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Backyard Composting In 5 Simple Steps

Kessner Photography
Wikimedia Commons

The basics of composting are simple. The pile has to be large enough to sustain itself. The mixture of organic matter needs to be right.  It’s science and art blended together.  

1. Space

A compost pile needs space. The pile should be at least one cubic yard to really work. That’s three feet wide, long and tall. It helps to build a structure to hold the compost – a wire cage, three sided wooden bins, or use a store bought tumbler.  Any compost structure needs to be accessible. You’ll need to be able to add stuff to the pile, turn or aerate the pile and sift the good humus out of the pile.

2. Mix

The right compost mixture is 50% green organic material and 50% brown. Green organics are things like kitchen waste (not meat or processed foods), grass clippings, green plant material and manure. Brown organics are dried leaves and dried garden waste. Add dried, brown organics and green organic matter equally. 

3. Tumble

Turning or poking holes in the pile adds air. That’s why the tumblers work. The microbes that break down the plant material need air. Regular, at least once a month, turning is necessary for good aerobic compost.

4. Layer

The best way to start is to layer the pile. A three or four inch layer of chopped or shredded brown garden waste covered with a layer of green kitchen scraps. Layer upon layer so when the pile is turned or aerated both ingredients mix and the microbes can do their stuff. 

5. Moisture

Another important ingredient is moisture. If the pile is too dry, microbes can’t rot the pile. If it’s too wet, there isn’t enough air to keep the little critters alive. So damp but not wet is just right.

If you build two bins the pile is more easily turned. The original pile can be flipped into the second bin. After a few weeks of adding to the flipped pile it can be turned back into the original bin. This process takes a bit more space but it makes turning the pile easier. Harvest the riches for the garden after a couple months.   


Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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