How to Backyard Compost

Composting is an efficient, eco-friendly way to reduce household waste and enrich your lawn and garden. If you're new to it, use this handy guide on how to backyard compost.

Backyard Composting 101

Considering composting? It's a great way to divert kitchen waste and keep organic matter out of public landfills, thereby minimizing the production of greenhouse gases. There are several methods of composting; from a basic backyard compost pile to a secure compost bin or tumbler. You might even consider a compost toilet; a dry toilet that processes human body waste for horticultural or agricultural use. However you decide to house your compost, the end result is a clean, organic fertilizer that can help keep your lawn, garden and plants healthy and bountiful.

Green Items for Composting

Not sure what you can compost? Here's an easy way to remember; there are two categories of compostable materials, green and brown. The green list includes grass trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, seaweed or algae and garden waste. But it also covers less obvious materials such as coffee grounds, hair, eggshells and the manure of barnyard animals. These are rich in both nitrogen and protein and generate heat in the compost pile. You can toss these items (except the manure) into compost bags or small kitchen compost containers until you are ready to empty them onto your compost pile.

Brown Items for Composting

Working with the protein and nitrogen-rich green items in your compost pile are the brown items. These include dead leaves and flowers, straw, shredded newspaper, untreated sawdust, pine needles, twigs, dryer lint and corn stalks. Carbon-rich, they serve as fuel for the microbes that will help to break down your compost over time. Without the balance provided by the brown items, green-only compost will decompose too rapidly, turning your compost heap into a smelly, slimy mess.

How to Build a Backyard Compost

The quickest and easiest way to start is to build an open compost pile. Managed correctly, it'll soon be creating nutrient-rich compost to help your garden flourish while dramatically reducing your curbside trash. Here are the steps for how to compost using a backyard compost pile:
  1. Choose an area that is at least 3' x 3' (roughly one square metre) in size to ensure there is ample room for your waste materials to decompose effectively
  2. Create the initial compost layer out of brown items such as dried leaves, pine needles, straw or shredded newspaper
  3. Create a second layer using green compostable items such as grass, kitchen vegetable scraps, garden trimmings or barnyard animal manure
  4. Create a thin third layer with soil, topsoil or peat moss
  5. Create a fourth layer with more brown items as in step one
  6. Add moisture to the layers you have built
  7. Alternate between additional layers of green and brown items and thin layers of soil until your compost pile is approximately 3' (roughly one metre) high
  8. Rotate the compost pile biweekly with a compost turner, shovel or garden fork
  9. Keep your compost pile moist, but do not over water to the point of it becoming soggy
  10. When your compost pile becomes dry, brown and crumbly and no longer gives off heat, it is ready to be used as a soil additive in your garden

What Not to Compost

While composting reduces garbage output and serves as high-quality organic fertilizer for your garden, it's important to remember that not all waste is created equal. Adding the wrong things to your compost pile will cause more harm than good. Breads and cooking oil lure insects and animals, while meat and dairy products are pest magnets that degrade quickly and smell bad. Material such as human or pet feces, diseased plants and rice pose a health risk and will turn your potentially garden-enhancing compost into a breeding ground for bacteria. Invasive weeds such as dandelions and ivy, unlike other garden trimmings, are more likely to flourish than decompose in your compost pile.

Compost Bins & Tumblers

If open compost piles don't work for you, use a plastic compost bin or compost tumbler. Both are effective and keep pests out, but are designed differently. A compost bin is a bottomless box that loads from the top, remains stationary and features small holes for aeration. A tumbler (also top-loading) is sealed at the bottom, has no holes and is manually rotated to mix and aerate the compost as it spins. Both styles take up roughly the same amount of space, though bins tend to be higher capacity. Tumblers are pricier but more durable while bins cost less but are prone to cracking and splitting.  

Caring for Your Compost

A well-maintained compost heap supports aerobic decomposition, reducing the production of greenhouse gasses. To keep your compost performing efficiently, ensure that it is well-ventilated and regularly aerated with a shovel or garden fork. Keep your backyard compost moist, but not wet, watering if necessary during dry periods and shielding it from rain to prevent leaching. Your active compost pile will produce heat as it processes; maintaining a central temperature of 54-71 C is ideal. Turning your compost pile before the temperature exceeds 71 C will keep it processing evenly; use a compost thermometer to gauge the heat.

Tips for Successful Composting:

From discouraging pests to increasing decomposition speed, these handy tips can help you get the most out of your compost.
• Reduce odours by covering new layers of food waste with dry grass clippings, soil or mulch
• Add accelerators such as grass clippings, chicken manure or compost builders to kick-start decomposition
• Shred or chop waste items into smaller pieces for faster composting
• Aerate compost by turning it biweekly or whenever you add to the pile
• Add lime or calcium to your compost to discourage flies
• Keep your compost moist but not soggy
• Aim for a 50/50  balance of green and brown materials

How to Use Your Finished Compost

You've built and maintained your compost pile, resulting in nutrient-rich organic compost. But what do you do with it? Basically, compost can be used the same as any fertilizer, mulch or potting soil; it is not a soil replacement, but a soil additive. "Compost tea," or the liquid released by compost, is beneficial when poured on flowers and plants. Compost tea can also be created by steeping some compost in water for a few days. Another handy use for compost is as lawn top dressing; place a layer of compost on your grass and rake or water it in to improve the health of the soil. 
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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