How to Begin

How to Compost: Everyday Environment

Composting does not have to be rocket science, but following some basic rules will help make your compost the best it can be. Join Duane Friend for a discussion of the composting process, what works in compost and what should be left out, and basic management of air, moisture, and temperature....


Layering is the recommended method for starting a compost pile.

Layering is similar to making lasagna, as you add thin, uniform layers of materials in a repeated pattern. Once the compost pile is active, you can incorporate new material into the center of the pile or you can mix it in when turning the pile.

Start your compost pile on bare ground, removing the sod or existing vegetation. Contact with the soil will provide bacteria needed for composting. Do not place the pile on concrete or asphalt. You may also place a pallet underneath the pile if poor drainage beneath the pile is a concern.

Compost Layer 1

Add a 6- to 8-inch layer of organic matter, both brown and green. Do not pack the materials in, as this limits air flow and oxygen needed by bacteria.

Compost Layer 2

Add a starter material, such as animal manures (see the list of acceptable types), fertilizers, or commercial starters. These materials help to heat up the pile by providing nitrogen for the bacteria and other microorganisms.

Select one of the following:

  • 1- to 2-inch layer of fresh manure from a grain eating animal, or
  • 1 cup of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer per 25 square feet, or
  • a commercial starter, following all label directions

Compost Layer 3

Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of top soil or finished garden compost. This is done to introduce the microorganisms to the pile. Avoid using soil recently treated with insecticides and also avoid using sterile potting soil.

Composting Materials

Add these things to your compost pile

  • Leaves
  • Some manures (cow, horse, sheep, poultry, rabbit, llama)
  • Lawn clippings
  • Vegetable or fruit wastes, coffee grounds
  • Shredded newspaper or white, unglazed office paper
  • Trimmed plant materials
  • Shredded stems and twigs

Don't use these things in your compost pile

  • Meat or dairy scraps
  • Some manures (cat, dog, swine, and carnivore manures)
  • Glazed, color printed magazine paper
  • Diseased plants or plants with herbicides applied
Getting Started with Composting

Composting food scraps and yard waste is a positive alternative to sending the waste to the landfill or down your garbage disposal, and the results of composting provides a nutrient rich material that can be added to our gardens. Learn more about how to get started with composting by joining...

Basics of Home Composting: Four Seasons Webinar Series

Home composting is a great way to support our environment by introducing a sustainable, gardening component that builds healthy soils while reducing the volume of waste going to landfills. Discover the fascinating ins and outs of the decomposition process and learn how to turn waste into...