Gardeners have used compost for centuries to increase soil organic matter, improve soil physical properties, and supply some of the essential nutrients for plant growth.  Composting is a method of speeding natural decomposition under controlled conditions. Many types of organic materials can be used for compost. This is an easy way to transform your landscape trimmings, fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps into a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil amendment. There are many factors to take into consideration to make sure your compost pile is successful – location, how you’re going to contain the pile, ratio of materials, and layering.

When choosing a location for a compost pile, it is important to look at where it will be used and where it will not interfere with activities in the yard or offend neighbors. The pile will do best where it is protected from drying winds and where partial sunlight will help heat the pile.

Heaps, hoops, bins, and buckets can help contain your composting operation. Choose a structure that is the right size, style, cost, and effort level for you. Try to use recycled materials or containers when constructing your compost bin. Heaps are the least organized way to compost, but also require the least effort. Simply pile your yard waste and let it sit. If you choose to turn it once in a while it will decompose faster. Otherwise just leave it and in one to two years it will turn to compost.

Hoops (usually made from chicken or hog wire) are easy, fairly inexpensive to build, and help keep your compost pile tidy. Secure the hoop with hooks or twists of wire. To speed composting, undo the hoop, set it up next to the pile, and turn the pile back into the cage in its new location.

Bins neatly contain yard trimmings, and when made rodent-proof, work well for composting food wastes. Build with recycled wood, wire, or other materials for an inexpensive and attractive structure. Many styles are also commercially available.

Buckets are the small-space dweller’s answer to composting food wastes indoors or out. Used 5-gallon buckets with sealable lids can be obtained free from many grocery stores and restaurants. Stir the compost-soil mixture to aerate it once or twice a week. Be sure to fill your buckets only half-full for easy stirring.

The bugs, fungi, bacteria, and worms in your yard or worm box do most of the composting for you. The basic recipe for composting is to: 1. Chop compost additions. The more you chop, the faster the decomposition process will take place. 2. Mix two-thirds dry brown material (leaves, straw, shredded wood) with one-third moist, green materials for a balance of nutrients, air and water. Microbial activity is greatest when the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is 30:1. 3. Add water as you build your pile and maintain its moisture level so your pile is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Proper moisture is essential for organisms to break down organic materials into compost.

There are materials that are not good for the compost pile.  Pet waste, glossy or colored paper, diseased plants, and diary or animal products should be avoided as they can attract animals and insects and leave pathogens in the final product.

Gardeners refer to composting as “turning your garbage into gold” because it saves landfill space, conserves natural resources, and improves soil quality.  If done properly, it can be an added benefit to your landscape.  For more information on composting, contact the Madison County Extension Office at 706-795-2281 or