Making and Using Compost
What is compost?
Compost is decomposed organic material made from ingredients like leaves, grass clippings, shredded twigs and some kitchen scraps. Composting is a practical and convenient way to reuse your lawn, garden and certain household wastes.
The composting process involves four main components:
- organic matter – includes plant material, food scraps and animal manure
- moisture – supports decomposition
- oxygen – accelerates decomposition of plant material
- bacteria – turns organic material into nutrient rich soil additive
What are the benefits of composting?
Homeowners often have difficulty disposing of leaves, grass clippings and other garden refuse. Some landfills won’t accept lawn waste (see list of service providers that do). Disposing of it in storm drains, lakes, rivers and streams clogs drains and pollutes water.
- Diverts a large amount of waste from landfills.
- Reduces pollution and clogging of the storm sewer.
- Reduces soil erosion and water runoff.
- Reduces the need for fertilizers by adding nutrients to the soil.
- Promotes healthier plants that are less susceptible to disease and insects.
- Improves water absorption in soil and plants reducing the need for irrigation.
- With the addition of compost, sandy soils hold water better and clay soils drain faster.
Making your own compost pile
- Locate your pile on a well-drained site that would benefit from nutrient runoff, but avoid areas adjacent to streams and other waterways. Often, a corner of the garden works well.
- Start your pile with a three-inch layer of course plant material such as small twigs, or use a wooden pallet. Then build successive layers of leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, and other green matter. For more rapid decomposition, chop and mix components together.
- Cover layers with 1–2 inches of soil or manure to add nitrogen to the process.
- During dry weather, keep the pile moist. In cold winter months, cover the pile with black plastic to insulate and shed excess water.
- Mix compost with a pitchfork after six weeks. This helps aerate the pile, and keeps the bacterial processes from overheating.
Links and resources
- MARC SWMD Composting Resources
- The Essentials of Composting
- The Compost Guide
- Master Composter
- Stan Slaughter: Compost Central
- EPA Composting Resources