How to get started
Home composting isn’t an exact science, but it is
important to aim for the correct balance of carbon-based
“brown” materials and nitrogen-based “green” materials.
Brown materials include dead leaves, wood chips,
paper, and cardboard. Generally, browns are dry and have
been dead for a while. Green materials include fruit and
vegetable kitchen scraps, eggshells, fresh grass and plant
clippings, and coffee grounds.
Alber recommends 2-3 buckets of brown material for
every bucket of green material. The green and brown
ingredients should be layered, and the compost pile
should be turned with a pitchfork every few weeks. The
microorganisms responsible for healthy decomposition
need oxygen, and layering and turning keeps the pile
from becoming compacted.
Cutting materials into smaller pieces will speed up the
composting process by providing more surface area for
microorganisms to break down the ingredients. Shred or
tear paper and chop up dense veggies. Run yard debris
through a mulcher or chipper if one is available.
To make your compost even healthier, Alber suggests
introducing native microbes by incorporating soil from
a local forest. Red wiggler worms will speed the decom-position
process, and their castings enrich the mixture
Alber cautions against including meat or dairy. Unlike
at industrial facilities, home compost piles don’t usually
reach high enough temperatures to kill any potentially
dangerous pathogens in those items, and they can attract
unwanted animals. It is possible to compost pet waste, but
it should be done in a separate compost pile and used
only in ornamental beds rather than for food production.
Compost is finished, or “mature,” when it is dark in color
with a crumbly, soil-like texture and an earthy (rather than
rotting) smell. You shouldn’t be able to see the individual
ingredients, like eggshells or vegetable peels. To allow
your compost to mature, start a second pile instead of
constantly adding new materials to the first one.
Whatever means you choose,
composting is a simple way to
reduce waste, improve soil quality,
and get more from your garden.