Merriam-Webster defines compost as “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.”

The mixture is great to use in gardens or as a nutrient-rich addition to the soil in a yard. And, there is no need to waste your hard-earned money buying compost.

Why? Well, because it’s easy to create compost right in your back yard.

Knowing what elements need to be in your pile, and how much tender loving care (TLC) is required are key. Let’s break it down here (no pun intended) so it will be doable for anyone who wants to lessen their environmental impact.

Image courtesy Kirsty Hall
Image courtesy Kirsty Hall

Brown and green materials

In order for the biodegradation to occur successfully, microorganisms within the pile need the appropriate food. Microorganisms need to eat too, you know. Both “green” and “brown” elements are necessary for composting. Green materials could be food scraps from the kitchen or grass clippings from the yard. Brown materials refer to items such as dry leaves or branches.

Trial and error may be necessary to achieve an ideal ratio between the two components. Breaking up larger items into smaller sizes is important to maximize the feeding surface area for the microorganisms.

Moisture and oxygen

The compost pile also requires moisture and oxygen. Sound familiar? Moisture may never be an issue if nature provides enough rain; however, you may have to add some water if your pile is becoming too dry.

An easy way to ensure that an adequate amount of oxygen is getting to your tiny organisms is to routinely turn the pile with a shovel. Too much oxygen can be detrimental to the process so make sure you don’t turn the pile too frequently.

Rising temperatures

If these steps are done well, the temperature of the pile will increase which is central to composting success. According to composting basics outlined by the EPA, “certain temperatures promote rapid composting and destroy pathogens and weed seeds.” Temperature is an important factor to consider when troubleshooting your pile, but it will not be an issue if the other steps are performed effectively.

Friends with (mutual) benefits

By now, your composted pile and yard should be best of friends. By partaking in composting, you reduce the amount of food scraps that would have been sent to a landfill otherwise thus having a positive effect on the environment.

In addition, your mature compost can be used in your yard – enriching your soil without the use of chemical fertilizers. This outcome has a dual benefit since you will save money not having to buy fertilizer, and the chemicals of the fertilizer will not be entering the environment adding to pollution.

No worries if you are unable to have a compost pile due to your living situation. Many composting facilities exist for your use. You can look up your area on this site to find a site close to you. Collect your food scraps in a 5-gallon bucket with a lid for storage and for easy transportation to your drop off location.

These basic facts are all that is needed to get started on your composting adventure. To further increase your knowledge about the science of composting, check out the EPA’s composting site, which provides a more thorough overview. Happy composting!

Feature image courtesy daryl_mitchell

By Tori Wilson

Victoria (Tori) Wilson currently works at her home state's EPA. She graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Environmental Engineering. Tori’s favorite activities include volleyball, 3D puzzles, reading, journaling, trying out new plant based whole food dish ideas, coloring, watching comedy or action movies, and hiking. She just welcomed a new puppy into her life as well!