Composting Information

Home Composting: A Guide for Composting Yard & Food Waste (Department of Environmental Protection)

What is Composting?

Composting is controlled process of decomposition of organic material. Naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the material into humus.

Benefits of Composting

Composting is a convenient, beneficial and inexpensive way to handle your organic waste and help the environment. Composting:

  • Reduces the volume of garbage requiring disposal;
  • Saves money for you and your community in reduced soil purchases and reduces local disposal costs; and
  • Enriches the soil. Using compost adds essential nutrients, improves soil structure, which allows better root growth, and increases moisture and nutrient retention in the soil. Plants love compost!

Composting Bins

There are various types of composting bins available to residents, some manufactured and some which you can construct yourself:

Turning Bins

A series of three or more bins allow you to make compost in a short time by turning the materials on a regular schedule.

Barrel Bin
These bins can easily be made from plastic garbage cans or barrels. Click HERE for DIY Instructions.

Wire Bin
Wire bins can also be made for composting. Click HERE for DIY Instructions.

How To Make a Compost Pile:

There are many different ways to make compost as there are people who do it. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

  1. Build or purchase a compost bin. Check to see if your community has a composting bin distribution program, or order from a garden catalogue, nursery or hardware store. Enclosed compost piles keep out pests, hold heat and moisture in, and have a neat appearance. Or, bins can be simple made of wire, wood, pallets, concrete blocks, even garbage cans with drainage holes drilled in them. In urban areas, rodent-resistant compost bins- having a secure cover and floor and openings no wider than one-half inch- must be used.
  2. Set up the bin in a convenient, shady area with good drainage. A pile that is about three feet square and three feet high will help maintain the heat generated by the composting organisms throughout the winter. Although a smaller pile may not retain heat, it will compost.
  3. Start the pile with a layer of coarse material such as corn stalks to build in air passages. Add alternating layers of brown & green materials and mix them together. Sprinkle with soil every 12 inches. Be sure to bury food scraps in the center of the pile. If you don't have brown & green materials on hand at the same time, build your pile with browns and mix in greens as they become available. Shred leaves or run over them with a lawn mower to shorten the composting time. Save several bags of leaves to add in the spring and summer when brown are scarce.
  4. Add water as you build the pile if the materials are dry. Keep the composting materials damp or it will not decompose.
  5. As time goes on, keep oxygen available to the compost critters by fluffing the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile- so the top becomes the bottom- in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.

Materials You Should Compost

High Carbon Materials (browns), such as:
  • Fall leaves
  • Straw, Cornstalks
  • Salt marsh hay
  • Shredded paper
  • Cardboard (newspaper, paper towels, paper plates, paper bags)
  • Chipped brush
  • Sawdust
  • Pine needles (pine needles should not make up more than 10% of total material in pile).
High Nitrogen Materials (greens), such as:
  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds (not laden with seeds)
  • Vegetable & fruit wastes
  • Seaweed
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Tea bags
  • Manure (horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, goat, gerbil, etc.)
  • Blood meal
  • Alfalfa hay/ meal

Just follow these simple steps to make compost:

  1. Add Materials (listed above)
  2. Mix or Layer Materials (After every 12 or so, add a few shovels of rich soil or compost.)