Skip to main content

NC State Extension

Home & Backyard Composting

Introduction to Home Composting


A homeowner sifts soil made from his compost bin in background. Composting is an excellent way to recycle organic household and yard materials.

More than 25% of the typical household’s waste is yard trimmings and food scraps that can be composted.

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials into a soil-like substance called compost. Organic materials, such as grass clippings, leaves, yard trimmings, food scraps, and non-recyclable paper products, can be composted at home in compost bins, piles, or worm bins. Home composting is an easy and economical way for individuals to convert their organic waste into a soil amendment that they can use to mulch landscaping, enhance plant growth, enrich topsoils, and provide other benefits to plants and soil.

Compost benefits include:

  1. improves soil health & fertility
  2. increases the nutrient content of soils
  3. promotes higher yields of crops
  4. brings & feeds diverse life in soils
  5. makes soil easier to work with
  6. increases soil porosity & moisture retention
  7. suppresses plant diseases & pests
  8. can reduce the need for fertilizers & pesticides
  9. encourages healthy root systems
  10. helps regenerate poor soils
  11. can prevent & manage soil erosion problems
  12. reduces water demands of plants & trees

4 Great Reasons to Compost Yard Waste

It saves money – Converting your food scraps and yard trimmings to compost saves on buying soil amendments and fertilizers. Homeowners who discard yard waste are giving away their yards’ potential soil nutrients

Saves time – Discarding to a compost pile is often faster than bagging and bundling sticks for streetside yard disposal.

Reduces trash disposal – Your community will need less landfill space and incinerator capacity. Less pollution will be emitted by landfills and waste-hauling trucks

It’s educational – Learning about composting and natural processes is interesting for people young or old. Children can learn to conserve natural resources through composting activities. It’s a great way to teach natural sciences.

Simple tools to get you started…

wheelbarrel of yardwasteYou can compost in a pile or in a bin that you have constructed or purchased. On the internet, you can find plans for making compost bins or sites that sell manufactured bins. Some communities sell composting bins at a subsidized rate. Place your compost bin in a flat, open space that is easily accessible but not right next to your house. Keep areas in front of and above the bin clear so you can get to it easily. Placing it in a shady area is best so it won’t dry out as quickly. Siting your bin near gardens where you will use the compost is also a good idea.

Composting tools list (suggested, not necessary)

  • Thick work or gardening gloves
  • Digging fork with metal tines and reinforced handle
  • Aerator (resembles screw or butterfly clips)
  • Watering can or hose
  • Containers or buckets
  • Screener
  • Flat shovel or tapered spade

Questions and Answers

How do I compost?

Two basic styles: Single Batch (materials are added only once to form a pile) and Continuous Pile (add materials as they become available).

When is compost ready to use?

It takes about 3 to 6 months to produce finished compost using the Hot Pile Method. The Cold Pile Method will take about a year or longer. Compost is ready to use when it is dark brown, has a light and crumbly texture similar to potting soil, and has a pleasant, earthy scent.

Are animals attracted to compost piles?

Not if you manage the pile correctly. Don’t put meat, fish, dairy products, grease, oil, bloodmeal or bones in your compost bin. Cover kitchen scraps or vegetable garden trimmings with brown leaves or other carbon materials.

Horticulture Extension Publications on Home Composting

Other Web Sites and Publications