Compost is what you get when yard and garden debris, kitchen scraps and other organic materials have completely broken down into a rich, dark, crumbly material. Composting is simply the process of changing raw, organic materials, such as grass clippings, sod, leaves, tree trimmings and organic food scraps into a rich, loamy soil conditioner via decomposition. This is done by layering materials in a pile. The speed of decomposition depends on what you put in it, where it is located (sun or shade), the size and moisture level of the pile, and how frequently you turn or manage it.

There are many benefits to composting. One of the best reasons is because it is free and easy. By recycling the waste you produce on your property and creating your own, free compost, you are producing the very best soil amendment you can add to your lawn or garden. It is high in nutrients, does not burn your plants, and microorganisms produced in the decomposition process help plants flourish and be healthy. You are also keeping these products out of our landfills. Compost can additionally be used as mulch, keeping weeds in check and retaining moisture, thus reducing you water consumption. Compost is also one of the best clay soil busters.

There is a lot of information about composting that states that you must follow a specific process when layering and a strict schedule of turning and monitoring moisture and temperature. However, all organic material will decompose, eventually. Adhering to the guidelines simply speeds up the process. If you are not in a rush, just make a pile and add to it over the course of a year. At the end of the year, you will have compost at the bottom. If you do not want to wait that long, follow the guidelines below.

What To Put In A Compost Pile

  • Leaves
  • Dry grass, lawn clippings, and sod, not wet
  • Hay, straw, pine needles (not too many pine needles or they will change the pH)
  • Annual weeds (preferably before they go to seed)
  • Garden plant and houseplant remains
  • Woodchips, sawdust, fireplace ashes (ash in thin layers)
  • Shredded paper
  • Tea, bags or loose leaf
  • Coffee grounds and coffee filters
  • Egg shells
  • Food scraps excluding meat, fat and bones

What Not To Put In A Compost Pile

  • Wet grass clippings
  • Paint, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides
  • Treated wood
  • Diseased plants
  • Annual weeds that have gone to seed
  • Roots of perennial weeds
  • Human or pet waste
  • Meat scraps or bones
  • Fats or grease
  • Milk products
  • Charcoal or coal ashes

Steps For Faster Compost Production

Balancing ingredients

The usual rule of thumb is 2-parts brown to 1-part green. Brown organic waste is leaves, pine needles, and dead plants. Green organic waste is grass clippings and kitchen waste. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose. Use a compost starter to get the process going and ensure success. Alternate layers of brown, green, compost starter, and soil, with no layer being more than 6″ thick.

Hot versus cold

Hot compost piles will decompose quicker than cold ones. By adding more green material to the center of the pile, you can cause it to heat up more and therefore speed up decomposition. The cold process is basically just creating a pile and letting nature takes its course. If you choose, you can easily monitor the temperature of your pile with the use of a compost thermometer.

Small or large pile

Any size compost pile will work. Smaller piles are easier to turn and break down more quickly. You will probably want to consider the amount of room you have to spare, as the pile will probably be there for quite some time!


Compost piles should have an earthy smell. If you detect a strong odour of rotting, the pile is probably too wet. This can be solved by adding additional brown material or turning the pile to redistribute the wet parts. If you want to speed up compost production, though, you do not want to let the pile dry out too much. The pile should be kept as moist as a squeezed out sponge.

Bins versus pile

Bins hold a limited amount of materials. They are usually black and attract heat. If you decide to use the pile option, consider constructing 2-3 enclosures. This can be as simple as creating a few rings with hardware cloth and stakes; or more elaborate by creating a couple of 3-sided boxes (open top and front) with recycled pallets or cement blocks. Get creative. The enclosures basically help contain the materials and make flipping and turning a little easier.

Sun versus Shade

The more sun your pile or compost bin gets, the faster it will decompose.

These are guidelines to get you started. For additional information talk to the experts in our garden store.