Including A Simple How-To Compost Guide Plus Compost Benefits

First, a few practical reasons why you’d want to compost.

Compost Builds Healthy Soil 

  • In spring, add a layer of compost to your vegetable garden when planting the new crop for nutrient dense, delicious vegetables.
  • Compost pampers perennials by adding a layer around the base of each plant, keeping the compost a few inches from the stems to prevent rot.
  • Compost feeds lawns too; just a little half inch of it loosely spread around will keep your yard green.
  • In fall, when you’re done harvesting from your gardens, loosen soil and mix in a three inch layer of compost. Cover the soil with shredded leaves or straw and you’ll have nutrient ready ground for spring planting.

How Compost Happens

The Gardener’s supply resource explains the composting process: “Organic matter is transformed into compost through the work of microorganisms, soil fauna, enzymes and fungi.” Your part is to help the process along by providing a good environment for these organisms to do their work. To make compost in a short time is to balance the following four things:

  1. Carbon– materials rich in carbon are the food for microorganisms. You can identify high-carbon plant materials by the dry, tough, fibrous, and  brown color of them, such as dry leaves, straw, rotted hay, sawdust, shredded paper, and cornstalks.
  2. Nitrogen– provides protein-rich components that microorganisms require to grow and multiply. There are many sources of nitrogen materials:
  • Freshly pulled weeds
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Over-ripe fruits and vegetables
  • Kitchen scraps 

Other high-protein organic matter includes kelp meal, seaweed, and manure.

  1. Water– moisture is a big part of the composting process. You need a good balance to keep the microorganisms alive. Goal: to keep the material in your compost pile as moist as a damp sponge. Using an enclosed container or covering your pile with a tarp will make it easier to maintain the right moisture level.
  2. Oxygen– air! Your compost needs it to thrive as microorganisms consume oxygen. Thus you need to aerate (turn and rotate) the compost pile so it does not run out of oxygen and slow down the decomposition process.

​​How Composting Helps The Environment

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the benefits to the environment when it comes to composting are awesome!

Benefits of Composting

There are a number of benefits to compost that not everyone is aware of. Some examples are listed below:

  • Methane Emissions Reduced– organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting wasted food and other organics significantly reduces those emissions. 
  • No Chemical Fertilizers– compost reduces and in some cases eliminates the need for these toxic fertilizers.
  • Higher Yields– compost promotes agricultural crops that produce greater supply.
  • Improves Destroyed Soil– compost can help aid reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by improving contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  • Cost Effective Restoration–  compost can be used to remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste in a cost effective manner.
  • Improved Water Retention– compost enhances water retention in soils.
  • Removes Carbon– compost provides carbon sequestration.
  • RESOURCE: Innovative Uses of Compost fact sheet
  • RESOURCE: An Analysis of Composting as an Environmental Remediation Technology

Brown Compost Ingredients

High-carbon materials:

  • corn cobs
  • dry leaves
  • paper
  • pine needles
  • sawdust or wood shavings
  • straw
  • vegetable stalks

Green Compost Ingredients

High-nitrogen materials:

  • alfalfa meal
  • coffee grounds
  • eggshells
  • feathers or hair
  • fresh leaves
  • fresh weeds
  • fruit wastes
  • grass clippings
  • kitchen scraps
  • rotted manure
  • seaweed

Types of Compost Containers

Wire Bin– use an 11-foot length of 2-inch x 4-inch x 36-inch welded, medium-gauge fence wire (can be found at your local hardware or building supply store). Tie the ends together to form your hoop. A bin this size holds just over one cubic yard of material. Snow fencing can be used in a similar fashion. Another option is our 3-Bin Wire Composter, which holds 48 cubic feet.wire bin
Trash Can Bin– convert a plastic trash can into a compost bin by cutting off the bottom. Drill about 24 quarter-inch holes in the sides of the can for good aeration. Bury the bottom of the can from several inches to a foot or more below the soil surface and press the loosened soil around the sides to secure it. Partially burying the composter will make it easier for microorganisms to enter the pile.Trash can bin
Block, Brick or Stone Bin– Lay the blocks, with or without mortar, leaving spaces between each block to permit aeration. Form three sides of a 3-to 4-foot square, roughly 3 to 4 feet high.block, brick, or stone bin
Wood Pallet Bin– wooden pallets can be stood upright to form a bin. Attach the corners with rope, wire, or chain. A fourth pallet can be used as a floor to increase air flow. A used carpet or tarp can be placed over the top of the pile to reduce moisture loss or keep out rain or snow.wood pallet bin
Two or Three-Bay Wood Bin– having several bins allows you to use one section for storing materials, one for active composting, and one for curing or storing finished compost. Each bin should be approximately 3 x 3 x 3 feet. Be sure to allow air spaces between the sidewall slats, and make the front walls removable (lift out slats) for easy access. Lift-up lids are a convenient addition.Wood bin

Table chart from Gardener’s Supply Co.

How Composting Reduces Impact On The Planet

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), a global authority that sets the environmental agenda, promotes sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment, shares that the practice of composting is one of the best options for managing organic waste while also reducing environmental impacts.

Proper composting of the organic waste generated in daily living (inedible or unused food), can: 

  • Reduce the dependence on chemical fertilizers.
  • Help recover soil fertility.
  • Improve water retention and delivery of nutrients to plants.
  • Help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change (by reducing food waste through composting). 

Food loss and waste generate an estimated 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our relationship with nature is unbalanced,” explains Doreen Robinson, UNEP Wildlife Chief. “Humans are continuously taking and discarding, and nature is continuously giving.” Instead, she says, “We need to apply circular thinking in which life is sustained and things are continuously repurposed.”


Composting is easy, satisfying, and most importantly significantly helps the environment in a myriad of ways. You can’t make a mistake and there’s really no wrong way to compost. It is also an excellent hands-on way to teach kids about food, waste, and many other ways of learning about the environment. So start today! 

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