Poop There It Is: How to Compost in Your Backyard

Compost is great for fertilizing your garden or lawn and reduces your overall waste and environmental footprint. In fact, it can reduce your household waste by up to 30%, according to the EPA.

A compost pile allows you to use naturally occurring microbes to turn organic waste and some household waste into a soil amendment or fertilizer. Before you begin composting, you need to consider a few things. First, determine where your compost pile will be stored. You can either use a prebuilt composter or build a simple bin roughly 5’x 5’. A compost bin helps keep your yard looking neat, deters pests, and speeds overall composting time.

When planning the location for your composting pile, think about an area that doesn’t get much traffic, or a place where the bin won’t interfere with other activities. The composting process will work best when the pile is mostly protected from drying winds, yet able to receive at least partial sunlight, allowing it to heat up and encourage microbe growth. A well-maintained compost pile should smell earthy but not be overly odorous. If you’re concerned about smell, a tumbler like the one above may be your best bet.

Once you’ve determined where you’re going to keep your compost, you’re ready to start building. You should build your compost pile in layers. Start with 8” to 10” of grass and leaves. Water it until it’s moist.

Next, add a thin layer of a nitrate, like lawn fertilizer. Cover that with a few inches of dirt and repeat as needed. Most compost piles stand around 5 feet high, but as you continue to work on your pile, it’ll grow so don’t worry about getting to 5 feet at the start. The golden ratio is 50% brown material like dirt and 50% green material.

After you’ve laid the first couple of layers for your compost pile, you can start adding other items like kitchen waste. It’s important to make sure you’re adding the right kinds of waste, however. Do not compost meat, fish, eggs, dairy, oils, or pet waste. These items can spread disease that will corrupt your compost pile and attract wild animals. It’s also a good idea to avoid composting heavily diseased or bug-eaten plants.

You can add vegetable clippings and other organic waste from your kitchen like vegetable and fruit remains. If you chose to do this, chop all the materials into small pieces, making them easier to break down and speeding your compost’s overall “cook time.”  Make sure to cover each layer with a bit of dirt or stir the pile.

Caring for your compost pile is easy. Every time you add new material, give it a good stir. This is where purchasing a freestanding compost bin can make life easier, since most of them can simply be spun to stir. An active compost pile should be at a temperature of between 130° and 160°. Turning the compost pile regularly will keep composted material on the edges and new material in the active core. Make sure to keep the pile moist.

Most compost piles “cook” over a period of 6 to 12 months, yielding nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used over your entire yard. Composting is a great way to help you save money, reduce your environmental footprint, and improve your garden.