition will slow down, but if it’s too wet, it can become anaerobic and create unpleasant odors.

photo of leaves and fruits on black surface
Photo by Del Barrett on Unsplash

Composting Methods

There are several composting methods, depending on your space, needs, and preferences. Some popular composting methods include:

Traditional Composting

Traditional composting involves creating a freestanding compost pile or using a compost bin. This method requires regular turning or mixing to maintain proper aeration and speed up decomposition.

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Vermicomposting, or worm composting, uses red wiggler worms to break down organic matter in a controlled environment, such as a worm bin. This method is ideal for people with limited outdoor space and produces nutrient-rich worm castings as a soil amendment.

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Trench Composting

Trench composting involves digging a trench or hole in your garden and burying your organic waste directly into the soil. Over time, the material will decompose, releasing nutrients into the surrounding soil. This method is low-maintenance and requires no turning, but it takes longer for the material to decompose than other methods.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic fermentation process that uses a mixture of microorganisms to break down organic waste in an airtight container. This method can handle a wider range of materials, including meat and dairy products, and produces a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a fertilizer.

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Building and Maintaining Your Compost Pile

Regardless of the composting method you choose, there are some general guidelines to follow for building and maintaining a healthy compost pile:

  1. Choose a Location. Select a level and well-draining area for your compost pile or bin, preferably in a shaded spot to help maintain consistent moisture levels.
  2. Start with a Layer of Browns. Begin your compost pile with a layer of carbon-rich materials (browns) to provide aeration and drainage.
  3. Add Layers of Greens and Browns. Alternate layers of nitrogen-rich materials (greens) and carbon-rich materials (browns), aiming for a ratio of approximately 3:1 browns to greens.
  4. Maintain Moisture. Ensure your compost pile is consistently damp, like a wrung-out sponge, by watering it when necessary. Remember that too much moisture can lead to anaerobic conditions and unpleasant odors, while too little moisture will slow decomposition.
  5. Turn the Pile Regularly. Turn your compost pile regularly with a pitchfork or garden fork to maintain proper aeration and speed up decomposition. The turning frequency depends on the composting method and your desired timeframe for the finished compost. Generally, turning the pile every 1-2 weeks will result in faster decomposition.
  6. Monitor the Temperature. A healthy compost pile will generate heat as the microorganisms break down the organic matter. Ideally, the pile should reach temperatures between 130°F and 160°F. Monitoring the temperature with a compost thermometer can help you determine when to turn the pile.
  7. Harvest the Finished Compost. Finished compost will be dark, crumbly, and have an earthy smell. Depending on the composting method and conditions, this process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. To harvest your compost, separate the finished material from any larger, undecomposed pieces, and use it as a soil amendment in your garden.
DSC05661 compost temperature” by Plant pests and diseases is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

Following these guidelines and experimenting with different composting methods, you can transform kitchen scraps and yard waste into valuable, nutrient-rich compost for your garden. Not only will you be helping the environment by reducing waste, but you’ll also improve the health and productivity of your plants, turning your garden into a true eco-friendly oasis.

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