Why Should I Compost?
If you had a choice, which would you rather see grow - that precious little garden in your backyard or that ever-expanding landfill down the highway? Probably, you would choose your garden. By composting your yard waste and kitchen scraps, you can reduce the amount of waste that you are "feeding" to the landfill and at the same time produce a "food" for your yard and garden that is as good as any soil conditioner your money can buy.
What is so good about compost? Well, here is a partial list of its benefits:
In addition, the act of producing and working with compost can help fulfill your need to "get back to nature." You might say that composting is good for the soil and good for the soul.
What, Exactly, Is Composting?
Composting is simply the natural decomposition of organic matter. It is a process that is occurring constantly all around us.
Compost is produced through the activity of tiny organisms known as decomposers. Given a favorable environment, they will break down your yard wastes and kitchen scraps into a humus-like material that can serve as an excellent soil amendment for your yard and garden.
Once you have established your compost pile, the decomposters go to work almost immediately. At one time or another, your pile will probably be populated by fungi, bacteria, protozoa, roundworms, flatworms, snails and slugs, various types of insect larvae, millipedes, bettles, mites, centipedes and more. Different organisms prefer different organic materials and temperatures; as the conditions in the pile change, the mix of organisms will change, too, with some organisms becoming dormant, dying, or moving to another, more hospitable, part of the pile.
Probably the most important thing to know about the organisms involved in composting is that the most desirable decomposers require oxygen. If your pile becomes oxygen deficient, these desirable organisms will die, and anaerobic decomposers (those not requiring oxygen) will take over. The anaerobic decomposers will generate odorous products as well as acids and alcohols that can harm plants. You can make sure that your compost remains oxygen rich simply by turning or mixing the pile every week or so, or anytime you notice it becoming odorous.
How Do I Get Started?
First, choose a location for your compost bin. Here are a few suggestions:
Once your bin is in place, you can begin immediately to fill it with yard wastes and kitchen scraps (see Table 1 for a list of what can and can not be put into the composter). If you have been stockpiling materials such as leaves or garden wastes, you can put them into the composter all at once, or you can put a small quantity (a 4- to 6- inch layer) of the stockpiled material in the composter and add the rest gradually, alternating it with layers of other materials as they become available. Alternating the types of materials you add to the bin will speed up the decomposition process, especially if you alternate high-carbon materials with high-nitrogen materials and mix the contents of the composter occasionally. See Table 2 for a listing of high-carbon ( brown ) and high-nitrogen ( green ) material.
It may be helpful, when first building your compost pile, to mix in a small amount (no more than ½ shovelful) of rich garden soil or finished compost; both are good sources of microorganisms essential to decomposition.
How Do I Maintain the Pile?
You can choose how much effort to put into maintaining your compost pile. If you are not able or inclined to shred and chop your wastes and to water and turn your pile, your organic matter will still turn into compost it will simply take longer. Here are some tips for speeding up the process:
When Will My Compost Be Ready to Use?
Finished compost will tend to accumulate at the bottom of your bin. It is ready for use when it is dark brown and crumbly, with an earthy aroma. If you have observed the techniques listed above, you may have usable compost in 2 to 3 months; otherwise, your material may require as much as a year or two to completely decompose.
How Do I Use the Finished Compost?
Compost can be used in a variety of ways to benefit your lawn and garden. Here are some suggestions:
In the garden
On the lawn
In potting mix
Where Can I Learn More?
This page was developed to give you all the basic information you need to set up and conduct a backyard composting operation. If you are interested in obtaining more in-depth information, such as details about the decomposition process, things you can do to speed up the process, or ways to alter the characteristics of your compost, there are a number of resources that you can take advantage of.
There are many good books and pamphlets about backyard composting. Check your local libraries and bookstores - they are sure to have information on the subject. Look in sections related to such topics as gardening, nature, or the environment. And don t forget the periodicals section, with its supply of magazines devoted to gardening and lawn care. The internet is also a great way to get lots of helpful information about composting.
In addition to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (which produced this page), these agencies and organizations have information about composting:
Good luck, and thank you for composting!
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is an equal opportunity employer. No person or group shall be excluded from participation, denied benefits, or subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or handicap.
Source of Graphics: Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service Publication 43, January, 1991.
Funding for this project was provided by a Nonpoint Source
Grant made available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
© 2002 Delaware Department of