The Do's and Don'ts of Backyard Composting

close up shot of white hands holding compost dirt with worms

Treehugger / Kate Medley 

It’s International Compost Awareness Week and a perfect opportunity to “Give Back to the Earth” in the form of rich compost that will nourish it and your garden. Here are some do's and don'ts to consider for backyard composting success.

Why Compost?

Finished compost is a free soil amendment and fertilizer for the garden. It is mild and won't burn plants like chemical fertilizers. By adding compost you'll improve the overall texture of your soil enabling it to retain and drain water better.

Choose a Compost Bin

brown double barrel compost bin outside in greenery
Treehugger / Kate Medley

If you're looking for DIY compost bins you can make yourself, I collected some nice examples of homemade compost bins on the Internet. There are also plenty of compost bins for small spaces, including three commercially available compost bins for those who weren't born with the DIY gene and don't mind spending money.

Compost Bins as Pets

two black compost bins sit outside on green vines
Treehugger / Kate Medley

Think of your compost bin as a pet. This will do two things: it will help you see it as a living thing that shouldn’t be neglected, and teach you to ‘feed’ it a balanced diet.

There are two main types of organic materials you can feed your compost bin: greens and browns. Greens are high in nitrogen and described as 'wet.' Browns are described as 'dry' materials and are high in carbon.

When feeding your compost bin try to maintain a balance of 50% greens and 50% browns by weight. Since greens are typically heavier, you should add 2 to 3 buckets of browns for every bucket of greens you add.

Green Materials to Compost

various old veggies rot in compost bin
Treehugger / Kate Medley

Vegetable and fruit scraps. Coffee grounds and filters. Teabags and leaves. Fresh grass clippings. Plant trimmings from your garden. Houseplants.

Brown Materials to Compost

side side shot of compost bin with dirt and hay
Treehugger / Kate Medley

Dry leaves. Straw and dry hay. Wood chips and sawdust from untreated wood. Dried grass clippings, shredded paper. Egg and nutshells. Hair and animal fur. Paper, shredded newspaper (printed with soy ink to be safe) paper towels, and paper tubes.

Do Not Compost!

Meat. Fish. Eggs. Dairy products. Oily foods or grease. Bones. Cat and dog waste. Diseased plants and seeds of weedy plants. Anything treated with pesticides.

Composting Tips

man in jeans holds rake over compost bin
Treehugger / Kate Medley

Chop your materials into small pieces, which will break down faster. Always cover your layer of green material with a layer of brown material to cut down on flies and mask any odors. If you want fine compost, like in the picture above, run over it with a mulching lawnmower. When composting whole plants remove seed heads and seed pods. If possible avoid adding roots of plants to your compost pile that could generate a whole new plant.