Everything You Have Always
Wanted to Know About
Home Composting
(But Were Afraid to Ask!)

What is Compost?
     Compost is a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling mixture that consists mostly of decayed organic matter.  Composting is a simple, natural process, nature's way of recycling nutrients and returning them to the soil to be used again.  By taking advantage of this natural recycling process, you can help lighten the load of waste that would otherwise go to a landfill.  Compost is used for fertilizing and conditioning the soil.  It can be made from materials that most households throw out.
What Can I Compost?

Yard wastes, such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds and the remains of garden plants.
Kitchen scraps except for meat, fish, bones and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressing and leftover cooking oil).
Woody yard wastes, chipped or shredded, can be used as a mulch or for paths, where they will eventually decompose and become compost.

How Do I Build a Compost Pile?
     It's easy!  Follow these simple steps, and in just a few hours you'll be in business.
COMPOST MOUND - This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to compost.  Yard wastes can be composted without a bin if you do not mind the appearance of an uncontrolled compost mound in your yard.  
What to Do:  Find a good location for your pile and loosen the soil.  Pile your yard wastes in a mound about three feet by three feet by three feet.  Alternate wet and dry materials.  Add wastes as they become available.  If you turn your compost pile, it speeds up the process.
What You Need:  All you need is a pitchfork or shovel and work gloves.
COMPOST CAN - Another cheap and easy way to compost small amounts of yard and food wastes.
What to Do:  Drill holes four to six inches apart all around your garbage can.  You also need to drill holes into the bottom.  This allows for air movement and for excess water to drain off.  It is best to put two to three inches of straw or wood chips in the bottom to help it drain.
     Turn the compost with a shovel or pitchfork.  Keep the garbage cover on; it helps keep out the critters.  You may need to add water since it is covered.
What You Need:  A garbage can with cover, straw or wood chips, shovel, work gloves and a drill for making the holes, food waste collected in a bucket or other containers.

COMPOST BINS - Can be made out of many types of materials; blocks or bricks, used snowfence, used pallets, wire mesh, etc.
Blocks or Bricks:  Just lay out the blocks or bricks without mortar.  Leave spaces between the blocks or bricks to permit air to circulate.  The best size is approximately five to eight feet square and three to four feet high.
Snowfence:  Used snowfence is a simple way to build a bin.  Just drive four corner posts into the ground and attach the snowfence.
Used Pallets:  Find four clean used pallets, fasten the corners together and start filling.  You may want to keep one corner loose, so the bin can be opened for turning and removing.
Small-Mesh Wire Fencing:  Buy or find wire mesh, form into a circle or square and add your compost material.
     Bins do not have to be square, they can be rectangular or a circular structure - it's your choice.  Remember, for a typical home garden, a bin three to four feet in height and five to eight feet square will do.  Locate it away from buildings and combustible material.
Store Bought Bins:  There are a variety of commercial bins that can be bought at your local hardware or garden store.

How Do I Start My Compost Pile?
     Begin by collecting your yard wastes and throwing them in your pile or bin.  You can then add yard and food waste anytime but it is best to bury the food waste in your pile (it helps keep out the critters).  Chopping or mowing your wastes makes the process go faster.  Just remember, if you want a finished compost, you will need to start a new pile and let the first pile completely compost.
That's All There Is to It
     Kitchen scraps (minus meat, fish, bones and fatty foods) should be added to the center of the waste layers where heat will be the greatest.  This also keeps unwanted critters from coming to your compost pile.
     Pile waste loosely in the bin.  Too much compaction inhibits the flow of air through the pile.
     It helps to make the top layer slant toward the center where it will catch rainfall.  Water is the key to successful composting.  A compost pile should be kept damp - but not soggy - especially during dry spells.
     Be patient!  It will take six months to a year before the compost is ready for use.
How Does Composting Work?
     Many organisms are involved in the composting process.  They include bacteria, fungi, protozoans, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, ants and the most famous - earthworms!
     Compostable materials contain carbon and nitrogen.  We refer to them as greens and browns.  Greens are fruit and vegetable wastes, coffee grounds, grass clippings, manure.  Browns are leaves, straw, wood chips, sawdust.
     The Microorganisms use the carbon in leaves as an energy source.  The nitrogen supplies the microbes with proteins to grow and multiply.  The decomposing organisms need both carbon and nitrogen to work.  This is called the carbon-nitrogen ratio (C:N Ratio).  The following is the C:N Ratio for various materials.

Kitchen Wastes

15:1

Grass Clippings

19:1

Leaves

40-50:1

Paper

170:1

Sawdust

500:1
     A mix of materials composed of 30-50:1 works the best.
     Composting is an aerobic process.  This means it needs oxygen to work.  Also, if you chop or mow your compost materials, the composting process works faster.  The more surface area the better.
     For optimum composting, the compost temperature should be around 90  to 140.  The pile will be hot initially after adding materials and will then cool down.  Here in New York State, unless you have a big pile, composting will shut down for the winter.  This is not a problem, because the composting process will start up again when the weather gets warmer.
     So, you mix your greens and browns, keep moist and aerated and, low and behold, in 6 to 12 months you have Black Gold.
Why Should I Make Compost?
Composting is an easy, practical way to recycle your organic yard and kitchen waste.
Compost is an excellent soil conditioner for even the smallest yard and garden -  it's safe to use and it costs practically nothing to make.
Compost grows healthy plants and healthy plants improve the air by removing carbon dioxide and making fresh oxygen.
For serious gardeners, compost is an inexpensive alternative to peat and other soil enhancements.
Uses for Compost
Gardens:  Improves moisture retention and soil texture.  Use it around garden beds, trees and shrubs.
Lawns:  It can also be sprinkled on your lawn.  You will need to finely screen the compost first.
House Plants:  Use 1/2 to 1/3 of your container volume instead of soil.
Composting Dos and Don'ts
DO add lime, small amounts of wood ash or crushed eggshells to the compost pile to neutralize acids which may form and cause an odor problem.
DO mix grass clippings and other wastes to loosen them up.  They have a tendency to compact.
DO keep the compost pile damp, especially during dry spells.
DON'T use unfinished compost.  It will rob your plants of nitrogen instead of acting as a fertilizer.
DON'T compost weeds that are heavily laden with seeds.  Some seeds will not be killed during the heating process.
DON'T add meat, fish, bones or fatty food scraps to the compost mixture.  They will attract animals (dogs, cats, rats, etc.) and they do not decompose readily.
DON'T add diseased vegetable plants to compost pile that will be used on a vegetable garden.  The disease organisms may reappear the following year.
Composting Summary
     Composting is simple and easy!  Just remember, your compost pile needs:
Microorganisms, beetles, earthworms.
A good C:N Ratio (greens and browns).
A large enough pile to keep itself warm if you want compost in six months.
Enough moisture (but not too wet).
Air and time.
Yard Waste Management Besides Composting
Mulching:  Yard waste can be used for weed control and water retention.  Use woody yard wastes, leaves and grass.  Just spread the materials around your plants.  Woody wastes may need to be chipped first.
Leave It on the Lawn:  If you don't want to compost your grass clippings, just leave them on your lawn.

Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile

SYMPTOM

PROBLEM

SOLUTION

 
Rotten odor Not enough air Turn the mixture
  Too much water Add dry materials
 
Low pile temperature Pile too dry Moisten materials while turning pile
  Pile too small Make pile larger
  Lack of air Turn the pile
 
Compost too hot Pile too big Make pile smaller - start another pile
 
The compost is damp and warm in the middle, but nowhere else Too small Add more materials and turn
 
The compost is damp and sweet smelling but will not heat up Lack of nitrogen Add grass clippings, manure or aluminum sulfate
For More Information:
     If you want to know more about composting and ways to make good compost, consult books or gardening magazines at your local library - or call your County Cooperative Extension Office, listed in the telephone directory, or write to:
     Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency (DCRRA)
     96 Sand Dock Road
     Poughkeepsie, NY  12603


For more information about composting, call us at (845) 463-6020.