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Easy Backyard Composting

Updated on June 7, 2012
Our backyard bins - no mess, no smell.
Our backyard bins - no mess, no smell.

Backyard composting has a bad reputation. Many people assume that it would be smelly and nasty. Well - with a bit of patience and a good routine, it doesn't have to be.

Well-managed compost bins do their job with a minimum of fuss - and virtually no smell.

In fact, backyard composting is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your garbage. When we first started doing this, we were shocked to see our 2-3 bags of garbage a week dwindle to 1 or less. Coupled with vigilant recycling, there isn't anything we could have done that would have reduced our garbage output as much as some simple composting has.

Not only that, any gardeners will see a real advantage! Perhaps you already buy compost to add to your flower or vegetable gardens. Rather than putting out your hard earned cash, you'll have that compost already on your property, made "for free" from stuff you'd otherwise throw away.

It won't come in a plastic bag either!

Your own homemade compost will do everything for you that any purchased compost will. All it takes is a commitment to collecting those scraps and leftovers from your fruits, veggies, coffee, tea and egg shells. The result will be nice, dark, nutrient-rich earth in as little as 2 - 12 months.

Composting 101

Unless you are doing a more complicated form of composting (such as vermiform - which uses worms to break down your refuse), you'll need to stick to the following list of acceptable items for your compost bin (or heap):

  • Fruit scraps
  • Vegetable trimmings
  • Egg shells (crushed)
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds with filters
  • Grass clippings
  • Yard trimmings

I also saved any cooked fruits or veggies that would otherwise go in the garbage, as long as they weren't contaminated with dairy or meat.

When putting stuff in your composter, you can cheerfully include most garden refuse - even weeds! However, you have to remember a few rules to do this successfully:

  • Small is beautiful. Anything which you are putting in your composter should be as small as you can make it. Cut up branches. Shred large leaves. Crush egg shells. Anything which is tougher to break down should be as small as possible.
  • If it could grow in your composter, make sure it's dead. Weeds are the biggest issue here - although I think we once had a tomato plant growing out of our bin! If you are going to compost weeds, have a box where they can sit and dry out fully in the sun. Only then should they go in the compost pile.
  • Alternate types of waste. My favorite trick was to pick up bags of used coffee grounds from my local Starbucks (which made for a good excuse for a quick espresso!) At least once a week, I would cover the existing compost material with a nice, thick layer of coffee grounds. Not only did this help the pile to "work", it also meant that smell was minimal. The resulting compost is really nutrient rich.
  • Make sure your compost is moist. Most experts recommend that it should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. We really found that our compost would not work properly unless we kept it wet enough. It helps to have a lid that you can remove when it rains so that the natural rainwater keeps your pile properly watered.
  • Mix it up! Not only should you use a variety of kinds of organic material, you should also periodically "turn" the pile of compost. This keeps the air moving through and ensures that the friendly bacteria are doing their job.
  • Think multiples. The one disadvantage of our containers is that turning the pile is difficult if the container is too full. Mixing is an easier job if you have a number of composters, so that you can have one that has almost complete the process; one that is working; one that you are actively filling. We found this allowed for easier mixing and a better chance to have fully completed compost by the next year.
  • Don't stop in winter. You can compost even in the winter. While your compost pile may freeze (ours certainly did), when it thaws in the spring, simply turn it well and it will start working again!

Many jurisdictions now support backyard composting with either free or subsidized composting units. That's how we got ours! However, you can also build a unit that will do the job. Just remember that you need to allow for air flow in the unit, as well as drainage. A fairly simple wooden box with wire on one side will do the trick nicely. Just remember: if you are only using one bin, the finished compost is at the bottom. So, you'll need to have some way to get at it.

Some Great Tips On What To Compost

Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile

You can't really go totally wrong with composting - but you may have to fine tune your process!

This list of potential issues will give you some pointers.

  1. Your pile stays the same size. If your pile is not creating enough heat or isn't decreasing in size (it should do that, and fairly rapidly), then you need to help it along! If it is dry, add water. If it's too wet, add more dry material - like grass clippings.
  2. A small pile won't work well. You need to have enough volume to keep it working well. If this is the case, add a bit of well-composted material to your pile, to help it along. This is, however, a short-term problem. The more material you add to your pile, the better it will work.
  3. A damp and sweet pile. This may not seem like a problem, but it is. If your pile is damp and doesn't smell but also doesn't heat, you need nitrogen! Those lovely used coffee grounds are a great source of this nutrient. Grass clippings will also work. If you really need a big boost, try a bit of garden fertilizer.
  4. A stinky pile. If your pile starts to stink, it needs air! Break up any big clumps. Turn the pile to give it air. Make sure air vents on your composter are open.
  5. Is it done yet? You'll have useful compost when it is dark in colour, crumbly and has an "earthy" smell. Sometimes, you'll still have some larger pieces that haven't broken down. Just return those to the pile to work longer!

More Information

Here's a great website that is all about composting!


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    • profile image

      haroon 8 years ago

      hi i have studied the important information on this website started making compost at my home backyard. this is interesting and environmently friendly too. in most of the cities of pakistan like lahore the rain has been vanished in ml. so compost can also used as a water preservative for plants in these areas too. i with my friend who acutally got this idea working on it and taking it as a business.

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Thanks for the kudos, prasetio.

      ramkumar45 - happy to have you onboard as a fan! ;-)

    • ramkumar45 profile image

      ramkumar45 8 years ago from INDIA

      Nice info.Viewed your other post also. Quiet interesting.Joined your fan club to-day.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Thanks for share. It's a good idea. great hub.

    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 9 years ago from NW Indiana

      I use a passive pile method of composting in my backyard. We turned the pile the other night to give it air and make it "work" with hotter weather coming on. The base of the new pile is about six feet across and the pile is about four feet high. It has served us for 5 years and is considered a MUST for our household.

      Your hub is a great collection of info and encouragement for newcomers to composting.

    • profile image

      Tess Rousseau 9 years ago

      I've composted for years and I ended up with marvellous black earth at the bottom, which I was able to use on all my gardens and plants , around my house. I occasionally would add a cup of lime powder, which my Dad had always said "sweetened the soil". I don't know if this indeed is a good practice, but it certainly seemed to work. Everything that Monique said about turning the pile, making sure it was getting air and indeed letting the rain go into them directly is a great idea. Keep on writing these great hubs.

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Gypsy Willow - apparently, heaps can work just as well as bins. It depends on your own personal preference. In a small backyard, I think a composter is a better idea, but if you've got some room, a heap is much easier to turn and you don't have any space limitations imposed by the bin! ;-)

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for the timely advice, although I have a compost heap I was lacking any real knowledge of the process.


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