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CompostingBackyard Composting

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter by micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) into a humus-like product. Many home gardeners have created compost piles in their backyards. Towns and cities have set up community-wide composting facilities that furnish finished compost to a variety of users.

Yard wastes such as leaves, grass, prunings, weeds, and remains of garden plants all make excellent compost. To speed the composting process, woody yard waste should be clipped and sawed down, or run through a shredder. Vacuum cleaner lint, wool and cotton rags, sawdust, shredded newspaper, and fireplace ashes also can be composted. Although many foods can be composted, you should check with your local Board of Health to see if any sanitary code restrictions apply to food composting in your area. Do not compost meats dairy foods, fats, oil, or grease.


Composting is easy. You can set up a compost pile in a corner of your yard with few supplies. Choose a level spot about three-feet square. Clear the area of sod and grass. If you build a composting bin, be sure to leave enough space for air to reach the pile. One removable side makes it easier to tend to the pile but is not required.


Place coarse brush at the bottom of the pile to allow air to circulate. Then add leaves, grass, weeds, etc. You may layer the yard wastes with soil, if you want. Keeping the pile moist and turning it every few weeks will help speed up the natural decomposition process. In dry weather, sprinkle water on the pile, but don’t let it get too soggy. Don't be surprised by the heat of the pile or if you see worms, both of which are just part of the process. In most climates, the compost is done in three to six months, or when it becomes a dark crumbly material that is uniform in texture.


• Compost improves the structure of soil. With the addition of compost, sandy soils hold water better and clay soils drain faster.

• Compost reduces soil erosion and water runoff. Plant roots penetrate compost-rich soil easier and hold the soil in place. Water can run down into lower soil layers rather than running off.

• Compost  provides  food  for  earthworms, soil  insects, and beneficial microorganisms.

• Compost assists the soil in holding nutrients, lessening the need for chemical fertilizers and preventing the leaching of nitrogen into water.

• Compost promotes healthy plants that are less susceptible to diseases and insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides.

• Composting in your backyard recycles wastes that might otherwise go to landfills. Leaves, grass, and debris — often raked into the street for collection — tend to clog storm drains and street gutters and are costly to collect, but they make excellent compost materials.

Links and Resources

US EPA - Composting at Home

US EPA (Flyer) - Backyard Composting, It's Only Natural

Composting Dog Waste


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