Backyard Composting

Four Easy Steps to Composting at Home

Kindly put together by Julie Poplaski, Master Gardener Volunteer with CCE Madison

Step 1: Pick Out A BinPick out a bin image

  • Make sure your bin is at least 3x3x3 feet in size.
  • A sunny vs. shady spot will impact how fast your compost will dry out or hold water.
  • A closed bin (like a tumbler) is the only way to ensure you will keep critters out. It will also keep out microbes which are needed to break down your waste. If you use a closed bin make sure to add a shovel full of soil from the ground.
  • Keep your bin somewhere convenient to use and access. It can be helpful to have a hose within reach if weather is dry.
  • Pallets make great open compost bins and free if you can get a hold of them. They should be stamped, look for ones that say HT for heat treated. If stamp says MB leave them be and keep looking.
  • If you make your own closed bin with a vessel like a garbage can, you will need to drill holes to allow oxygen exchange.

Step 2: Gather MaterialsGather Materials

  • A common way to describe materials that go in your compost is brown or greens. Browns are higher in carbon while greens have a higher nitrogen to carbon ratio.
  • 3 parts brown to 1 part green is optimal. This ratio does not have to be exact but will generally achieve the best results.
  • Leave out feces from cats and dogs, invasive plants, weed seeds, oil, fats, plastics or non organic matter.
  • Gather kitchen waste in a container by your sink. If you can not have the bowl inside a cabinet get a container with a lid to help minimize fruit flies and pests.




Vegetable Scraps


Coffee Grounds

Wood Chips



Grass Clippings


Manure *herbivores only


Garden Waste


Step 3: Maintain

  • If you have a open bin, layer some small sticks and twigs at the bottom to help with air and drainage when starting.
  • From here, you should layer your browns and greens. You can imagine you are making a bowl for your greens to lay in the middle and then add more browns on top.
  • Because your greens are mostly made in the kitchen and will need to go out frequently it is handy to have a large pile of browns near your bin to add when greens are ready.
  • Keep your compost at 40-60% water content. It should be the consistency of a wrung out sponge.
  • Turning helps a pile break down faster and makes sure oxygen is present.

Step 4: Harvest and More!Compost material Opens in new window

  • You will know when your compost is done when it has a earthy smell and looks like rich dark soil.
  • If you do not fully turn the pile, your finished compost will be at the bottom of the pile.
  • If you are running out of browns; shredded newspaper, paper towel and toilet paper rolls make good brown additions.

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