This fall, trade in your piles of yard bags for a process that pays you back in great soil for your yard and garden – composting.

Fall is a great time to start composting,” said Richard Hentschel, Horticulture Educator for the University of Illinois Extension. “There will be plenty of those ‘greens and browns’ available to get the composting process off to a good start.”

Fallen leaves provide an excellent source of the “brown” materials required, as does the spent dried foliage from annual and perennial flowers. Some of the ‘greens’ will be those same annuals and perennials if they are cut down or cut back before they naturally brown. Another easy “green” is grass clippings, which also add moisture to the compositing process. Don’t forget that you can always add a little something extra to your recipe, namely fresh food scraps.

Composting is a recipe, with the proper ratio of two parts brown for one part green. However, there is another key ingredient, said Hentschel.

“Soil should be mixed in as the pile is built, and soil contains the microbial life that starts to break down the plant parts into compost for us. No fancy compost starters are needed.”

There’s one more component critical to success. “Like any easy recipe, just add water. The compost process continually needs moisture to break down the plant parts, and water is critical to sustain the microbial life that does that for us.”

How much water? Hentschel said enough to moisten the entire pile or bin the first time, and then for maintenance to keep the pile or bin moist. You may need to add more water during decomposition, and later, less is needed, as the bin or pile is ready for yard use.

“Once you have the right ingredients, let it ‘cook,’” said Hentschel. “You will be surprised at the rich soil you will create.”

Before you get started, you will need to decide between two main options: compost pile or compost bin.

“Compost piles work great if you have the room, and you do not mind that it will look like a pile of organic debris while the composting occurs deep inside the pile,” Hentschel said. “Compost bins also are good if space is limited and they also appear a bit neater if routinely seen by others.”

Compost bins are offered locally through the Kane County Recycling Program and be purchased for $70 at the University of Illinois Extension office, 535 Randall Road, St. Charles. The Conservation Foundation also offers compost bin options on their website at http://www.theconservationfoundation.org/.