How to Make Compost

Learn how to make your own compost -- as well as get tips on the best type of compost bin so you can enjoy the benefits of "black gold" in your garden.

Create your own compost

Flower bed Compost is a key ingredient
in a lush, easy-to-maintain

It's easy to cook up your own compost. Just layer organic materials -- garden clippings, dry leaves, kitchen vegetable scraps, shredded paper -- and a dash of soil to create a concoction that turns into humus, the best soil builder around.

Before you start piling on, recognize that there are two types of composting: cold and hot. Cold composting is as simple as collecting yard waste or taking out the organic materials in your trash (such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds and filters, and eggshells) and then corralling them in a pile or bin. Over the course of a year or so, the material will decompose.

Hot composting is for the more serious gardener, and you get compost in one to three months during warm weather. Four ingredients are required for fast-cooking hot compost: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Together, these items feed microorganisms, which speed up the process of decay.

Compost pile

To create your own organic hot-compost heap, wait until you have enough materials to make a pile at least 3 feet deep. Then, to ensure an even composition of materials, create alternating 4- to 8-inch-deep layers of green materials (kitchen scraps, fresh leaves, coffee grounds) and brown materials (dried leaves, shredded paper, untreated sawdust).

Compost pile

Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Don't add too much water -- otherwise the microorganisms in your pile will become waterlogged and drown. If this happens, your pile will rot instead of compost.

Check to see if your pile is decomposing by monitoring temperature. Check the temperature of the pile with a thermometer, or simply reach into the middle of the pile with your hand.

Compost pile

During the growing season, you should provide the pile with oxygen by turning it once a week with a garden fork. The best time to turn the compost is when the center of the pile feels warm or the thermometer reads between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Stirring up the pile helps it cook faster and prevents material from becoming matted down and developing a bad odor. At this point, the layers have served their purpose of creating equal amounts of green and brown materials throughout the pile, so stir thoroughly.


When the compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dry, brown, and crumbly, it's fully cooked and ready to feed to the garden.

Good Green Materials

compost bucket

  1. Fruit scraps
  2. Vegetable scraps
  3. Eggshells
  4. Coffee grounds
  5. Grass and plant clippings

Good Brown Materials

Raking leaves

  1. Dry leaves
  2. Finely chopped wood and bark chips
  3. Shredded newspaper
  4. Straw
  5. Sawdust from untreated wood

Don't Compost With:

  1. Anything containing meat, oil, fat, or grease
  2. Diseased plant materials
  3. Sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood
  4. Dog or cat feces
  5. Weeds that go to seed
  6. Dairy products

Continued on page 2:  All About Compost Bins