9 Steps to Backyard Composting

May 22, 2011 View all articles in Lawn and Garden

Did you know 26 percent of the US municipal solid waste stream (what's currently being sent to landfills) is made up of yard trimmings and food residuals? These materials are fairly clean and biodegradable, but when yard waste decomposes in landfills, it has the potential to generate methane, an explosive greenhouse gas which, if not controlled, can seep underground and into nearby buildings. Composting, or the creation of natural soil enrichment from yard and kitchen scraps, is a wonderful way – maybe even the best way – to nourish your garden and reduce the amount of potentially toxic waste that is sent to landfills. Our lawn and garden articles will tell you over and over again about the benefits of backyard composting, but up until now, we've never actually told you how to create your very own compost pile. It's actually quite easy to get started and there's really no “right” way to do it, as mixtures and care plans will vary from household to household.

OUTDOOR COMPOSTING MADE EASY

  1. Buy a bin from your local hardware store, garden center, or from an online retailer (either a rotating one, a regular recycled plastic one with a lid and air holes, or a wooden one). Or better yet, eliminate the need for a bin altogether and just pile the ingredients neatly in a designated spot in your yard. You can also make your own compost bin with scraps of untreated wood or recycled plastic, or you can even construct a compost cage with chicken wire.
  2. Place your compost bin in a dry, shady, level spot in a corner of your yard that's near a water source.
  3. Start feeding it equal layers of brown stuff (such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs) and green stuff (like food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and houseplants) as you collect it, being careful to chop or shred larger pieces. See below for a list of materials you should and should not add to your compost.
  4. Moisten dry materials as they are added.
  5. Stir up your compost pile every couple of weeks; if you have too much of one layer or another, you'll end up with weird smells or no compost.
  6. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that once your compost pile is established, you mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile, and then bury fruit and vegetable waste under about 10 inches of compost material.
  7. Cover the top of the compost with a tarp or a lid to keep its contents moist.
  8. When the material at the bottom of your bin has a crumbly, soil-like consistency and is dark and rich in color, the conditioner can be applied to your land (this may take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years).
  9. Read up on the Environmental Protection Agency's online resources regarding the science/technology behind composting so you can understand the variables that must be “controlled” during composting. David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich also  recommends visiting CompostGuide.com for the answers to all your composting questions.

SAFE TO COMPOST:

  • cardboard
  • paper and newspaper shreds
  • fruits and vegetables
  • eggshells
  • animal manure
  • sawdust
  • leaves
  • nutshells
  • coffee and tea grounds

UNSAFE TO COMPOST:

  • domesticated pet waste and cat litter
  • yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
  • meat or fish bones or scraps
  • fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • troublesome weeds like crabgrass
  • dairy products
  • glass or plastic
  • coal or charcoal ash.

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