By Shelly Garner

One of the major components of a well functioning organic garden is compost.  Compost is defined as “an organic material, rich in humus, formed by decomposed plant remains, and other organic matter, used as a soil improver or mulch.” 

   There are many methods of composting available, from the plain old heap of leaves rotting in the corner of the yard to the elaborate compost bins you can purchase from a landscaping business.  Two methods of making your own compost bin are with wire mesh or wooden slats.  Wooden pallets are a good choice as they already have air spaces.  The sides of the bin should not be solid for aeration purposes.  If one side is removable, it is easier to access the compost.

   One way to make a binless compost heap is to stack hay bales three high for three walls.  Once it is full of material, make the fourth wall and let it sit for two years.  This type of heap holds the moisture and does not need to be watered.  The walls will slowly decompose along with the other materials and after two years, you simply break through the wall to the finished compost.

How To Make Compost

Three important factors are necessary when making compost: water, air, and food.  The base of the compost heap should have a layer of small branches to supply drainage and aeration.  The ground underneath should also be broken up to allow drainage.  Add equal amounts of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) materials as well as a small amount of garden soil to prevent the pile from overheating.  Overheating the pile will kill the micro-organisms that cause the decomposition process.  Adding a compost starter can help speed up the process.  To heat up sufficiently, a pile should be at least one cubic yard or meter in size.  It should reach its highest temperature within three weeks and be finished in approximately three months.

   The pile should be watered whenever you water the garden but don’t overwater or it will smell.  It should be moist like a damp sponge.  Turn the pile whenever you add new material as this helps aeration.  Do not use thick layers of grass clippings as they hinder air movement.

   Remember, the material does not have to be totally broken down to be useful to your garden.  I frequently use crushed eggshells and coffee grounds around my plants and the earthworms love me when I throw peelings right into my garden plot.  Composting is not a precise process and there is no absolute right way to do it.  The most important thing to remember is that you are giving back to the earth. 

Materials for your Compost Pile

Greens                                                                  Browns

coffee grounds                                                       corncobs

cover crops                                                           cornstalks

eggshells                                                                hay

feathers                                                                  nutshells

fruit wastes                                                             pine needles

grains                                                                     paper towels

grass clippings                                                        shredded newspaper   

hair (pet or human)                                                 sawdust

leaves                                                                     straw

manure                                                                   vegetable stalks

vegetable scraps                                                     old potting soil

weeds (not all, no quack grass or chickweed)

Do not add the following: meat, fish, bones, plastics, metals, pet wastes, oils or fats, dairy products, cheese or sauces.

If your composting is not properly decomposing, here is a guide for trouble-shooting: 

  1. Bad-odour.  The compost pile needs to be turned more often.
  2. Centre of the pile is dry.  Moisten the materials when you turn the pile.
  3. Pile is damp and warm only in the middle.  The pile is too small.  Mix more materials in with the old.
  4. Pile is damp and sweet smelling but too cool.  More green material needs to be added to provide nitrogen.

To bury pet wastes, dig a hole at least twelve inches deep and place three to four inches of pet droppings in the bottom of the hole.  Chop the droppings up with a shovel and mix with soil.  Cover with at least eight inches of soil to ensure other animals don’t dig it up.  Make sure you keep it away from any food plots; the farthest corner of the yard is probably the best idea.


 “You know you are a gardener if you find compost an interesting topic.

– Unknown

Old gardeners never die, they just spade away.

– James Shuford

An optimistic gardener is one who believes that whatever goes down must come up.

– Leslie Hall