Gardening 101 – Compost

Many books have been written on the topic of composting.  I am just going to give a brief overview.  Compost is nothing more then broken down organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste.   Compost piles don’t, or I say shouldn’t smell, don’t have to be an eye sore, and produces the gardeners most beloved soil amendment.

There are two main types of composting: hot composting and cold composting.  With hot composting, the temperature of the compost pile is brought to 120 to 160 degrees.  This is done by adding the proper amounts of browns, greens, air, and water, and turning the pile.  This may seem a bit daunting to many, so they may chose to use the cold composting method.  Cold composting uses the same ingredients as hot composting, but ingredients can be added in no particular order and no turning is required.  The main differences, other then method are:  hot composting is fast, kills weed seeds, and kills disease organisms.  Because high temperatures are not reached in cold composting weed seeds and disease are not killed.  In fact, do not put weeds or diseased plants into the pile as you could just be spreading both when using the finished compost.  Also, cold composting can take up to a year or more.

Do I have to have a fancy bin in order to make compost?

Absolutely not!  Your compost pile can be as unruly or neat as you choose.  But if you live on a small lot where the pile can be seen, a garbage can or tumbler type is probably best.  For others, pallets, wire mesh, hay, and cindar blocks make great building materials.  Note: If you are hot composting it is essential to have air flow, tumblers, pallets or wire mesh may be your best choices.  Also for hot composting you pile needs to be at least 3 cubic feet, but 4 cubic feet is best.


* Refer to bottom of post for link to pictures.

What are browns and greens?

For those who will be choosing cold composting this differenciation is not important.  Just throw it on the pile, with the exception of kitchen scraps.  Bury these, or you will be inviting rodents.

BROWNS                                                     GREENS  

Dry leaves                                                       Grass Clippings

Corn Stalks                                                     Kitchen scraps

Shrub trimmings                                           Fresh dairy, rabbit or chicken manure

Wood chips                                                     Non-woody garden trimmings

Sawdust                                                            Coffee grounds

Hay and wheat straw

Tips for hot composting.

  • You need 2 parts browns to one part green.
  • Chop your materials before putting them in the pile.
  • Don’t just layer your materials, turn them in.
  • Keep your pile moist but not wet.  Take a handful and squeeze it, if water drips out it is too wet, if it doesn’t hold together, it is too dry.
  • There is no need to add microorganisms as compost materials have their own microorganisms.  But if added, they won’t hurt.
  • Turn the pile once a week.
  • Cover your pile.


Odor –

  • Excess nitrogen Mix in “brown” material
  • Excess moisture Open the pile, add sawdust, and turn
  • Lack of oxygen Turn the pile

Pile too cool (below 110°F)  –

  • Lack of nitrogen Mix in “green” materials
  • Lack of oxygen Turn the pile
  • Lack of moisture Dampen the pile
  • Excess moisture Open the pile, add sawdust and turn

Animal or insect pests  –

  • Food in pile (meat, fat, eggs) Keep animal products out of the pile

Troubleshooting tips came from University of Florida IFAS.

If you can’t get or keep the temperature of your pile up, don’t dispaair, “compost happens”, it will just take longer.

If you have any questions about this, email me at

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*Tumble can be purchased from spruce creek rainsaver.

*Wire compost bin from cultivators corner.

*Pallet compost bin from Gardening with Angus.


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1 Response to Gardening 101 – Compost

  1. Pingback: Gardening 101 – Raised Beds | Char's Gardening

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