Ever hear of "Brown Gold"? Well, that is what gardeners call the end product of composting. Ideally, not a single ounce of tree trimmings, deadheaded flowers, leaves, apple peels, over-ripe vegetables or any other plant generated material should leave your property. It should all be composted into Brown Gold and used to enrich your soil in your beds, borders and vegetable gardens!

Why Have a Backyard Compost Pile?

There are many benefits to maintaining a compost pile in your backyard. The key reasons for composting include:

  • Creating Compost for Your Garden
  • Reducing the Waste Stream
  • Reusing Resources
  • Recycling Resources

For more on these topics...

What is Composting?

Composting is a completely natural process. Organisms like bacteria and fungi and larger critters such as earth worms and sowbugs eat the dead tissue, digest it and turn it back into its original component parts - nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc. If you stack a pile of leaves in the corner of the yard, it would eventually turn into compost. This is called "passive composting" and might take several years to decay thoroughly but it would do so on its own. Most of us don't want to wait that long.

So, when most people talk of composting, they are usually referring to a series of steps called "active composting" that makes the process go faster. This is important for those of us on small lots since the option to just pile things up and forget about them for a few years just isn't practical. Before long, your entire yard would be filled to the brim.

To turn your garden wastes to compost in a limited space and in a quick time, you need to do some work. You will probably need some sort of bin or container and, perhaps, a few pieces of equipment to do the job. There are several steps you can follow to achieve your goal. If you do all of them, you will be a Super Composter and have finished compost before anyone else on the block. Following a few of the steps will help to reduce the volume you handle and the time it takes to compost.

The Composting Process

Backyard composting is similar to farming. Instead of growing a healthy crop of corn, you are growing a healthy crop of micro and macro-organisms. The better you do at encouraging these organisms the quicker and the faster the compost will be completed. For organic matter to decompose into what we call compost, you need the following elements.

  1. Carbon - This element is part of protein, carbohydrates and other organic compounds necessary for life. In terms of yard waste, this is represented by the "brown" material of dead leaves and stems or sawdust. More...

  2. Nitrogen - This is an element that is part of many organic molecules found in living (or dead) tissue. In yard waste, it is represented by the "green" material such as freshly cut grass clippings or green leaves. If the nitrogen level gets too high, the pile will turn anaerobic and smell bad. More...

  3. Oxygen - "Good" decomposing organisms require oxygen and are called aerobic organisms. Anaerobic organisms live in the absence of oxygen and cause the pile to have an odor. So, it is important to keep a good supply of oxygen in the compost pile. More...

  4. Water - Decomposers need water but not too much or too little. So, the compost pile needs to be moist but not water logged. More...

  5. Micro-organisms - These are the extremely small, microscopic critters that form the real basis of composting. These include bacteria and fungi which do most of the work. More...

  6. Macro-organisms - Larger organisms such as earth worms, sowbugs and millepedes also add to the composting process at later stages. More...

Topics on Backyard Composting

How quickly and thoroughly your plant byproducts turn into compost depends on how much effort you put into the process. The following topics will give you an idea about how to get the most of your composting experience:


Why Start a Backyard Compost Pile?

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

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