Fact Sheet FS811
What is Composting?
Composting is a natural process where organic materials decompose and are recycled into a dark, crumbly, earthy smelling soil conditioner known as "compost". Compost improves soil structure and moisture retention, and contributes to healthy plant growth by providing plant nutrients.
Why Should I Compost?
- Composting can save money!
- Reduces fertilizer and water use
- Avoids garbage collection and landfill fees
- Reduces the need for soil and plant amendments
- Composting helps the environment
- Reduces the volume of garbage going to landfills, transfer stations and incinerators
- Composting benefits your soil and plants
- Improves soil structure and texture
- Increases aeration and water holding
- Promotes soil fertility
- Stimulates healthy root development
- Aids in erosion control
- Reduces chemical inputs
- Composting is easy
- Save time bagging grass and leaves
- Quick and fun way to do part for the environment
- Vegetable food scraps
- Grass clippings
- Sawdust and wood ash
- Chopped twigs and branches
- Coffee grounds w/filters
- Meat scraps
- Diseased or insect infested plants
- Weeds with seeds
- Dog and cat feces
- Food with grease or soap residues
Slow Harvest: Ready in 12–18 Months
Made by adding layers of available yard waste over several months.
- Set compost bin where is will get rain.
- Put yard waste in bin as it is generated in your yard. The material at the bottom and in the center will compost first.
Fast Harvest: Ready in 5–15 Weeks
Made by mixing equal weights of green and brown materials at once.
- Add green materials such as grass clippings or vegetable scraps mixed with brown materials such as leaves (no woody-type materials should be included).
- Add water to pile until it's as wet as a wrung out sponge.
- Turn pile with a pitch fork or compost aerator tool twice a week for faster compost production (less often in wintertime).
Types of Compost Bins
Compost can be made in open piles. However, to help keep a pile neat and maintain conditions needed for rapid decomposition, consider simple homemade or store bought bins. See back page for demonstration sites in New Jersey.
- Made from wood pallets
- Made from snow fences
- Compost Tumbler
- Durable Plastic Bin
Here is how to solve problems should they occur:
|Pile has a rotten odor||Not enough air||Turn pile|
|Pile has ammonia odor||Too many greens||Add brown material like leaves/straw|
|Pile is dry||Not enough water; too much woody material||Turn and moisten; add fresh greens|
|Low pile temperature (pile is not composting)||Pile is too small||Add new materials|
|Insufficient moisture||Add water|
|Poor aeration||Turn pile|
|Lack of nitrogen||Mix in greens like grass or food scraps|
|Cold weather||Insulate pile with layer of straw or cover with tarp|
|Pests (rats, raccoons, insects)||Presence of meat or fatty food scraps||Remove from pile|
Keys to Good Compost
Water: The microorganisms in the compost pile need water to live. Water pile only as needed, to maintain compost as moist as a wrung out sponge. Don't let your pile dry out completely.
Nutrients: The microorganisms in the pile need carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein in order to survive. A good balance can be achieved by mixing two parts of nitrogen rich green materials such as grass clippings, with one part of carbon rich brown materials such as leaves. However, carbon-rich leaves by themselves will compost.
Aeration: To speed up decomposition, turn the pile frequently using a pitch fork. This provides the microorganisms with enough oxygen to thrive so they can heat up the compost. Placing large branches at the bottom of the pile will also help add air to the pile. Minimal turning would be once per month and less frequently during the year.
Surface area: The more surface area the microorganisms have to work on, the faster materials will decompose. Consider chopping materials, particularly brush or branches which have a diameter of ¼ inch or more. Pile size is also important. For quicker decomposition, pile should be at least 3 feet x 3 feet to hold the heat of microbial activity, but not so large (larger than 5 feet x 5 feet) that air can't reach microbes at the center of the pile.
Use for Compost
Mulch: Spread compost around flower and vegetable plantings, trees, shrubs, and on exposed slopes. This will smother weeds, keep plant roots moist, and prevent soil erosion.
Soil Conditioner: Mix 1–3 inches of compost into vegetable and flower beds before planting. This returns organic matter to the soil in a usable form.
Potting Mix: Make your own mix by using equal parts of compost and sand or soil. Make sure compost is fully decomposed and screened.
Some books to help you along…
- Backyard Composting, Harmonious Technologies, P.O. Box 1865-100 Ojai, CA 93024
- How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons, Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Rd. Willits, CA 09590
- Let it Rot, Stu Campbell, Storey Communications, Inc., Schoolhouse Rd., RD #1, Box 105, Pownal, VT 05261
- The Rodale Guide to Composting, R.A. Simpson, Rodale Press, 33 E. Miner St., Emmaus, PA 18098
- Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof, Flower Press, 10322 Shaver Rd., Kalamazoo, MI 49002
For additional information on composting or where to get compost materials, call your Rutgers Cooperative Extension county office, found in the telephone directory blue pages, under "County Government" or your county recycling office.
Compost Deconstruction Areas
These areas in New Jersey have various types of compost bins on display. Call ahead for hours and when tours or workshops are given.
Atlantic County Utilities Authority Geo Garden
6700 Delilah Rd.
Egg Harbor Township, NJ
Burlington County Resource Recovery Geo Garden
Complex, Rt 543
Border of Florence and Mansfield Township
Mazza & Sons, Inc. Recycling Facility
3230 Shafto Rd.
Tinton Falls, NJ
Davidson's Mill Pond Park, Riva Avenue
South Brunswick, NJ
Deep Cut Park, Red Hill Rd.
Frelinghuysen Arboretum, 53 E. Hanover Ave.
Morris Township, NJ
Passaic County Office of Recycling
1310 Rt. 23 N
Photos courtesy of Lindsay Halladay.
Mention or display of a trademark, proprietary product, or firm in text or figures does not constitute an endorsement by Rutgers Cooperative Extension and does not imply approval to the exclusion of other suitable products or firms.
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Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.