Backyard Composting: How and Why

Backyard composting is the process of turning your kitchen and yard waste into rich, healthy soil, called humus, ready to use in your garden. Basically, you are speeding up the natural process of decomposition and recycling organic matter. Composting is a fairly easy undertaking and can have many benefits. We will walk you through the how and why for backyard composting so you’re ready to get your hands dirty.

Why

Just like recycling your papers and plastics, backyard composting is an easy way to reduce the amount of garbage that goes to your curb each week and help keep waste out of our landfills that doesn’t need to be there. In turn, you create nutrient-rich soil that does wonders for your garden. Your humus can be planted within your veggie gardens and flower beds as well as used as mulch or top dressing around shrubs and trees. Humus can help your garden in many ways as it can protect plant roots from wind or sun damage, increase drainage in clay soils, improve water retention in sandy soils and help protect soils from disease.

How

Composting is a simple process but does require some long-term commitment to see results. To begin, you’ll need two composting containers: one to keep inside the house to collect your kitchen scraps and one (or more) large outdoor composting bins where your composting will happen. For your indoor bin you can use just about anything, like an old coffee can or large Tupperware container. However, some municipalities will have small indoor bins that you can pick up for free or cheap from wherever you get your replacement recycling bins. There is also a range of different countertop bins on the market with a multitude of designs and features to choose from.
For your outdoor bin you have just as many options. The simplest solution is likely to buy a composting bin or system readily available in many sizes to fit your backyard. You could also DIY the project by building your own. All you really need is a space where your waste can collect, get hot in the sun, water can drain from the bottom and air can be vented through when needed. In fact, if you wanted you could start your composting pile by digging a hole in a sunny corner of your yard and covering it with a tarp, though most opt for a more contained composting unit. Some avid composters will have two or more bins in their yard so that they always have soil readily available. Place your bins somewhere near water access, good drainage and moderate sunlight.
Now that your bins are in place you can begin to fill them up. You will place nitrogen-based and carbon-based items in your bin, or “green” and “brown” items. Not sure what the chemical make-up of your garbage is and wondering what qualifies as nitrogen or carbon based? Not to worry, follow these lists when adding to your composter:

Green items:

  • Fruit and veggie leftovers
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Coffee grinds and tea bags
  • Nut shells and eggshells
  • Breads

Brown items:

  • Sawdust or small untreated woodscraps
  • Cardboard pieces and shredded paper egg cartons
  • Fallen leaves, branches and dried yard waste like pinecones and needles (thin layers)
  • Newspaper and tissue
  • Wine corks
  • It’s also important to know what NOT to add to your composting bin. This includes:
  • Meat or Bones
  • Cooking oils or other fats
  • Dairy products
  • Dog or cat waste
  • Treated wood
  • Diseased plants or weed

Backyard Composting: How and Why

Keeping these items out of your bin will also help to keep rodents and animals away. Additionally, be mindful not to add any synthetic materials as this will affect the microorganisms present in your pile working hard to turn your scraps into soil. While your compost pile will get warm sitting in the sun, it will not get hot enough to kill the bacteria in any of the items listed above.

Fill your bin with layers of green and brown items plus soil. As you add to your bin, use a pitchfork to mix the materials together. Add water when the materials start to dry out, not so much as to soak them but to give it the consistency of a damp sponge. Repeat this process until your bin is full of lovely soil.

Sometimes the process will take less time but it is also not unusual to have to wait up to a year to see the results of your work. It’s likely that the material at the bottom of your bin will be ready first and many store-bought bins come with access to the bottom so you can remove the ready soil while the remaining material continues to cure. Your compost will freeze in the winter, but you can continue to add your layers and it will continue its process when it thaws in the spring.

A few common issues new composters come across are easily solved. If your compost is too smelly or appears slimy, it’s likely there is not enough air circulation or the compost is too wet. Add dry brown materials and mix it in. If your compost doesn’t seem to be breaking down, it might be too dry. Increase the amount of greens you’re adding and keep an eye on how much water your bin needs. You can help speed up your composting process by breaking up scraps into smaller pieces and adding a bit of soil to your mix to help get things started or purchase a compost activator.

Backyard Composting: How and Why


Your soil is ready when it is dark, crumbly and smells of earth. You should no longer see much of the original material in the dirt.