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How To Make Backyard Compost

Minimize the trash you send to a landfill and make rich, natural fertilizer by starting a backyard compost pile. It's the best use of kitchen scraps and yard waste there is!


  • Step 1: Spread your finished compost on flower or vegetable beds and watch your plants flourish.
  • TIP: Many towns give out composters or sell them at a discount as a way to reduce waste in local landfills.
  • TIP: Stick your hand into your compost pile and check its temperature. A warm pile is decomposing well. A cool pile needs more green material.
  • Step 2: As you add new material, maintain an even ratio of brown to green materials. Too many brown materials will slow the composting process down, and too many green materials will end up producing a nasty stench.
  • Step 3: Start your compost by alternating layers of brown and green waste. Carbon-rich brown materials include dead leaves, straw, sawdust, and chipped wood or branches. Nitrogen-rich green wastes include lawn clippings, vegetable peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds.
  • Step 4: Mix up your compost pile about every week to keep it well aerated. You can use a shovel for this, or your commercial composter may be designed to flip over.
  • TIP: Look for signs of healthy decomposition, including worms and tiny white shreds of fungus.
  • Step 5: Keep the pile moist. Decomposition will slow if the materials are too dry. Sprinkle the pile lightly with water during times of little rain.
  • Step 6: You can just pile the compost material in a heap, but having a container will be tidier. Buy a commercial one, or build one that will be well ventilated, like a cylinder of chicken wire or a crib made of wooden slats.
  • Step 7: Shred or chop large pieces of compost material to help them decompose faster.
  • : Never put animal-related items in your compost, like meat, bones, dairy products, or animal waste. If it's something whose smell could attract a scavenger, like a rat or raccoon, it will.
  • FACT: In San Francisco, citywide composting operations pick up scraps from residents, businesses, and restaurants and turn them into mountains of compost for landscaping, farms, and vineyards.
  • Step 8: Check to see if the material has been sufficiently broken down after around three to six months. A happy compost pile will produce black, crumbly, earthy-smelling material.
  • Step 9: Select a location for your compost. It should be outside in the fresh air, in the shade, and easily accessible to add and remove material from it.

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