5 Simple Steps for Backyard Compost

Don’t waste your yard’s spring bounty, compost it.

As you enjoy the growth in your yard this spring, consider that yard trimmings can be put back into your garden to make it even more vibrant. Spring is a great time to begin a compost pile that will yield fast results and help increase soil water retention during our drier summer months.

5 Simple Steps for Backyard Compost

1. Find Your Ideal Spot

Select a dry shady area that is away from your house but close enough for your garden hose to reach. Though you can buy a simple bin or tumbler that makes turning your compost a breeze, you can also compost directly on the ground. Some recommend adding a base layer of mulch, woody or bushy material, to promote aeration, but that’s optional.

2. Build Your Pile

Alternate layers of brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) material and aim for a 4:1 ratio of browns to greens. Browns include dry leaves, sawdust or small wood chips, and shredded newspaper or cardboard. Greens include grass clippings, food waste, and garden waste like weeds or green trimmings. Aim for layers that are a few inches deep and use your garden hose to moisten the material as you build. Make sure any food scraps are covered with a layer of brown materials to prevent flies and smells.

3. Mix Often and Keep It Moist

The more often you mix or turn your pile, the faster it will decompose. You can use a shovel or a rake to mix. Be sure to mix the pile thoroughly at a minimum of once every two weeks. And use your garden hose to add moisture if you notice your pile is dry. It should be damp like a wrung out sponge.

4. Cover to Retain Heat, Moisture, and Nutrients

Cover your pile with a tarp or an old scrap of carpet. This will trap the heat and aid your compost in cooking. It will also prevent nutrient loss in case it rains. While rain is a welcome sight for your plants, it will wash the nutrients out of your compost and deposit them into the ground below.

5. Optional: Accelerate the Breakdown

If you want your compost to be viable by the beginning of summer, you can add a compost accelerator to speed up the breakdown process. It’s a simple solution of sugar water, ammonia, and beer – which is why some refer to this method as “drunk composting”.

A Word on Food Waste and Avoiding Pests and Smells

Many avoid building a compost pile for fear of attracting pests or foul smells, but both can be avoided if you follow the instructions above and be sure to leave out any meat, grease, or dairy products. You can even leave out food scrapes entirely out of the mix. Put those in your food and yard waste cart instead. Also, be sure to turn your pile often and keeping it moist to deter pests and keep smells at bay. If rodents or other animals are a high concern, consider using a compost bin or tumbler.