Home & Backyard Composting
Introduction to Home Composting
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:
- improves soil health & fertility
- increases the nutrient content of soils
- promotes higher yields of crops
- brings & feeds diverse life in soils
- makes soil easier to work with
- increases soil porosity & moisture retention
- suppresses plant diseases & pests
- can reduce the need for fertilizers & pesticides
- encourages healthy root systems
- helps regenerate poor soils
- can prevent & manage soil erosion problems
- 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…
You 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
- 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
- Backyard Composting of Yard, Garden, and Food Discards Sherman, R. 2017. NC State Extension. AG-791. 5 p.
- 2-page handout version (print on both sides of one sheet of paper)
- Composting (Sherman, R. 2017. Composting, Chapter 2. In: K.A. Moore, and. L.K. Bradley (eds). Extension Gardener Handbook. NC State Extension, Raleigh, NC. <https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/2-composting> 14 p.
- What CAN be Composted (Rhonda Sherman)
- Herbicide Carryover in Hay, Manure, Compost and Grass Clippings: Caution to Hay Producers, Livestock Owners, Farmers, and Home Gardeners Davis, J., Johnson, S.E., and Jennings, K. 2015. AG-727W. NC State Extension. 6 p.
- Community Backyard Composting Programs Can Reduce Waste & Save Money Sherman, R. 2000. NC State Extension. AG-599. 12 p.
- Composting: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes Bilderback, T., Bass, L., and Powell, K. 1992. NC State Extension. AG-467. 8 p.
- Composting and Microorganisms (Rhonda Sherman)
- Compost Pile Troubleshooting (Rhonda Sherman)
- Composting at NC Residential and Summer Camps Sherman, R. and Caldwell, E. 2018. NC State Extension. AG-773. 4 p.
- Composting in Childcare Center Gardens Sherman, R. 2015. NC State Extension. LF-007-07. 4 p.
Other Web Sites and Publications
- NCDEQ Division of Environmental Assistance
- NC Composting Council
- Composting in Your Backyard, NRCS Natural Resource Conservation Service (search composting for more information)
- Building Your Own Composting Bin: Designs for Your Community (California Integrated Waste Management Board, Pub. No. 442-95-054, Rev. 6/06, 27 p.).
- Composting and Mulching: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes
- Home Composting
- Composting and Mulching
- Compost: A Guide to Managing Yard Waste
- Build Your Own Compost Bin
- Cornell Composting for Schools