Garbage to Garden: Tips for Successful Composting


What smells like earth, enriches the soil, and is free for the making? Compost!  

A healthy compost pile is easy to maintain, smells just like dirt, and when done properly, does not attract animals.  

Best of all, reusing organic waste provides an elegant earth-to-earth closed system. Nutrient-rich scraps from vegetables grown in your garden are diverted from the landfill, instead going into the compost bin. Within a few months, they return to your garden to help the next generation of vegetables to grow.  

Tips for Successful Composting

  1. The composting process relies on a recipe of heat, water, air, and the mixture of green materials (fresh grass clippings, spent flowers, fruit and veggie scraps) and brown materials (hay, dried leaves, pine needles, etc.). Try for a 3:1 (three browns to one green) ratio.
  2. As composting becomes more popular, more and more bin models are available for purchase. The simplest systems may be just as effective as the more high-tech versions.  
  3. Situate your compost bin or pile in a shady outdoor area with access to rain/snow. Some sunlight is fine, but the pile should not be in constant, direct sun. For ease of access, consider placing the bin near your garden, or use a wheelbarrow to transport it from bin to garden.  
  4. Start your pile with a four-inch layer of leaves or yard trimmings (break into small pieces to expedite the process). Add a bit of water to make the pile moist, but not soggy. Let the pile sit for a week or so.
  5. Begin adding food scraps. What can go into the pile? Any fruit or vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded black and white newspaper  – even vacuum cleaner lint! But, do not add animal products or oils/grease. These products are more likely to attract animals and to add an unpleasant odor to your compost pile. See complete Do and Don't list below.
  6. Place a compost container on your kitchen countertop and you’ll be more likely to compost. Many small types and colors can now be purchased, but a coffee can does nicely, too. Get in the habit of taking out the compost when you take out the garbage.
  7. Every few weeks, turn the pile -- completely mix the compost material in the bin/pile with a pitchfork, hoe, or sturdy rake. Special compost aerators are sold, too. In addition to blending the “greens” and “browns,” mixing helps to aerate the organic material and distribute moisture evenly.  You may notice an entire ecosystem thriving in your bin – insects, worms, and more! They are working to turn your scraps into rich compost. You may also notice that the pile is warm or even hot. Again, this is a normal part of the decomposition process.
  8. Add more yard trimmings and food scraps whenever you have them. Store a bag or two of fall leaves to add when “browns” are scarce.

In about six months, your compost will look like soil (if not the whole bin, then certainly the lowest levels of the pile) and can be used to supplement your garden. If you want to wait until planting season, your compost can keep “cooking” until you are ready to use it, just keep adding yard and food scraps.  

Have more compost than you can use? Some municipalities have compost pickup services. Check to see if yours is one of them! Or, share with your gardening friends.

Composting Dos and Don’ts


  • vegetable scraps
  • coffee grounds
  • tea bags (remove any staples)
  • B&W newspaper and printer paper (small amounts and small pieces/shreds decompose faster)
  • eggshells (better if ground into small pieces)
  • dryer lint
  • leaves
  • grass clippings
  • wood shavings/sawdust
  • most yard waste as long as it isn’t diseased
  • fireplace ash
  • flowers or houseplants
  • nut shells
  • hair from your hairbrush or pet fur


  • any animal products not mentioned above (dairy, meat, bones, eggs – except for shells)
  • oils/fats of any kind
  • kitty litter
  • diseased plants
  • plants treated with chemical herbicides
  • twist ties, staples, plastic
  • charcoal or charcoal ash