Steps to Successful Composting


Once you have your composting container, you will need to select a location in your yard that is close to a water source, guarded from strong winds and preferably in the shade.  Next, you should stack up the dry material and follow these 10 simple steps:


  1. Break or cut all the material into pieces that are no more than 4 inches long.  This exposes more surface so that microorganisms can break it down.

  2. Dig out about two inches of dirt from the site in which you will be placing your container and then add a small layer of branches to the dirt to allow air to enter from the bottom.
  3. Place a mixture of approximately four parts dry material (rich in carbon) for every one part of moist material (rich in nitrogen).

  4. Place alternating layers of moist and dry material.  Also, add a layer of dirt or manure every so often.  If you are using food waste, make sure it is buried under the other layers to avoid problems with flies.

  5. As you add your layers, water them to assure that the pile is completely moist.  Note that the interior should be moist, but not wet.  During heavy rains, cover the container with a plastic cover or lid.

  6. Once the container is filled, cover the pile with two inches of dirt.

  7. When decomposition starts, the pile will begin to heat up, with the interior temperature reaching as much as 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  This high temperature is good because it kills the weeds and their seeds that may be in the compost mixture.

  8. As the pile begins to cool back down so that it is the same temperature as the outside air, reactivate it by permitting air to enter the container.  To do this, put the material into another container - or use a pitchfork to mix up the contents.  It may also be necessary to add more water or plant material.

  9. Repeat these steps as necessary until the material is dark and smooth.

  10. To use the final compost material, sift the material with 1/2-inch sieve to remove the semi-decomposed larger pieces.  You can return these pieces to the container to further decompose.


Problems & Solutions

Symptom Problem Solution
The pile has a bad odor. It does not have sufficient air or it is too moist. Open the pile to air and sun; add dry material.
The pile is dry and not reacting. It is possible that the material is not sufficiently cut down; needs water. Add green material and reconstruct the pile, carefully follow steps 1-4.
The compost is moist and has a sweet odor, but is not heating up. The pile could be too small; needs nitrogen. Collect more material and combine it with existing pile, manure or blood meal.  Make a new pile at least 30"x30"x30".  The pile functions best when at least 2 feet tall.
Many flies and ants. Food materials are too close to the surface. Cover the pile with at least 2 inches of dirt.


Back to Backyard Composting Program



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