Let's Make Some Compost

Adapted from Environmental Bulletin, Texas Water Commission, edited by Ed Bradley

What is Composting?

Composting is a simple biological process that breaks down leaves, grass clippings, brush and wood chips, and food scraps into a dark, odorless, nutrient-rich organic product. It is nature’s way of recycling organic matter and returning it to the earth for reuse. Bacteria are living organisms which contribute to the natural recycling process of the organic wastes.

Why Compost?

Composting preserves landfill space. Approximately 18 percent of the solid waste generated in the U.S. each year is made up of yard wastes. An even greater percentage occurs in the peak month of yard waste production (summer and fall months). Diverting these wastes from landfills reduces waste collection and disposal costs.

How Are Compost Piles Made?

A compost pile may be started directly on the ground surface, using a container or structure which will save space, hasten decomposition, and keep the yard looking neat. The following steps describe how to construct a simple compost pile:

  1. Select a level area near a water source.
  2. Apply a 3 – 6” layer of chopped brush or other coarse material such as branches, dead leaves, and straw to allow air circulation around the base of the pile.
  3. Add 6” of chopped leaves, manure, sawdust, and kitchen food scraps. Materials should be kept damp, but not wet and soggy. Sprinkle a little soil on this layer. Cutting or shredding these ingredients helps speed the composting. When constructing the pile, try to alternate “greens” (food scraps, grass clippings, manure) and “browns” (straw, leaves, woody material) to help balance the proportion of carbon and nitrogen in the pile, which is food for the microorganisms.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the pile is about 3 – 4 feet high and wide.
  5. Turn the pile every couple of weeks, and water it until damp. Turning the pile more often makes compost faster.

A properly made pile will reach temperatures up to 160 degrees in several days. The composting process may last from a few weeks to many months, depending upon the types of materials used for compost, water requirements, and how often the pile is turned. When compost is ready to use, it will appear dark, brown, crumbly, and will have an earthy smell. Let the material sit for a few extra days to stabilize it. Apply 2 - 3” layers of compost to your garden or around trees and shrubs. Treat your lawn by spreading ½” of sifted compost over a given area in the spring.

When Making or Using Compost, DON’T: