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How To Make Compost -- Organic Fertilizer

Updated on September 27, 2014

Organic Gardening with Compost

Composting can be a fun family project and produces great organic fertilizer for gardens. Everyday table waste and trash can be easily composted.

To save money on groceries, more people are thinking about growing a garden to help feed their families. Composting is a great way to make organic fertilizer to use in the garden.

The addition of organic fertilizer builds up the garden soil by adding nutrients. Since it is organic, the fertilizer does not contain pesticides or herbicides and will not harm the people who eat the food from the garden.

The organic materials that get added to compost piles, compost bins, or a compost tumbler are things that typically get thrown in the trash. By composting these items instead, a family or individual can be creating organic compost year-round that will make their garden grow and be bountiful all summer long.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Warner

The Basics of Composting

The simplest way to compost materials is to keep the organic materials that are good for composting and piling it together. The methods described above all use the basic principles of adding organic materials, water, and air to allow the products to get hot enough to breakdown and create rich compost.

Add the items in the list below to the compost bin in small enough pieces that they will breakdown easily. For example, large newspaper can be ripped into individual pages then torn in half. Spread layers of food scraps, newspaper, grass clippings or other organic material, a small amount of manure if desired and water till damp. Continue adding organic material as it becomes available.

Turn the compost pile or bin weekly to help the organic materials get mixed into the hot part of the compost to breakdown faster. A small compost pile can be ready to use in a few months if it is consistently turned or aerated and kept damp but not wet.

How Composting Helps

Composting reduces the volume of

garbage requiring disposal;

saves money for you and your community

in reduced soil purchases and reduced

local disposal costs; and

enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients, improves soil structure, which allows better root growth, and increases moisture and nutrient retention in the soil.

Plants love compost!

Source: Lowell, MA

Small Shovels for Composting

Coleman Folding Shovel
Coleman Folding Shovel

Use a small shovel, like one of these, to easily turn your compost. Stirring the organic matter is key to aerating it and keeping it "cooking."


Making Compost - Choose How to Compost

The choices of how to compost include using the following methods:

  • Compost piles are simply areas in the yard or garden where waste products are piled, allowed to decompose, and scooped out when they have turned to compost to use as fertilizer.
  • Compost bins are enclosures, either hand made or bought, that the waste materials are thrown into to better contain the organic materials until it turns to compost.
  • A compost tumbler is similar to a compost bin but is designed to be turned so the compost material can be tumbled instead of having to manually turn the compost to aerate it.

Compost Bins Come in All Sizes - Compost in your kitchen or yard

Use Compost as Mulch

Spread 1 or 2 inches of compost around

annual flowers and vegetables,

and up to 6 inches around trees and shrubs.

~Source: OregonMetro

Mix in a small amount

of compost with potted plant

soil for growing indoor plants

like herbs, flowering plants,

and green plants.

Compost Organic Materials

to get organic compost

Use the following organic materials (peels, cores, leftovers, rotten, you get the idea) to make organic fertilizer:






grapefruit, oranges, lemons




coffee grounds and filters (unbleached filters are best)


cardboard egg cartons

dryer lint, from natural fabrics like cotton and linen


shredded paper, white paper with black ink

leaves and grass clippings

peat moss

chicken, horse, or rabbit manure

Using these composting tips won't guarantee a great-producing garden, but they will help gardeners make good fertilizer that makes the harvest safe for their family to eat. Young children can toss food scraps into compost piles, and older children can help turn the compost, aerating it so the materials break down faster producing good compost quickly.

If your compost pile is wet and

smells like rotten eggs, it's not

getting enough air and the pile is too wet.

To solve this problem, turn the compost and add coarse, dry waste such as straw or corn stalks.


Leave These Out of the Compost Pile

Some things just aren't meant to be composted

Some materials are best not composted for several reasons. They may attract rodents or flies, they may not breakdown as efficiently, or they may contain chemicals that would contaminate the compost. Here's a list of a few items to throw in the trash instead of the compost bin:

- bread and other grains (because rodents like them and will be attracted to the compost pile)

- cheese

- eggs

- meat and bones

- oily foods like dressings or fried food of any kind

- colored and glossy paper

- cat and dog feces

- pine needles, because they are too acidic

- weeds that have gone to seed, which will grow in the compost creating more weeds

- dryer lint from clothes made of synthetic fibers

Worm farming is particularly useful for people who would like to compost their food scraps but do not have space for a backyard compost bin.

Source: DEQ Louisiana

Tell us your composting tips or just say hi!

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    • profile image

      Ivan 3 years ago

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    • profile image

      Mary 3 years ago

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    • profile image

      Hinna 3 years ago

      I say as a long time organic famrer you need both. Unlike non Organic growing, you need a multifaceted approach to soil fertility.The worm castings are wonderful food for your soil, so is compost (and you should have a couple of compost piles working along with the worm farm that produces worm castings.) you should also be planting cover crops that are there to be grown than turned into the soil and if you have not yet done a soil test you should do so (do not use the kits they sell at the box stores as they are wildly inaccurate as most people do not use them correctly because they do not use distilled water and if any other water is used than the results will be way off) your county extension agent should have information as to who does soil testing (they may, though fewer and fewer extension services do this any longer and they test for the not Organic farms so you have to make your own interpretation of the test and what remedies to use). A good soil test costs around $ 25 and is worth every penny.My favorite liquid fertilizer is Maxi-crop, a water soluble kelp powder. You can buy an 11 ounce can of it for around $ 25 and it will make something like 50 gallons of juice. And because it is a powder it has a very long shelf life. if you buy a gallon of a liquid fertilizer you have about 4 to 6 months to use it all up before it becomes junk. Was this answer helpful?

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I used to have a great compost bin when I was in Maryland and also in Australia. Now I just put some fruit and vegetable peelings in the woods in a small hole that I scrape away. Doesn't benefit my garden, but at least I'm recycling.

    • Aloha Pinoy profile image

      Dan & Yollie Bunag 6 years ago from Oahu, Hawaii

      "High Five", great tips. Now, I can go to the yard and do something with the green waste pile. Mahalo...

    • vegetablegardenh profile image

      vegetablegardenh 6 years ago

      Nice lens! We've built a compost tumbler last year using a 55 gallon food-grade drum, it works really well.

    • arcarmi profile image

      arcarmi 6 years ago

      Nice Job!

    • Diane Cass profile image

      Diane Cass 6 years ago from New York

      Organic compost is so important for a healthy garden. Making our own has improved our clay soils into fluffy loam that our garden loves. We use a three-bin system my husband built. Ha! We've even done worm farming, but not for the garden (though our houseplants benefited from it), for the fish my husband breeds.

    • profile image

      leeleon 6 years ago

      Nice information. :)

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 6 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Wonderful article on composting and very informative. :)