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How to Compost

Created January 11, 2017

How to Compost

If you’re passionate about both gardening and recycling, you’re ready for composting. Why buy fertilizer or mulch when you can save money—and help the environment—by making your own? Compost gardening provides vital nutrients to plants while recycling nearly all organic waste.

Composting Basics

  1. Put food scraps and other organic materials in a compost pile or container.
  2. Turn over the pile periodically so the bacteria thrive. Within a few months, the contents turn into a dark, rich, soil-like product.
  3. Continue to add scraps to the pile while using the compost to feed your lawn or herb garden.

HELPFUL HINT: Check to see if your community has a shared, community compost bin or a composting group to help you get started.

Choosing a Compost Bin

Holding Units

These low-maintenance units are smaller and good for apartments or smaller homes. They do not require turning. But because of the lack of aeration, the composting process can take 6 months to 2 years.

Portable Bins

These small containers are similar to holding units but can be moved and taken apart. They have holes in the bottom and are also good for indoor spaces.

Turning Units

These are designed to rotate and good for aeration. Because the contents get aired, composting is quicker and produces less odor.


Some people use tubs or homemade containers to make compost. If you make your own, be sure the contents in the homemade container can breathe. If you cover the top, drill small holes in the bottom.


If you don’t want to use a compost bin, keep a composting heap in your backyard.

Composting Outdoors

  1. For outdoor composting, you can combine food scraps with lawn trimmings and other organic matter such as paper, pet hair and wood ashes.
  2. Set up a bin or rotating tumbler in a shaded, out-of-the-way space. Make sure it’s away from wooden surfaces, as wood can rot along with the other organic material.
  3. Turn the pile regularly. You can add leaves, garden debris and kitchen scraps as you go. Be sure to bury or mix food scraps and grass clippings into the center.
  4. If necessary, add water. Ingredients should be moist but not soggy.
  5. Before planting your outdoor garden, mix a 4- to 8-inch layer of compost into the soil.
  6. Mix a 1- to 3-inch layer of compost into annual garden beds at least once a year.


Called vermiculture, this process involves adding to compost up to 1 pound of earthworms, which feed on fruit and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds and tea leaves. 

  1. Buy a bin and place it in a dark space where it won’t freeze or overheat, like under the kitchen sink. Make sure there are holes for aeration and drainage.
  2. Place a tray or newspaper underneath the bin to collect draining liquid, or if outdoors set it on top of or build into the ground for better vermicomposting from the earthworms.
  3. To avoid fruit flies and odor, maintain a layer of fresh bedding over the worms.
  4. After several months, you can scoop out the compost and mix it into the top inch of your plant pots or in your gardens.

Composting Materials

Do Compost:

  • All fruit and vegetable waste
  • Coffee grounds and tea leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Stale or moldy bread
  • Shrimp shells
  • Eggs and egg shells
  • Grass clippings, weeds, dry leaves (best shredded)

Do Not Compost:

  • Bones
  • Meats
  • Dairy products
  • Any products that contain animal fats (old yogurt is OK)
  • Any non-organic materials such as plastics or synthetic fibers
  • Invasive or diseased plants