Backyard Composting

Composting breaks down household and garden material into basic nutrients that enhance the soil. It’s an easy way to reduce household waste while improving the nutrient value of your garden and potting soil. Basically, composting requires mixing different types of organic materials with air and water. These materials then break down with the help of heat and micro-organisms.
Why should I compost?

Compost can be used as a conditioner to enrich soil and increase its ability to hold moisture, nutrients and oxygen. The result is a cost-free, chemical-free soil enricher that provides your plants with required nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. This helps to promote healthy plant life.

Composting kitchen and yard materials can reduce waste up to one-third. If everyone composted, it would dramatically reduce the amount of household garbage being transported to the landfill.

How do I get started?

Composting is easy and anyone can do it. Once you have a composter you can begin. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Choose a sunny area with good drainage for your composter. It is also important that the location is accessible year round.
  2. Turn the soil in the location where the composter is to be placed.
  3. Once the base and unit are situated, place a layer of small branches in the bottom of your composter. This will let air enter the compost pile and allow for good drainage.
  4. Place kitchen scraps (greens) and dried excess yard material (browns) in alternating six-inch layers.
  5. Place a layer of finished compost or garden soil on top of the compost pile. This will introduce micro-organisms needed for decomposition and help to reduce odour.
  6. Remember to turn the pile frequently to aerate your compost.

The composting process requires the following things:

  • Organic material (such as fruit/vegetable peelings and leaves)
  • Moisture
  • Air
  • Heat

Alternate layers of organic materials (“greens and browns”), keep the compost pile moist and turn it frequently.

Composting Checklist

Check below for some of the most common things that can affect composting, and see how easy it is to get it right!

Sulphur Smell – Not enough air or too wet – Turn pile / add dry materials
Ammonia odour – Too many greens (nitrogen) – Add brown materials (carbon
Animals / Flies – Attracted by odours of food Dig food under immediately
Process to slow – Too much carbon (brown materials) Add nitrogen (green materials)
Centre of pile is dry – Not enough moisture Moisten materials / add green materials
Pile is damp – Too much nitrogen / poor drainage Add brown materials

  • It is important to use some materials with a high carbon content such as dried leaves (browns), as well as some materials with a high nitrogen content such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings (greens).
  • Keep the material as moist as a squeezed out sponge.
  • A cover prevents compost from getting too soggy in the rain or snow and keeps small animals out.
  • Occasional watering may be required if the pile becomes too dry.
  • Turn the pile with a pitchfork or shovel in order to aerate. This should be done at least once a week to disperse the heat through the pile.
  • When possible, chop larger materials into smaller pieces.
  • In the summer, there is typically a shortage of dried brown materials to add to your compost. To remedy this, save some of your leaves in the fall to use at this time.
Will composting smell?
Compost has a pleasant aroma. Foul odours only occur when there is a lack of oxygen, too much wet green material or too little brown material. Turning the pile can minimize odours.
What materials can be backyard composted?
  • vegetables and fruit peelings
  • dry leaves & grass clippings
  • coffee grounds & filters; tea bags/leaves
  • wood ashes
  • weeds, before they seed
  • spent plants and flowers
  • straw, hay, corn cobs
  • crushed egg shells
  • bread, pasta and rice (no oil/sauce)
  • woodchips and sawdust
  • hair and dryer lint
What materials can NOT be backyard composted?
  • grass/tree clippings treated with chemicals
  • rhubarb leaves and other toxic plants
  • plants infected with disease
  • walnut shells, walnut leaves
  • charcoal/coal ashes
  • dog or cat droppings
  • litter box materials
  • meat and bones
  • plastics and metals
  • dairy products
  • fats and oils
Can I compost in the winter?
Yes. The compost process generates heat. The process is not destroyed by the cold weather; it just slows down. Materials can continue to be added to your composter throughout the winter, even if the pile freezes. After the thaw, the decomposition process will speed up again.
Will compost attract animals?

Materials such as meat, bones, eggs, cheese, fats and oils are not recommended for backyard composting because they attract animals.

To reduce the risk:

  • Use a composter with a cover; secure with hinges or weigh down the lid.
  • You can also utilize a base made of wire mesh to prevent animals from digging under the pile, while still allowing water to drain.
  • When adding food waste, dig it in immediately and cover with soil.
How long will it take to produce compost?
Some composting methods will produce finished materials in six months; others will take up to two years. If your kitchen and yard waste is in small pieces, the process will be faster. Similarly, frequent turning to aerate will speed up the process. BE PATIENT, it will happen!
How do I know when compost is ready?
Your compost is ready when it is dark in colour, crumbles to the touch, has an earthy smell and no more heat is produced in the pile.
What can I do with finished compost?
Once compost is finished, it can be mixed with your natural soil in the garden and added to potted plants as a soil enricher.
Where can I buy a composter?
Composters are  available for purchase from most retail garden and home centres.
What if I live in an apartment or condo?

Worm composting allows people who live in apartments and condos to turn their uncooked vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, filters, eggshells and other waste into rich compost. Click here to download a Metro Vancouver brochure about worm composting.

For more information on composting and grasscycling, visit the Metro Vancouver website.

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