Mojave Desert & Mountan Recycling Authority

Composting at Home

Composting is nature’s way of recycling plant materials like leaves, grass, twigs, brush, and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Composting at Home

Composting is nature’s way of recycling plant materials like leaves, grass, twigs, brush, and fruit and vegetable scraps.
There are no haulers in the High Desert area currently offering curbside residential organic waste collection.
But that shouldn’t stop you from composting at home!

Why You Should Compost at Home

Composting is good for Your Garden

COMPOST IS GOOD FOR YOUR GARDEN

Compost makes a rich soil amendment you can use to grow green lawns and lusher gardens. Adding compost to your soil helps it retain water loosens up heavy soils, and improves plant health by providing nutrients.

COMPOSTING IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Composting reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill. This preserves landfill space-a limited resource. Keeping organic materials out of landfills avoids methane emissions in line with California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Methane is a potent and short-lived greenhouse gas produced in wet and oxygen-starved conditions like landfills.

Composting and Recycling Helps Our Community

COMPOSTING HELPS YOUR COMMUNITY

Composting also helps your community in its effort to meet the California’s waste reduction goals. AB 939 requires all communities in California to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill by 50%; AB 341 sets a 75% statewide goal; and SB 1383 requires organic materials landfill reduction of 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025.  Communities that don’t make significant progress towards achieving these goals can face fines of up to $10,000 per day from the State.

Waste and Recycling Bins

COMPOSTING CAN SAVE YOU MONEY

Composting reduces the amount of garden waste you discard in the trash, and this saves you the expense of extra trash cans. Green wastes, including grass clippings, leaves, and shrub pruning, can be a large portion of the waste discarded from a single-family home — especially during the spring, summer, and fall months. Approximately 33% of California’s landfilled waste is uneaten food.

Backyard Composting

One of the most natural and environmentally sound things you can do around your home is to compost your yard trimmings, grass, and food scraps. 

The simple ethic of “waste not, want not” requires that we make the best use of all our resources. Leaves, grass, other green wastes and food scraps can be turned into a useful product. These materials don’t belong in a landfill. Throwing these materials in the trash is a true waste of resources. Through composting, these materials are converted into a form that can be used again to enrich the soil and nourish living plants. “Compost” is the finished soil product that is produced by proper composting.

Composting at home (sometimes called “backyard composting”) is quite easy to do. In fact, you’re probably composting right now, without even realizing it. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and dead plants and flowers compost naturally when they fall on the ground. But if you want to focus or accelerate the process, you can use a number of methods to make compost slowly or quickly.

A compost pile is really a teeming microbial farm. Bacteria, the most numerous and effective composters, are the first to break down plant tissue. Fungi and protozoans soon join the bacteria and, somewhat later in the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms all do their parts.

Anything growing in your yard is potential food for these tiny decomposers. Microorganisms use the CARBON in leaves or woodier wastes as an energy source. NITROGEN from grass or green materials provides the microbes with the raw element of proteins needed to build their bodies and multiply. (The more decomposers there are, the faster the compost pile will break down.)

 

Are You a Business Owner?

You may be required to recycle your business’ organic waste under California AB 1826 Mandatory Commercial Organics Law.

How to Compost at Home

Home Composting Methods

There are a number of different ways to compost — some take less time and effort, and some take more.

The main things to consider are how much time you have to spend managing the pile, how much green waste your yard generates, and how quickly you want to have finished, usable compost. Here are two common methods.

The “No Fuss” or Cold Method with Holding Units

This “add as you go” method uses one pile or bin — as a holding unit to contain garden wastes. This is also sometimes called the “static pile” method, because you don’t turn the pile very much.

Holding units, or static piles, are the least labor and least time-consuming way to compost.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Build, or purchase, a bin-approximately three feet square. Or just start a pile.
  • Fill it up, as materials are available.
    Note: Take care not to add fresh grass clippings in large layers. Let clippings dry first, or mix with other materials.
  • Water pile occasionally
  • When bin is full, start a new pile
  • To finish composting, it helps to remove bin and turn pile or, just take material from the bottom of the pile

ADVANTAGES

  • Low maintenance, little turning required
  • Doesn’t take much time or effort
  • Good for lower volumes of material

DISADVANTAGES

  • Slower method
  • Not good if you have large volumes all year
  • Hard to compost brushy, woody materials
  • Seeds from weeds won’t be sterilized

RESOURCES

  • Read the Farmer’s Almanac article on Hot and Cold Methods of Composting.
  • Watch this video from Huw Richards with Grow Food Organically about you how to get started with your first ever compost bin.
  • If you are interested in purchasing containers for composting, this video 3 Methods of Composting from Garden Answer reviews options for each of the three methods we’ve listed here.

The Active Pile Method

Turning units are a series of three or more bins that allow garden wastes to be turned on a regular schedule. Turning units are appropriate for gardeners who have a larger volume of materials and/or want to produce compost faster.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Get two or three bins ready. Each bin should be about one cubic yard in size.
  • Fill one bin, layering green materials with brown. Try for 50% green, 50% brown.
  • Water the pile as you add layers. It should be like a damp sponge.
  • The pile will probably heat up. Wait 3-7 days for the pile to cool, then turn the pile into an empty bin and water again.
  • Continue turning until pile no longer heats up and materials decomposed.

ADVANTAGES

  • Good for larger volumes of garden trimmings
  • Produces compost quickly
  • Sterilizes weed seeds and some plant diseases
  • Better for woody materials

DISADVANTAGES

  • Requires greater amount of time to manage-piles are turned and watered regularly.
  • Must accumulate about one cubic yard of material before building pile-in order to get the pile to heat up.

RESOURCES

Vermicompost / Vermiculture

Vermicompost or Vermiculture (vermi- meaning worm) is a method of composting with the help of worms. It’s easy to learn and manage, and doesn’t take a lot of space. One thing to note: it’s a great option for food scraps, but if you plan on composting a lot of woody yard waste, you should choose a different method.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Get a container at least 10 inches wide, long and deep. You should have a lid that closes snuggly and air holes for ventilation. A drainage tray with a container is a great way to capture the super-rich liquid fertilizer or “compost tea” produced with this method.
  • Make your worm bed. Put shredded paper (not glossy), dry leaves, or straw (your carbon layer) on the bottom of the container, add a layer of nutrient rich soil and water it lightly.
  • Add your worms. Worms can be purchased from local garden stores or online. Try starting with half a pound of red wigglers and keep in mind that when happy, they multiply! Get the process started by feeding your worms about a quart (one pound) of fruit and vegetable trimmings, then leave them alone for a couple of weeks to get the process started.
  • Feed the worms. Now you can throw on fresh kitchen scraps, but always keep a five-inch layer of fresh “bedding” over the worms and food in your bin.
  • You can start harvesting worm compost two to three months after you set up your bin.

ADVANTAGES

  • Relatively compact
  • Makes great liquid fertilizer
  • Produces compost quickly
  • A family-friendly project
  • Better for food scraps

DISADVANTAGES

  • Not for woody or large yard waste debris
  • Temperature sensitive, may require indoor placement in cold weather conditions

RESOURCES

What to Compost

What to Compost in Your Backyard Compost

The right material and the right ratio of materials is important to producing quality compost.

Materials with a higher carbon content include “brown” materials like dried leaves, straw, sawdust, wood chips, or sticks/branches. Materials that have a high nitrogen content include “green” items like fresh grass clippings, cow or horse manures, and fruit and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen.

What’s the “best” recipe for compost? It depends! But a good rule of thumb is to build a pile that has about 50% green materials and 50% brown materials.

Green Compostables

Green Materials

  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds
  • Flowers
  • Straw
  • Shrub & tree clippings
  • Fresh plant trimmings
  • Manure or animal cage cleanings such as horse, cow, rabbit or chicken (Note: Do not compost cat or dog droppings.)
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen or garden
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Food-soiled paper towels, paper napkins

Brown Materials

  • Dry leaves
  • Dry grass
  • Chopped prunings, twigs
  • Wood chips
  • Hay or straw
  • Saw dust
  • Wood ashes (cold)
  • Dry flowers
Brown Compostables

What Not to Compost

To avoid problems with odors, pests, reseeding, or slowing down the compost process, don’t put any of these items in your pile.
  • Invasive weeds that spread by roots/runners — e.g. crabgrass, bamboo
  • Weeds with seed heads (pull them before they set seeds)
  • Meat, fish, dairy products, bones, fats, bread
  • Large branches or pieces of wood
  • Pressure treated woods
  • Bar-b-que or coal ashes
  • Dog or cat wastes
  • Materials with thorns or spines-e.g. rose branches, cactus

Compost Tips

Location, Location, Location!

Place your compost pile in a convenient place-close to a water source. Don’t put piles under the eaves of your house-when it rains, you’ll drown your pile.

 

Moisture and Air

All living things on Earth, including the microbes in a compost pile, need a certain amount of water and air to sustain themselves. Microbes function best-and composting happens the fastest-when the compost heap is about as moist as a wrung out sponge. It is usually necessary to add water to the compost pile to keep the decomposition process going. The pile also needs to be turned periodically to get more air into the center of the pile.

 

Volume

A large compost pile will insulate itself and hold the heat given off by decomposers. The pile’s center will be warmer than its edges. The ideal compost pile size is 3′ x 3′ x 3′ (one cubic yard). Piles smaller than this will have trouble holding this heat, while piles larger than 5 feet on a side don’t allow enough air to reach the decomposers (microbes) at the center.

Chopping and Chipping

The more surface area microorganisms have to work on, the faster the materials will decompose. Chopping, shredding, or chipping garden wastes before adding them to your compost pile will help speed up the decomposition process.

 

Talking About Grass Clippings

Take care with fresh grass clippings. Add them in thin layers, or mix them with brown material when adding to the pile. Try drying them before adding.

 

Feast or Famine

In the fall, homeowners may have a lot of leaves (browns), but little green material. And in the summer, there is a lot of grass, but few brown materials. Many people start a pile for just leaves in the fall. They will start to decompose-but slowly. Then in the spring and summer months, the partly composted leaves are gradually mixed in with the grass clippings.

You can also find materials at your neighbors to add to your pile.

When is Compost Done?

Finished compost is a dark brown, uniform, crumbly product with a pleasant, earthy aroma. There may be a few woody pieces that aren’t completely composted-just toss them back into your new pile or use them as mulch.

 

Compost Uses

Compost can be used as a soil conditioner when dug into the soil in flower beds or vegetable gardens. It can also be used as a mulch on top of the soil.

Composting Resources

Would you like to receive our weekly recycling and sustainability newsletter?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.