Backyard Composting


Listen to a CBC Radio Maritime Noon segment on creating and maintaining your own backyard compost pile. The segment features Paul Arnold of Acadia University. The segment begins at 11 minutes and 55 seconds during the 52 minute Podcast.

What is compost?

Compost is a gardener's best friend. It feeds plants, enriches soil and offers an alternative to synthetic fertilizers. Compost is a soil amendment or soil conditioner which returns valuable organic material to the soil. While compost is not a fertilizer, it does contain nutrients which improve plant growth. The best part is that you can make it - for free - without leaving your backyard.

Compost adds not only organic material to the soil but also adds trace elements such as iron, manganese, copper, zinc and boron which are required for plant growth. Because compost consists of many different sized particles, it has a porous structure which helps to improve soil drainage. The organic matter in compost can soak up water, thereby increasing the soil's water-holding capacity. This helps the soil absorb water during rain or watering.....and hold it for the use of the plants between rains or watering.

Getting started is easy to do. All you need is a composter, some food and garden waste.


  1. As the popularity of composting has grown, so has the number of types of commercial composters available.   Most are made from plastic, are available at hardware stores and can cost less then $50.00. You could also build your own. Some people forgo the formality of a composter all together and simply have a compost pile; regardless of the method, it is recommended that you make sure your pile is covered - this helps keep the pile moist and ensures that your nutrients due not leach away.

  2. Location of the backyard composter is important, but you can compost anywhere. Consider placing it in a convenient, accessible location close to a water source.

  3. One of the most common mistakes is not getting enough material into the compost bin to really get it going. When you start a new composter, fill it up as much as possible. Make sure you have a good mix of materials - an equal amount of browns (like leaves) and greens (like grass clippings and food waste). This will help generate the microbial activity needed to heat up the pile and really get the material breaking down quickly. As it breaks down, it will decrease in volume which leaves room for more scraps. Covering new food scraps with leaves every time will keep odors to a minimum and neighborhood animals away.

  4. Now all you have to do is keep the pile moist and turn it regularly with a shovel to help speed up the decomposition. The material in the compost bin should feel like a wrung out sponge. Make sure to add water if it gets too dry.

    How long it takes to turn the organic waste into compost depends on you - how much you put into your pile and how often you turn it. It can take anywhere from 3 months to over a year.

When is the compost ready to use?

The compost is finished composting and ready when it yields a black soil that smells like what it is - dirt.

What do I do now that I have compost?

Use it as topdressing for your garden and lawn. Rake about an inch of it onto your flower bed, water it and you've fed your plants for months to come. You can also blend it with soil for transplants. One part compost to four parts soil works well.

What can I put in my backyard composter?

  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters                                               
  • Eggshells
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Yard trimmings

What do I leave out?

  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Diary products (butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Fats, grease, lard or oils
  • Pet waste
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticide






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