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10 Tips for Backyard Composting

2011 June 1

As a RecipeRelay reader we already know you love good food that is good for you and good for the Earth. We are also sure that there are quite a few of you who have your own gardens or are plotting for your front yard conversion. So for this week’s Top 10 installment we are bringing you some compost tips for enriching your environment and taking the food scraps from your kitchen full circle. Instead of throwing organic material from your home into our rapidly filling landfills, you can transform the material into black gold for your yard and garden. Composting returns valuable natural fertilizers to the earth, superior to petroleum based fertilizers for all your gardening needs. Homemade organic compost made from yard waste and kitchen scraps is much more diverse in its nutrient load, giving plants every little micro-nutrient they need. It is also free!

For those of you who don’t have a yard, we know you have organic waste too, don’t fret. Try locating urban composting drop-off points or an organization that will collect your compost for community gardens and local agriculture, keeping soils rich and food growing in your neighborhood. If you can’t find one, consider creating your own urban composting initiative!

by Dave Morrill


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10 Tips for Backyard Composting

  1. Set up an outdoor bin. There are countless styles of backyard bins. You can buy manufactured bins online or from any garden store. You can also find directions online to make a bin out of reused pallets. They all work you just need to decide which best suits your needs.
  2. Be aware of what is and what isn’t compostable. Only compostable materials will breakdown in your compost bin. Anything that was once alive or came from something alive is compostable. However in your backyard bin you’ll want to stay away from meat and dairy if you don’t want a stinky pile that attracts uninvited pests. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to download a handy guide for what is and isn’t compostable.
  3. Know your green & brown mix. A healthy compost pile will need the right balance of “browns” (materials high in carbon) and “greens” (materials high in nitrogen). Food waste is usually considered “green” while dried leaves, wood shavings, cardboard and paper are “brown”. One or two handfuls of brown for every one handful of green is a good rule of thumb.
  4. Collect kitchen scraps. You’ll want to keep a small container in your kitchen in which to collect food scraps. You can use something as simple as a 32 oz yogurt container or something as fancy as a stainless steal bin (see pic 2) made specifically for this use, which can be found at many department or garden stores. When this container is full just empty it into your outdoor bin.
  5. Collect leaves. Dried leaves are a great source of browns. In the fall fill a medium garbage can with leaves, cover it and place it next to your compost bin (see pic 1). When you add food waste to your pile add the appropriate amount of leaves.
  6. Turn your pile. If you want a final product quicker and you want less of a chance of a smelly bin you will want to turn your pile on a regular basis. This handy tool (see pic 3) does a great job. You can find tools such as these at any garden store.
  7. Keep an eye on the moisture level. If your pile is too dry it won’t break down. If it’s too wet it will get stinky. Proper moisture level is like a wrung out sponge. If your pile is in a sunny spot you may need to add water once in a while. If your pile gets too wet add some dry browns.
  8. Avoid pests. To prevent pests like squirrels, rats, raccoons and others from visiting your pile for an easy lunch you can pest-proof your bin by lining the inside with chicken wire. Your pile will also be less likely to attract pests if you cover any exposed food waste with dried leaves. A small layer is enough to hide the odor from pests.
  9. Use the final product. The final product will be ready between 3 and 12 months depending on how often you turn it. You can use it in your garden, flower boxes or spread it on your lawn or anywhere you want to help plants grow. It sure beats artificial fertilizers.
  10. Brag to your friends. By composting food and yard waste you’re reducing the amount of waste going into landfills, keeping precious resources and nutrients in the soil and reducing your carbon footprint by capturing carbon in the soil, while eliminating your need for artificial fertilizers. Don’t be modest. This is a big deal. Tell your friends and neighbors they’ll want to compost too, and you can help them.


Click the thumbnail for a large version of the guide for what is and isn’t compostable. Print it out, laminate it and hang it over your bin for friends and family to learn their way to great compost!

Dave Morrill holds a Green MBA from Antioch University, he is a graduate of the Maine Composting School and is a LEED Green Associate. He consults residents, schools and businesses, and presents to all ages on composting.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Dave,
    Timely 10 tips for our family! We have just started composting, and even though it seems simple enough there is a part of me that wonders if we doing everything right. The wrung out sponge part seems the hardest to know if we are doing right. It smells like sweet, rotting orange peels too…is that an ok smell?

    btw…when I clicked on the list thumbnail above it said the link was not found.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Stephanie,
      Sorry about the broken link – it is fixed now although it isn’t a downloadable PDF – click the link and it will take you to a printable version. 

  • Anonymous

    The link to the tip sheet is working now – sorry about the inconvenience!!

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