Composting Basics

Organic gardening is a method of gardening where the gardener strives to work in harmony with natural systems and to minimize and continually replenish any resources the garden consumes. It entails much more than eschewing synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides.  It respects natural processes including building healthy soils, using beneficial insects and is focused on making the garden self-sufficient and sustainable. The soil is built from materials such as natural fertilizers and soil amendments as well as mulches and top-dressing.  All plant materials are returned to the earth via composting.  It recognizes that water is a finite resource and reduces unnecessary water usage as much as possible by mulching, using sound gardening practices and harvesting runoff via rain barrels.

Conserve and Use Your Yard’s Resources

Leave your grass clippings on the lawn to naturally rebuild the soils and fertilize it as they decompose. If your grass is too tall to leave the clippings in place, harvest them to use as mulch or put in the compost pile.   Compost, aka black gold, is a gift from nature.  Do not throw out your organic waste such as leaves and grass clippings. Compost them and improve the health of your soil.  Use your mulching mower each fall to chop up your leaves and let them decompose in place or put them into your compost pile.  Since they have been reduced in size they will decompose more quickly.

Other Home Additives

Kitchen waste is an ideal addition for your compost bin.  This included vegetative matter, coffee grinds, egg shells, tea bags, melon rinds, old vegetables from the crisper, houseplant trimmings, paper towels (when used for wiping vegetative matter ), paper napkins (*Note from editor *I don’t use paper napkins anymore but haven’t found a good way to eliminate paper towels), paper towel and toilet paper cardboard rolls, cooked plain rice, cooked plain pasta, stale bread, pressed cardboard egg cartons (torn up) and nut shells (not walnut).  Other items from around the house might include: sawdust (not from pressure treated wood), shredded newspaper, shredded office paper/school papers, shredded, non-glossy junk mail,

What NOT to include

Bones, meat, eggs (again, egg shells are okay), cheese, and other dairy products or oils should be thrown in the garbage. Excrement from dogs and cats should also be kept out.

Composting 101

Follow these simple instructions and start composting today!

Gather ingredients

  1. Green – nitrogen rich ingredients such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, but no meat scraps), or barnyard animal manure (even though its color is usually brown, manure is full of nitrogen like the other “green” stuff). Do not use manure from carnivores, such as cats or dogs.
  2. Brown – . Carbon-rich materials, include fall leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden, and shredded newspaper.
  3. Soil – just a shovelful or so.
  4. A good location – about 3 ft. by 3 ft.

Layer the ingredients

  1. Start with several inches of the brown. Then add several inches of the green. Add some soil and repeat. Moisten slightly.
  2. Continue layering until the pile is 3’ high.
  3. Adding ingredients in a ratio of three parts brown to one part green is helpful. The right proportions of the materials will hasten decomposition.

However, add whatever organic materials that you have. They will eventually decompose. Typically, you have more green in the summer and more brown in the fall. Just do your best with the proportions.


Turn the contents of the pile every couple of weeks with a pitchfork or shovel Try to move the center contents to the outside and work the stuff on the outside to the center of the pile. Keep the pile moist, but not soggy. As the pile contents decompose, you may see steam rising from your pile as you turn it. Great job! This is a sign that the pile is heating up as a result of the decomposition of its contents. You will eventually see earthworms throughout the pile and the center of the pile will turn into black, crumbly, sweet-smelling “black gold.”

You don’t need to get fancy to start. You can simply create a pile.  However, you may find that it looks a little neater in your yard if you have a bin of some kind.

The Master Gardeners of Mercer County have a permanent exhibit of bins, check out:

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