Guide to Composting

The process of composting benefits many gardens and many gardeners, but there’s more to composting than piling up a bunch of tree leaves, yard waste, and kitchen scraps. The goal is to produce a highly nutritious fertilizer that will bring out the best of the tomatoes, zucchinis. and watermelons. There are some important guidelines composters should follow to obtain the optimum mix for their gardens. In addition to that, composting can reduce a family’s waste output by as much as 40% or more.

Why Compost?

Composting in an apartment or small area indoors.

Everybody with a garden in their yard knows about composting. Even apartment dwellers with planter boxes know plants thrive and bloom better with natural fertilizers as opposed to chemical additives. Eating vegetables and fruits grown with natural fertilizers is much less concerning than eating things that have been grown in chemically treated soils. Naturally composted materials enhance soil conditions, add nutrients that are depleted throughout the growing season, and saves money.

Even if you have very limited space you can purchase an under-cabinet compost bucket such as this one sold on These types of buckets also come with a charcoal filter to remove unwanted odors.

How Composting Helps Soil

The reason composting is so important is that it performs many important processes in the soil all at the same time. Not only does composting increase the fertility of the soil, but it also provides micronutrients and balances the PH factor of the soil. By breaking down toxins and improving the soil’s structure, composting helps prevent many plant diseases. Vegetable gardens, flower patches, fruit trees, and any other plant benefit from consistent composting throughout the year as soils change with each season.

Composting Best Practices

Composting tips including putting wet and dry materials together

When composting different materials, it’s important to maintain a balance of materials going into the compost pile. In other words, if something that will take a long time to break down goes into the pile it should be combined with materials that will break down more rapidly. Some gardeners put material that is slower to break down into its own pile and mix in faster-decaying materials over time.

Placing wet and dry material together is also important because a wet compost pile decays much faster than a dry pile. Moisture is vital to the decaying process and gardeners need to ensure their compost receives a regular amount of water to avoid drying it out and killing valuable bacteria and enzymes that speed up the process.

What Can Be Composted

List of materials that can be composted.

There are some materials which are great for composting and others that aren’t so great. Despite its appearance, composting is a bit of a science. To start with, it’s important to identify what is acceptable to compost. To make it easier to identify and include as much compostable material as possible, the below list is broken down into the different areas of the home where compostable materials can be found.


  • Fruit & Vegetable scraps
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds & Paper Coffee filters
  • Tea Bags & Loose Tea Leaves
  • Spoiled Milk
  • Used Paper Napkins and Towels, Cupcake cups
  • Shredded Paper Bags, Paper Towel Rolls, Non-waxy Paper Plates
  • Cooked Pasta & Rice
  • Moldy Bread, Crackers, Tortillas, Breakfast Cereal
  • Shredded Cereal, Pasta, other Cardboard Boxes
  • Nut Shells (except Walnut shells – toxic to plants)
  • Un-popped and burnt Popcorn Kernels
  • Stale Candy and Protein Bars
  • Shredded Cardboard Egg Cartons
  • Chopped up Pumpkin, Sunflower, Sesame seeds, Avocado pits
  • Chopped up Wine Corks
  • Molded Cheese


  • Used Kleenex
  • Hair
  • Shredded Toilet Paper Rolls
  • Chopped up Natural Loofahs
  • Cotton Balls & Cotton Swabs w/out plastic
  • Cotton Tampons & Sanitary Pads (including used)
  • Shredded Cardboard Tampon Applicators


  • Dryer Lint from natural fabrics
  • Shredded Cotton Clothes & Jeans
  • Shredded Wool Clothes
  • Shredded Cotton Towels & Sheets


  • Dog & Cat Fur
  • Rabbit, Gerbil, Hamster droppings
  • Bird & Snake Cage Newspaper/droppings
  • Bird Feathers
  • Horse, Cow or Goat Manure
  • Alfalfa Hay Pellets
  • Dog or Cat Food
  • Fish Pellets

Household and Yard

  • Dustpan Contents
  • Shredded Newspapers, Magazines, Junk Mail (w/out plastic window)
  • Shredded Burlap
  • Chopped Natural Rope & Twine
  • Leaf Trimmings
  • Dead Plants & soil
  • Fireplace, Grill, Fire Pit Ashes
  • Grass Clippings
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Sawdust from untreated wood

Many of these items may also be recycled. Please visit our blog on recycling HERE for more information.

Composting Methods

Composting methods including utilizing a compost bin or container

For people who choose to compost in their own gardens, there are a few different techniques that have proven successful. To begin with, placing a composting pile in the corner of the yard or garden is the simplest way to start the process. Caution should be taken concerning pests and other unwanted guests that may want to move in and take advantage of the free food. Many gardeners find a compost bin or container to be the best alternative. What’s important to remember is that the composted material must be rotated and moved for the process to work properly.

To aid gardeners in working with composting piles, the general rule of thumb is to make a pile approximately 3 feet by 3 feet wide and about 3 feet high. This way the pile can be turned over without too much weight to lift or material to mix properly. Turning the composting materials over regularly helps reduce any heat build-up that may kill beneficial bacteria and worms

What Not to Compost

Composting citrus peels and onions should be avoided.

There are some items which are not recommended for composting. Of course, inorganic materials like plastic, painted wood, ceramic, glass, metal, and vinyl aren’t going to decompose. Other items are organic, but they may cause problems by killing valuable bacteria. Those items include dog and cat feces, grease, cooking oil, meat, human waste, weeds, diseased plants, or glossy paper.

Animal bones and other solid organic material will break down eventually, but it will require a long time to accomplish. Citrus peels and onions should also be avoided as these produce acids that kill worms and other compost eating helpers as well as create an imbalance in PH levels.

Compost Pick-up Services

Residential compost pickup services

Some cities and municipalities have compost pick up services available, but most of the time composting material is picked up by a private company that charges fees for the service. In most cases, the composter is provided a 5-gallon bucket for storing the compost material between pickups. Homeowners and apartment dwellers can help keep organic materials out of landfills that create methane and other greenhouse gases.

Most compost pick up services charge between $15 and $30 per month depending upon the number of times the material is picked up. Compost pick up services has strict rules concerning what materials they accept so it’s a good idea to investigate a service before signing up.

Commercial Composting

Commercial composting provides a means to creating an end product used for sale

Companies that collect compostable materials use these materials to make a saleable compost product. Material is blended to produce an organic soil mix that can be bagged and distributed to garden shops, landscape companies, and farms. The demand for high-quality compost is highest among orchard growers, commercial flower greenhouses, and specialty vegetable farmers. The cost of compost, the natural makeup of the ingredients, and its ease of distribution make this natural and organic fertilizer a better option than using factory-produced chemicals. It also supports a “natural” product’s marketing efforts to environmentally conscious consumers.

Chop and Shred

The mantra repeated by all composters is the same – Chop and shred! The smaller the organic material being composted is made, the faster and more efficiently it will break down the surrounding material. By chopping and shredding the compost ingredients, more area opens within the organic structures that allow light, heat, bacteria, enzymes, and acids to go to work. Reducing the size of the material pieces also makes turning and mixing the materials easier and more effective. Distributing the compost over soil, sod, or garden areas is easier and it blends in more readily.

Talk About Composting

Occasionally, a composter has more material than they can use. When this happens, it’s a good idea to talk to neighbors, friends, and family to find out if they can use the excess compost. Gardeners often find neighbors who can use the excess compost and are quite happy to get it.

There are also online groups of gardeners who meet to discuss gardening topics and who often take care of public park gardens that could use compost. Posting a notice online that offers free compost will most definitely get a response from a grateful gardener. A wheelbarrow with a “Free Compost” sign hung on it will quickly be emptied by grateful gardeners.

Composting Lifestyle

Composting is part of the zero-waste lifestyle

With sustainability becoming more and more important across the planet, composting has become part and parcel of the sustainability movement. Reducing landfills, methane, and waste output is the goal as well as taking responsibility for each home’s carbon footprint. Composting is part of a lifestyle that incorporates a concern for the local environment as well as the larger macro-environmental situation.

More and more households are actively composting waste materials and the growth of businesses in the composting industry has been explosive nationwide. Corporations, huge manufacturing plants, and small businesses have all joined in the “zero-waste” movement that includes compostable waste.

Composting Makes Sense

Using waste products that would clog up a landfill to produce healthier, tastier vegetables and fruits is a fantastic idea. Recycling waste materials reduces everyone’s carbon footprint and improves the environment in a significant way. Proper composting not only improves the environment, but it also saves money and offers a great alternative to invasive chemicals being used to encourage plant growth. Eating vegetables grown using compost and then returning the unused portions of the vegetables to grow more vegetables is not only logical, but it is also the smart way to live.