Methods of Backyard Composting

Hot/fast composting
Mix brown and green materials, keep damp and aerate the pile by turning or mixing once or twice a week.

  • Advantage: This method is the quickest method to finished compost and the best control of weed seeds and pathogens. More nutrient-rich than slow (cold) piles.

  • Disadvantage: More effort required. Needs to be aerated often and works best with a larger amount of material.

Slow/passive composting
Layer your compost bin or pile with browns and kitchen scraps. Make sure you cover the kitchen scraps thoroughly with browns each time. Keep adding brown and green material. Water each batch of material you put in so that the moisture is evenly distributed. When bin is filled you can start a second bin. After approximately a year, the first bin or pile will have decomposed enough for your use.

  • Advantage: Requires a low level of management.

  • Disadvantage: It will take a year or more and weed seeds or diseases will not be destroyed.

Dig-a-hole composting
This method simply requires a trench or hole dug in the garden area, fill with kitchen scraps and backfill it with soil.

  • Advantage: Requires no maintenance.

  • Disadvantage: Composts only a small amount of material at a time.

Good for cold composting. Need to add materials (finely chopped) all at once. Add a small amount of soil into the bin to add microorganisms. Turn every day.

  • Advantage: No odor problems and has a tidy appearance.

  • Disadvantage: Composts small amounts at a time.

A community of compost critters
Your compost bin is a happy home for a multitude of critters from microscopic bacteria to earthworms. These soil critters are nature's recyclers and belong in the compost pile. In fact, most of the work is done by molds and bacteria. The biological activity of the microbes causes the temperature to rise.

As you start your pile and develop a desirable environment (water, air and food) three levels of bacteria will appear:

Psychrophiles - low temperature bacteria that work at 0-70°

Mesophiles - medium temperature bacteria that work at 40-110°

Thermophiles - high temperature bacteria that work at 110-200°

As the pile cools other organisms, i.e., fungi and actinomycetes (that cobwebby growth) show up. As the cooling continues, invertebrates i.e., spiders, centipedes, millipedes and earthworms will appear. When you see these critters, it's a sign that the temperature has lowered. Sowbugs and pillbugs come in to get the leftovers that were not decomposed by others

Compost thermometers are available for measuring compost temperature.