Creating Compost in the Garden

There are many ways to compost. And despite all the rules you might have heard, the basic fact is that organic materials want to break down. Composting is hard to completely mess up because nature is on our side for this garden activity.

Ratio of Materials

The recommended ratio of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green/food scrap) materials in a compost pile is 30:1. Leaves and wood chips are great carbon sources. Food scraps and plant waste from the garden contain a mixture of carbon and nitrogen. You don't need to think too hard about this ratio. Just know that you want more brown material than green, and it is relatively hard to add too much brown material.

What Not to Compost

Everyone has different rules about what they do and don’t compost. A lot of that has to do with minimizing smell, maximizing breakdown speed, and whether or not your pile gets hot enough internally to neutralize weed seeds and plant diseases.

It also has to do with your goals for composting. Are you trying to make compost to add back into your raised beds? Or are you trying to get yard debris to break down quickly so you can avoid putting it in the landfill? At the LEAP Community Gardens, it’s the latter. We just want our garden debris to break down quickly, so we do add things like diseased plant material and weed seeds. At home, you might want to make a separate pile for diseased plants and weeds.

In LEAP's Community Gardens, We Do Not Compost:

  • Trash of any kind.
  • “Compostable” take-out containers and bags (these are only compostable in commercial composting facilities and won’t break down in our piles).
  • Meat/bones (they attract pests and don’t break down completely in our piles).
  • Food cooked in oil.
  • Animal feces (please dispose of pet waste in the trash cans).

At the LEAP Community Gardens, we have three compost bays made out of free pallets. The idea is, you add debris to the bay on the left. New debris always goes in the leftmost bay, even if one of the other bays looks less full.

Once the bay on the left is completely full, the debris gets moved over one bay. Once the second bay is completely filled, it is moved to the third. Hopefully, by the time the third bay is completely filled, it will have broken down enough to be screened. If not, you might consider expanding to a four-bay system.

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