Fred Jaicks  Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks


Every gardener is looking for the secret ingredient to help their fruits, vegetables, and flowers grow well and continue producing for many years. For generations, expert gardeners have known that composting is one of the best ways to produce what they need to make their plants grow.

What is Composting?

Composting is a process that decomposes organic materials into humus, which is a dark, nutrient rich substance that can be blended into the garden soil. The process of composting is not difficult, and it is relatively inexpensive, making it an easy way to improve soil and add nutrients to plants.

How Do I Compost?

To compost, gardeners simply need the proper amount of ingredients, air, surface, area, and moisture. They will also need to build a composting bin. A variety of materials can be used to construct a composting bin, including chicken wire, wood pallets, and so on. It is especially important for the bin to be the proper size so that it can retain moisture and heat, and so that it can aerate properly to speed decomposition. The ideal compost bin is between 3′ x 3′ x 3′ and 5′ x 5′ x 5′.

The composting bin should be placed in an area of partial shade so that it can get heated without drying out the contents. If partial shade is unavailable, it may be worthwhile to purchase a patio umbrella with an accompanying umbrella stand to give your compost pile, and later on your plants, the needed relief. Once the bin is in place, you should follow these steps to compost outdoors properly:

  1. Layer equal quantities of green materials (grass cuttings, manure, green leaves, coffee grounds, tea leaves, fruits and vegetables) and brown materials (dead plants, straw, hay, autumn leaves, cardboard, newspaper).

  2. Make sure to break up large pieces of green and brown materials before you put them in the bin and sprinkle each layer lightly with water. Keep the pile moist, but not excessively wet or damp.

  3. Turn the pile with a pitchfork every two weeks. If you smell ammonia, it is not being aerated properly. You will probably see earthworms, which is a good thing.

  4. After a few weeks, take the bottom layer out and use it for gardening. It can be mixed with soil before you put plants on the ground, or you can layer it on top of the soil like you might do with mulch.

Can I Much Indoors?

Many people fear that they cannot mulch if they do not have a large yard, but it is relatively easy to mulch indoors. Small bins can be placed in your kitchen, garage, balcony, patio, or other area, but make sure that the bin has small holes in its bottom and a lid to keep out the odors. Layer and mix every two weeks to get the humus or compost that you want.

For More Information

The above information has only scratched the surface when it comes to composting. For more on composting at home, please consult the following links:

• Composting in Florida — Gardeners in Florida and the Southeastern United States will appreciate this page on gardening in tropical climates.

• Humus, Composts, and Mulches — This resource will provide a great overview on humus, compost, and mulches, and it will also describe the gardening varieties of each.

• I’ve Got Worms — On this page, readers can find a good article on worms and their value in composting.

• Living Acres’ Composting Guide — The benefits of compost for garden soil and pest control can be found on this page.

• Men’s Garden Club Composting and Gardening — Home gardeners can find a variety of great links about composting and gardening on this page.

• Mid-Atlantic BioSolids Organization — The resources on this page are a great introduction to landfills, biosolid waste, composting, and much more.

• Permaculture Resource List — This resource list is an excellent way to explore what to do with your yard and your lawn.

• Recycling Insights — Gain insights into recycling, composting, and more on this page.