Your Reading List

The importance of composting

Understanding how to make and use compost important as problem of waste disposal continues to grow


Compost is decomposed organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste. It provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and therefore is often used as fertilizer. Compost also improves soil structure so that soil can easily hold the correct amount of moisture, nutrients and air. It improves the texture of both clay soils and sandy soils, making either type rich, moisture retentive, and loamy.

Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments. Most gardeners know the value of this rich, dark, earthy material in improving the soil and creating a healthful environment for plants. Understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest, as the problem of waste disposal continues to grow.

A few of the many benefits of compost are:

  • Reduction in garbage volume.
  • A rich, natural fertilizer cuts back on use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Improves soil aeration and drainage.
  • Helps control weeds.
  • Decreases the need for costly watering.

The following tips are from the River Keepers, and for more information on building your own composter, go to

  • As soon as decomposition begins, the volume of the pile will decrease. Don’t be tempted to add more materials at this point, as this resets the clock on that batch.
  • You will maximize your composting efforts if you aerate by turning or mixing the heap about once a week. A garden fork or hay fork work well.
  • Finished compost is usually less than half the volume of the materials you started with, but it’s much denser. When finished it should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you originally placed in the pile.

Some common problems to watch for are:

  • If the compost is too wet, turn it more frequently or add dry brown material.
  • If the pile doesn’t heat up, add more green material to the compost; may need to add water; may need to aerate.
  • If there is an ammonia or rotten egg smell, turn the compost or add brown material to dry it out.
  • If large amounts of dropped apples or kitchen scraps attract wasps or other unwelcome pests, turn more frequently.

Here’s some ways to use finished compost:

  • Mix compost into the soil to improve it.
  • Spread compost on lawn to fill in low spots.
  • Use as mulch for landscaping and gardening.
  • Mix compost into potted plants.

Key materials for composting are nitrogen-rich ‘greens’ and carbon-rich ‘browns,’ water, and air. Examples of greens are green leaves, coffee grounds/filters, tea bags, plant trimming, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells and fresh grass clippings. Examples of browns are dead plants, sawdust from untreated lumber, twigs, and dried grasses, weeds, straw and leaves. Water allows microbes in your compost to grow and help decompose material. The compost should be moist. Air aids in decomposition and controls odours. A good recipe is one part green to four parts brown.

Some items not to compost are:

  • Meat, fish and animal fats — These materials may attract unwanted visitors to your compost pile.
  • Shredded newspapers or office paper — The paper may contain chemicals that are not good for your compost. Recycle them instead.
  • Ashes from your grill — Wood ashes can be very useful in small quantities, but BBQ grill ashes should NEVER go into your compost pile.
  • Dog and cat feces — These materials can add diseases to your compost, and they have an unpleasant odour. Use chicken, horse, cow, and rabbit manure instead.
  • Sawdust from treated lumber — Sometimes lumber is treated with harmful chemicals.

With a small investment of time, you can contribute to the solution to a community waste disposal problem, while at the same time enriching the soil and improving the health of your yard and garden.

About the author



Stories from our other publications