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Imagine reducing your household waste and nurturing your garden simultaneously—welcome to the world of backyard composting.

Backyard composting is a game-changer for anyone looking to reduce waste, nurture their garden, and take a step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. It's a straightforward process that transforms kitchen leftovers and yard debris into a rich, organic supplement for your soil.

This guide aims to be your go-to resource, guiding you through the ins and outs of composting. Whether you're new to the concept or looking to refine your techniques, we'll cover everything from the basics to solving common issues.

Embark on this rewarding journey with us, and let's turn your everyday waste into garden treasure.

Why Compost In Your Backyard?

Why Compost In Your Backyard

Environmental Benefits

Composting goes beyond just being a beneficial practice for your garden; it plays a crucial role in mitigating some of the most pressing environmental issues we face today. By integrating composting into our daily routines, we contribute to reducing landfill waste significantly. Organic matter in landfills decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen), releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting, however, is an aerobic process (requiring oxygen) that transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich soil without producing harmful methane emissions.

Moreover, composting directly contributes to greenhouse gas reduction. The process of turning organic waste into compost captures carbon, which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. This carbon sequestration is a vital step in combating climate change, making composting an action everyone can take to cut down their carbon footprint.

Another often overlooked benefit of composting is its ability to conserve water. Compost improves soil structure, increasing its water retention capabilities. This means gardens require less watering, which not only conserves water but also saves energy and reduces your water bill. In areas prone to drought, this benefit is particularly crucial, making composting a wise choice for environmentally conscious gardeners.

By composting, we're not just recycling waste; we're participating in a cycle that enhances soil health, supports biodiversity, and fosters a more sustainable environment. It's a simple step with profound implications for our planet's health and our own.

Benefits for Your Garden

Composting is not just an environmental act; it's a gift to your garden. The transformation of kitchen scraps and yard debris into compost does wonders for soil health, acting as a natural fertilizer that enriches the soil with essential nutrients. This nutrient-rich addition improves soil structure, which in turn, supports stronger plant growth. Plants in compost-amended soil exhibit enhanced resilience against diseases and pests, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The magic of compost lies in its ability to slowly release nutrients into the soil, providing a steady source of food for your plants over time. This contrasts sharply with chemical fertilizers, which can sometimes deliver nutrients too quickly, potentially harming plants and the environment. By using compost, you're ensuring that your garden receives a balanced diet, tailored to the natural needs of your plants.

Moreover, composting promotes soil biodiversity by introducing beneficial microorganisms. These microorganisms break down organic matter, making nutrients more accessible to plants. They also help create a more aerated soil structure, which allows roots to grow more freely and absorb water and nutrients more efficiently.

In essence, composting reduces your garden's dependency on chemical inputs, leading to a more natural, sustainable, and thriving garden ecosystem. It's a simple practice with the power to transform your garden into a lush, productive, and environmentally friendly space.

What You Can and Can't Compost In Your Backyard

Embarking on your composting journey begins with understanding what materials can transform your pile into nutrient-rich soil and what items should be avoided to prevent problems.

What You Can and Can't Compost In Your Backyard

Compostable Materials

  • Kitchen Scraps: Fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and tea bags are excellent for composting. They decompose quickly and add essential nitrogen to your compost pile.
  • Yard Waste: Leaves, grass clippings, and small branches provide carbon, balancing the nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps. Ensure to chop or shred larger pieces to speed up the decomposition process.
  • Other Organic Materials: Items like cardboard egg cartons, paper (shredded and non-glossy), sawdust, and straw can be added. These materials help to aerate the compost pile and maintain its structure.

Items to Avoid

  • Meat and Dairy Products: Avoid adding meat, fish, bones, and dairy products to your compost. These items can attract pests and create unpleasant odors as they decompose.
  • Diseased Plants: Introducing diseased plants or weeds that have gone to seed can spread problems to your garden when the compost is used.
  • Pet Wastes: Dog and cat feces can contain pathogens harmful to humans. Avoid adding these to your compost pile.
  • Chemically Treated Wood or Yard Waste: Treated wood or plants exposed to chemical pesticides can introduce toxins into your compost and, subsequently, your garden.

Understanding what to include and what to avoid is crucial for a successful composting process.

By sticking to compostable materials and steering clear of potential problem items, you'll create a healthy, thriving compost pile that will enrich your garden soil, support plant growth, and contribute to a more sustainable environment.

Remember, the goal is to recycle organic waste into something beneficial for your garden while minimizing your environmental footprint.

Setting Up Your Composting Area

Choosing the right spot and setup for your composting area is crucial for success. Here’s how to make an informed decision that fits your space and composting goals.

Choosing a Location

Look for a spot that is easily accessible year-round. It should be close enough to your kitchen to conveniently add scraps, but also in an area that won’t disturb your daily activities.

Ideally, your compost area should be on a level, well-drained spot to prevent waterlogging, which can hinder the composting process and attract pests.

Partial shade can help the pile retain moisture in hot climates, while a sunny spot may be beneficial in cooler regions to keep the pile warm.

Types of Compost Bins

Open Bins

Great for large volumes of yard waste. They allow for easy access and aeration but may attract animals if food waste is added.

Closed Bins

These are ideal for urban or suburban settings where pests could be a problem. They keep materials contained and can speed up the decomposition process.


Compost tumblers are elevated, making them easy to turn and aerate. They're excellent for quick decomposition but can be more expensive.

DIY Options

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach or have specific needs, building your own compost bin is a viable option.

Materials like wood pallets, wire mesh, or even repurposed trash cans can be transformed into effective composting solutions. The key is ensuring proper ventilation and access for turning the compost.

How Backyard Composting Works

Composting might seem like magic, but it's all down to science. At its core, composting is the process of organic matter decomposition, transforming kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil. This process is primarily driven by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and even larger organisms like worms and insects.

These microorganisms consume the organic material in your compost pile, breaking it down into simpler substances. As they feed, they produce heat, which is a sign that your compost pile is active and healthy. This heat not only helps the composting process but also kills weed seeds and harmful pathogens.

For successful composting, three key elements are needed: green materials (like kitchen scraps), which provide nitrogen; brown materials (such as leaves and straw), which supply carbon; and sufficient moisture and air. Nitrogen is the fuel that microorganisms need to thrive, while carbon acts as a source of energy. Moisture is essential for the microorganisms to survive and move around, and oxygen is needed for aerobic decomposition, preventing the pile from becoming smelly.

Balancing these elements encourages the microorganisms to work efficiently, speeding up the decomposition process and resulting in high-quality compost. Understanding this delicate balance is crucial for turning your waste into garden gold effectively.

How Backyard Composting Works

Maintaining Your Compost Pile

To ensure your compost pile thrives and efficiently breaks down into rich, fertile compost, attention to balance and maintenance is key. Here's how to keep your compost pile in top condition.

1. Balancing Greens and Browns

Your compost pile needs a balanced diet of greens (nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen scraps and fresh grass clippings) and browns (carbon-rich materials like dry leaves, straw, and shredded paper).

A general rule of thumb is to maintain a ratio of about 3 parts browns to 1 part greens. This balance helps microorganisms thrive, speeding up the decomposition process.

2. Moisture Control

Moisture is critical for composting. Your pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Too dry, and the decomposition process slows down; too wet, and you risk creating a smelly, anaerobic environment.

If your pile is too dry, add water or wet greens. If it's too wet, add more browns to absorb the excess moisture.

3. Aeration

Oxygen is essential for aerobic composting. Turning your pile regularly — ideally, every couple of weeks — introduces air into the system, preventing odors and helping the pile decompose evenly.

If turning the pile is not feasible, poking holes or inserting a few PVC pipes vertically into the pile can improve aeration.

4. Monitoring

Keep an eye on your compost pile's temperature. A warm or hot center indicates active decomposition.

If the pile cools down, it may need more greens, water, or turning to reactivate the microorganisms.

Troubleshooting Common Composting Challenges

Even with the best intentions, you might encounter some hiccups in your composting journey. Here are common challenges and how to resolve them, ensuring your compost pile remains healthy and productive.

1. Bad Odors

A well-maintained compost pile should have a pleasant, earthy smell. If you notice bad odors, it's often a sign of too much moisture and not enough air, leading to anaerobic decomposition.

To fix this, add more browns to absorb excess moisture and turn your pile to introduce oxygen. Also, ensure kitchen scraps are buried deep within the pile to prevent attracting flies.

2. Pests

Unwanted visitors like rodents and insects are usually attracted to specific types of kitchen waste, such as meat and dairy products, which should not be added to your compost.

To deter pests, maintain a proper balance of greens and browns, cover fresh additions with soil or dry leaves, and consider using a compost bin with a lid.

3. Slow Decomposition

If your compost pile is decomposing slowly, it might lack nitrogen, moisture, or warmth.

Boost decomposition by adding more greens, ensuring the pile is adequately moist (like a wrung-out sponge), and turning it regularly to maintain aeration and warmth. During colder months, insulating your pile with a layer of browns can help retain heat.

4. Too Wet or Dry

A compost pile that's too wet can lead to odors and slow decomposition, while a too dry pile won't decompose efficiently.

Adjust moisture levels by adding dry browns or wet greens as needed, and ensure the pile is covered during heavy rain or uncovered during dry spells to maintain balance.

Advanced Backyard Composting Techniques

Hot vs. Cold Composting

Composting can be categorized into two main techniques: hot and cold composting. Each method has its benefits and considerations, making them suitable for different types of composters.

Hot composting is an accelerated process that requires managing the balance of greens and browns, moisture, and regular turning to maintain a temperature between 130°F and 160°F.

This method decomposes organic matter quickly, often within a few months, killing weed seeds and pathogens due to the high temperatures.

The downside is that it requires more effort and attention to maintain the right conditions.

Cold composting, on the other hand, is a more laid-back approach, where organic materials are simply piled up and left to decompose over time.

This method requires less maintenance but takes longer, typically a year or more, for the compost to be ready. Cold composting is less likely to reach temperatures high enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens.

Your choice between hot and cold composting depends on your gardening needs, available time, and effort you're willing to invest.

Hot composting is ideal if you're looking for quick results and are ready to actively manage your compost pile.

Cold composting suits those who prefer a more hands-off approach and don't mind waiting longer for their compost.

Vermicomposting: Using Worms to Enhance Your Compost

Vermicomposting is a fascinating and efficient method of composting that utilizes worms to break down organic waste into high-quality compost, known as worm castings. This technique is particularly beneficial for those with limited outdoor space, as it can easily be done indoors in bins.


Benefits of Vermicomposting

  • Efficiency: Worms work quickly, consuming up to half their body weight in organic material daily, leading to faster decomposition.
  • Nutrient-Rich Compost: Worm castings are incredibly rich in nutrients, more so than traditional compost, providing a potent boost to soil health and plant growth.
  • Low Maintenance: Vermicomposting systems are relatively easy to maintain, requiring minimal space and effort once set up.

Getting Started

  1. Choose the Right Worms: Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most commonly used species due to their voracious appetite and efficiency.
  2. Set Up Your Bin: You can purchase a vermicomposting bin or make your own from a plastic container. Ensure it has adequate ventilation and drainage.
  3. Bedding: Start with a bedding of moistened shredded newspaper or cardboard, which provides a home and food source for the worms.
  4. Feeding: Add your kitchen scraps to the bin, but avoid meats, dairy, and oily foods. Bury the scraps in the bedding to prevent odors and pests.

Vermicomposting is an excellent way to compost on a smaller scale, producing high-quality compost that can greatly benefit your plants and garden. It's an engaging way to recycle your organic waste, with the added excitement of caring for your worm population.

Putting Your Compost to Good Use

Once you've invested time and effort into creating compost, the next step is to harness its benefits for your garden. Knowing when your compost is ready and how to use it effectively can transform your gardening practices.

Ready compost has a dark, crumbly texture, similar to rich garden soil, and emits a pleasant, earthy odor. You shouldn't be able to recognize any of the original materials. If your compost has a lot of large, undecomposed chunks or an unpleasant smell, it may need more time or adjustment in its balance of materials.

Putting Your Compost to Good Use

Using Compost in Your Garden

Soil Amendment

Mix compost into the soil before planting to improve soil structure and nutrient content. This is especially beneficial for vegetable gardens and flower beds.

Top Dressing

Spread a thin layer of compost around existing plants to add nutrients to the soil and help retain moisture. This can be done at any time during the growing season.


Using compost as mulch can help suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, and regulate soil temperature.

Potting Mix

Combine compost with soil and other materials like perlite or vermiculite to create a nutrient-rich potting mix for containers and potted plants.

Lawn Care

Spread a thin layer of finely sieved compost over your lawn as a top dressing to improve grass health and soil quality.


In wrapping up, backyard composting is not just a hobby; it's a powerful step towards sustainable living. By turning our kitchen scraps and yard waste into valuable compost, we enrich our gardens, reduce waste, and contribute to the health of our planet. The process, from understanding what to compost to using the finished product, is a rewarding journey with tangible benefits for our environment and our homes.

I encourage you to start your composting journey today. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or new to the concept, the positive impact of composting is immense. Let's make a difference, one compost pile at a time.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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