Composting 101

This is at least four months of compostable kitchen scraps that I’d been saving in our deep freezer for when Thomas was ready to work the compost this spring. That’s a lot of trash that will be converted into treasure for our garden. (And a much less smelly kitchen trash can!)

Did you know that my husband is not only a computer genius (in my book), but also a certified Master Composter? I’m so proud. Are you interested in learning more about how you can turn your kitchen scraps into valuable soil amendments? We wrote the article below for a small, online magazine (which has since ceased publication), and you might find the information helpful.

Composting has been happening since the dawn of time, making use of organic materials that now, typically and unfortunately, consume space in landfills.

Composting is simply the controlled breakdown of organic materials into a soil amendment known as compost. The two main approaches to composting are slow/cold and hot/fast. The method described here is the hot and fast method. Slow and cold composting is what typically happens on the forest floor; materials fall down and decay over time. In the backyard, this approach simply makes a pile of material and waits for a year or two before producing finished compost. The hot and fast method takes a more involved approach, with the composter tending the pile and producing finished compost in as little as three weeks. There are five essentials needed for the composting process to be successful.

Space – You will need a designated space no smaller than 3’x3’x3′. You can spend as much or as little as you like for a suitable bin. Do-it-yourself plans are abundant on the Internet. It is best to locate your pile away from your home and your garden, but not so far to be inconvenient for adding to or using your compost.

Nitrogen and Carbon
– These are the basic ingredients of your pile. Generally, browns are carbon and greens are nitrogen, with the best examples being leaves (brown, primarily carbon) and grass clippings (green, primarily nitrogen).

Water – Keep your pile moist like a damp sponge. Squeeze a clump of material in your hand, if water drips out, it is too wet, if the clump feels dry, it is too dry.

Air – Composting can occur with or without air. Hot and fast composting requires keeping oxygen available for the microorganisms that are breaking down the organic materials. To introduce air into the pile, simply turn the contents. A pitchfork comes in handy here. Ideally, you will turn the outsides of the pile into the middle and vice-versa. The top will become the bottom of the pile simply by turning it.

When you first build your pile, add your carbon and nitrogen materials in layers, keeping the ratio of carbon to nitrogen equal by weight. By volume, the ratio is 30:1. (It takes several bags of leaves to equal one bag of grass clippings.)

You can put just about anything organic in your pile with a few exceptions. While meat and dairy products will break down, these items tend to attract rodents and small animals. Pet food and pet and human feces are not recommended either. You can gather materials for your pile from your yard (leaves, grass clippings, last season’s garden plants) as well as those of neighbors and friends. Save bags of leaves from landfills!


Benefits to composting include saving money on water and buying fertilizers for you garden and yard. Because compost improves the soil structure and adds nutrients, water and nutrients will be better retained, and your garden and plants will grow stronger and healthier as a result. Finally, composting reduces the amount of unnecessary waste going into our landfills.

Further Resources
Resources about composting abound on the Internet. Your gardening club should be able to help as well as your local landfill administration (if you have one). An excellent, comprehensive composting resource is The Rodale Book of Composting.

On the Web

Can I Compost This?

Build Your Own Plans:

With lumber you purchase/have
With mesh wire only
With shipping pallets you scavenge from dumpsters (the way Thomas built our first bin)

Thomas is a Master Composter, certified by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

3 Responses to “Composting 101”

  1. D.O. says:

    You guys rule. I’d love to have seen Thomas going dumpster diving. I’d actually love it even more if I could have gone with him. Food for me and wood for him.

  2. Lyns says:

    This is such great info! I am making Jason read this. I had no idea Thomas was a Master Composter! That is really cool.


  3. Gabi Davis says:

    I was just checking on my compost pile today and had some questions. So Thomas, I need to chat with you sometime. I love to see the grids on a square foot garden. I just finished mine today. Also,i saw you older parfait post and wanted to tell you that Target carries Bunny Grahams and Chedder Bunnies for $2.24 a box. I usually wipe them out each time i go. They are on the very last row in the food section, against the outside wall (same wall as frozen stuff), on the very bottom rack. Hard to find, especially if i just cleaned them out! But so much cheaper. You are looking great and i’m glad things are going well with Toni.