Organic material makes up a significant component of residential waste. Composting is an easy way to divert organics from the waste stream, all while creating a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
What Is Composting?
Composting is a method of turning organic matter into a nutritious soil amendment – compost! By composting, we recycle the nutrients in our leftover fruits, vegetables, and leaves into the soil and new plant life. Depending on how often you tend the pile, it can take between six months and a year to produce finished compost ready for your garden.
What Can I Compost?
Anything that was once alive can be composted – but some things are easier to compost than others. Here are some things you should have success composting in your backyard:
- Fruit cores and peels
- Vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Egg shells
- Grass clippings
- Wood chips
- Food-soiled napkins
You should NOT put meat, bones, dairy products, cooking oils, bread, whole fruits/vegetables, or animal waste in your backyard compost pile. These do not break down easily and are likely to attract rodents.
Composting happens thanks to the hard work of decomposers – microbes, worms, etc. – that find meals in your compost pile. The key to composting successfully is to create conditions ideal for these decomposers. We do this in several ways:
Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
Composters like yourself divide their organic matter into two categories: Browns and Greens. Browns are dry, carbon-rich materials like leaves and wood chips. Greens are the “wet” ingredients high in nitrogen, such as fruits, vegetables, and grass. Maintaining the correct mixture of browns and greens is critical to composting, as finding the right Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (C:N) will create the best conditions for decomposers.
We recommend starting your compost pile with three parts browns and one part greens, adding more greens in over time. You may need to adjust your ratio as you go according to the needs of your pile. It may also help to have a second or third pile for compost at different stages of the process. A well-mixed pile will take on a dark color and will be moist, but not wet.
Another critical element here is oxygen. Compost piles need to be turned frequently (at least once per week) to maintain sufficient oxygen. Composting works because of aerobic decomposition; anaerobic conditions will cause your organic matter to rot rather than decompose. Turning piles frequently will speed up the composting process and prevent odors.
Good ways to turn your compost are by using a pitchfork or rake to move the inside of the pile out and the outside of the pile in. Compost tumblers are also effective as they are designed to turn compost with a simple crank.
Compost piles should be moist, but not soggy or wet. If you find your compost is too wet, add more browns to the mix and turn thoroughly. If your compost is too dry, add more greens or slowly add water, turning the pile as you go.
Using Finished Compost
After six months to a year, you should have the crumbly, dark-brown, earthen mixture that is compost. Compost is a soil amendment, meaning it should not be used in place of topsoil. Rather, sprinkle a layer of compost no more than a few inches thick on top of the soil and gently rake it in.
The compost will provide nutrients that increase the health of the soil and support plant growth. Compost also helps retain moisture, allowing plants to better endure hot and dry weather.
Town Efforts and Tours
The Town of Brookhaven operates the Manorville Compost Facility where leaves are processed into compost or mulch. We provide this finished compost/mulch to residents for free at several sites throughout the Town. To get some for yourself, visit brookhavenny.gov/compost to find the location nearest you and come with your own container and shovel.
Tours of the Manorville Compost Facility are available to small groups to see our composting operation in action. To schedule a tour, contact us online or by calling 631-451-TOWN (8696).
We hope this information helps you get started on your backyard compost pile. For more in-depth information, check out these resources from composting experts: