Food scraps and yard waste make up about a quarter of total household trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Composting organic waste is a great way to save landfill space and reduce methane gas emissions while creating a rich fertilizer that will help your garden soil retain moisture.

Spring is a perfect time to start a compost pile in your yard. Although there are different approaches to home composting, these compost tips will help get any outdoor pile off to a good start.

Tip 1: Get the brown/green ratio right

To keep your compost pile healthy and happy, it needs nitrogen, carbon, air and water. Maintain this balance by feeding it equal parts green and brown ingredients. Green materials — such as vegetable and fruit waste, coffee grounds, grass clippings and eggshells — contain nitrogen. Brown materials — including straw, branches and dead leaves — contain carbon.

Tip 2: Stir your compost weekly

When the compost has a lot of fresh materials, it is super important to stir it at least once a week. Aerobic bacteria, which are very important to decomposition, need oxygen to thrive. When oxygen levels drop (when the compost isn’t stirred periodically), anaerobic bacteria take over the process, leading to compost that smells and slowed decomposition.

Air is a necessary ingredient to keep the aerobic bacteria healthy by providing oxygen. Therefore, it’s vital for keeping the microorganisms healthy and even the bug populations in an ideal range. Although it is normal to have some flies or beetles, you don’t want them to get out of hand.

The best way to stir your compost depends on the method you are using. Compost tumblers are popular because they can be stirred by turning a crank. Other designs use three bins, and new materials are added to only one bin. In this case, a pitchfork works well.

Tip 3: Keep critters out

Depending on where you live, raccoons and rodents may be attracted to your compost because of the types of ingredients and the smell. It is helpful to not add meat, oil or cheese products. Stirring your compost at least once a week and getting the green/brown ratio right makes your pile less attractive to neighborhood critters.

Tip 4: Cut up large rinds and peels

It’s helpful to have a lot of surface area in your pile for microorganisms. Cut up your materials to make them easier to decompose, speeding up the process and keeping the microbes happy. In general, the smaller the materials, the quicker the pile will be ready. This is especially true for difficult-to-compost ingredients, such as wood. Although this tip is optional, it does speed up the composting process from start to finish and can give you a more consistent finished product.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.