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Composting: What, Where and How

Composting: What, Where and How

As a homeowner you can recycle most yard and kitchen waste, investing in a greener future and creating your own nutrient-rich soil conditioner rightly nicknamed black gold. “Composting” is a simple process and the addition of compost to any garden soil encourages plants to develop a deeper, more fibrous system that makes it more vigorous, productive, and drought resistant. Moreover, compost also conditions the soil so it’s able to retain moisture and nutrients as well as allowing more air into the soil system. Healthy roots depend on air, water, and readily available nutrients.

What to Compost

  • Household waste such as fruit and vegetable peelings, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, paper filters, flowers, tea leaves, tea bags, hair (animal and human), and newspapers can all be composted.
  • Outside, grass clippings, leaves, deadheaded flowers, and chopped up twigs and branches are ideal components.

What Not To Compost

Be aware that certain things should never be added to compost. They either take too long to break down, add unwanted resins, or attract undesirable pests like rats and raccoons.

  • Fatty foods like cooking oil, or salad dressing, charcoal from a BBQ, pet waste.
  • Diseased or insect infested plants, anything from a Walnut tree, Spruce and Pine needles, and plants with ripe seeds.

three compost binsWhere to Compost

  • For suburban and urban residential properties where space is at a premium, you can purchase a strong, plastic composter. It will not take much room and can be set on concrete patio stones to keep it level.
  • Your compost bin should be 20 cm – 30 cm. (8″-12″) away from walls, fences, and plants and placed in partial shade.
  • It needs to be accessible so you can keep adding material even in winter but out of major view. Along the side of your house is one possibility where you might consider setting up more than one bin.
  • On a larger property the homeowner has the luxury of setting up a larger composting area to handle the increased volume of yard waste.

How to Compost

  • Start with a 15 cm (6″) layer of Garden All, manure, or compost from a previous batch. The micro-organisms and friendly bacteria in these materials are crucial to speeding up the breakdown of all organic material.
  • Add a layer of “greens”. This green layer is high in nitrogen which helps the micro-organisms reproduce and, therefore, make the decomposition process quicker. The key is not to use too much, especially fresh grass clippings that can turn to green slime. You’ll know you’ve used too much nitrogen material if you catch a scent of ammonia.
  • Balance your green and your nitrogen layer 50/50 with a “brown,” carbon layer that could be dried grass clippings, dry leaves (chopped and saved from the previous fall in clear garbage bags), strips of newspaper, straw, or a very thin layer of sawdust or hardwood ash from a fireplace. Carbon provides the micro-organisms with energy and this too results in faster decomposition.
  • Always bury your food scraps in the centre of the pile, under the layer of waste compost
  • After each layer of green, add 2.5 cm (1″) of soil or a commercial Compost Accelerator and a layer of brown Carbon.
  • Continue this layering to the top of your composter.


  • Decomposing organic material needs to be moist but not wet.
  • Too much water results in an unpleasant odour of rotten eggs.
  • Open compost piles need to be covered if rain is forecasted to prevent this condition and the leaching away of nutrients.


  • Turn your compost regularly. The more often you do this and the compost is kept consistently moist, the quicker the material breaks down.


  • Your compost pile will start to heat up to an ideal interior temperature of 35°C – 55°C (95°F – 131°F). Higher temperatures will slow composting but most weed seeds, insects, and diseases will be killed.
  • If the interior falls below the optimum temperature, turn the pile over and it will heat up again.
  • During winter you can keep adding your green nitrogen layers, to 2.5 cm (1″) of soil or Accelerator, and brown carbon layers and wait until spring for the heat to build up inside again.

Finished Compost

  • Compost should be ready in approximately 2-3 months. This is especially true if you’ve chopped up larger material into smaller pieces, you’ve turned the pile regularly to add air, and kept it moist but not wet. Also, layering green and brown material with soil or Compost Accelerator that’s full of beneficial micro-organisms will speed up the process.
  • When the pile no longer shows traces of greens and browns and is a dark, crumbly brown with an earthy fragrance it’s ready to be worked into garden beds. You can use a screen to filter out larger chunks that can be returned to the ongoing pile for further decomposition.


Problem Likely Cause Solution
Bad odour Too many greens Add browns and mix.

Turn pile and top with soil.

Rotten egg smell Not enough air Turn pile for several days until odour is gone.

Top with soil.

Pile isn’t composting Too dry Add water until damp.
Flies around pile Exposed food Bury food or cover with a layer of soil.
Unwelcome animal visitors (raccoons, dogs, rodents, etc.) Exposed foods or wrong items added Remove any meats, fats, dairy products. Bury food scraps and cover with soil.