Home Backyard Composting Techniques

The following techniques and tips will help avoid problems and speed up the composting process.

Chop materials if you want them to break down more quickly. The more you chop, the more surface area is exposed, and the faster the fungus, bacteria and insects (FBI) can begin the decomposition process.

Mix, turn or layer brown and green materials to avoid compaction and allow oxygen into the pile.  A good rule of thumb for a healthy carbon to nitrogen balance is 50% green material to 50% brown material by volume.  Add materials in thin layers (1-3 inches in thickness), alternating greens and browns.

Activate your pile by sprinkling in some finished compost, soil, or manure between brown and green layers to inoculate your pile with beneficial microbes.

Maintain the air & water balance by keeping compost as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and aerate the pile by turning or creating air shafts.  As the pile composts, it will shrink to half its original size or less.

Food Wastes should always be immediately covered up with dampened brown materials, such as leaves, dirt, or sawdust to create a physical and odor barrier to avoid attracting rodents and fruit flies.  Worm Composting[LINK: http://www.dpw.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/Home/RecyclingTrash/Composting/HomeComposting/WormComposting/Basics.aspx] and the Homemade Food Scrap Composter are ideal for composting primarily food waste.

Harvesting your compost can be done a couple of ways:

1) Move your bin structure to a new spot next to where it lies now.  Return uncomposted materials back into the bin and harvest the finished compost.  Screen or pick out any bigger unfinished pieces and put back in the bin. 

2) If your bin has a harvesting door, scoop out from the bottom.  Screen if needed.

Underground composting involves burying kitchen and yard wastes in a 6 inch layer, a foot underground.  Allow a season for decomposition before planting.  No harvesting necessary!  Download the publication Burying Food Scraps to learn more about underground composting.

Hot Composting Add-As-You-Go Composting

For finished compost in 1-3 months

Hot composting works well when you have enough brown and green materials ready to build a pile that is at least 3’tall x 3’wide x 3’deep

Hot composting requires turning of the pile every 7-10 days, or when temperature drops below
100 F. To kill most weed seeds and pathogens, the compost must remain at 131 degrees F for 15 days.

For finished compost in 3-8 months

Slow composting works for people who:

  1. Lack the ingredients to make a full pile
  2. Lack the time or ability to turn the compost pile frequently

Simply build the pile by alternating green and brown materials as they become available!

Remember, the more work you put into your pile the faster you will get finished compost.  Don't worry, no matter how much or how little effort you put in, nature will do its work - Compost Happens!