Starting a backyard compost bin

Basic Elements of Composting

Organic Material

  • “Browns” – carbon rich, dry, woody materials such as dry fallen leaves, hay, dried plants and weeds.
  • “Greens” – nitrogen rich, green, moist materials such as kitchen scraps, fresh fallen leaves, young weeds, and grass clippings


  • Water your pile until it is moist but not wet, or the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.


  • Air added to your pile will significantly speed up its decomposition.  You can do this by turning, or layering with bulky materials tocreate air spaces between materials

Soil microbes 

  • With the proper mixture of water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, micro-organisms are allowed to break down organic matter to produce compost


  • Depending on the type of compost bin you have, it could take 2 months to 2 years to create finished compost


You Will Need:

  • A container to collect kitchen scraps
    • Keep on a cupboard or under the sink. As you produce material, put it in the container and when it is full take it out and add to the compost pile.
  • A pitchfork or shovel to turn the outdoor compost pile
  • A compost bin 
    • Indoor or outdoors varieties available


Starting your backyard bin

1. Choose an area and bin

  • Choose an area with good drainage and some sun
  • Your compost area should be at least 1m x 1m x 1m
  • Choose a type of compost bin or make your own

2. Adding materials

  • When you begin, layer some branches or twigs on the bottom of your compost pile to allow for air flow and drainage. Then add a thin layer of soil to provide the soil microbes that will do the work of breaking down your organic material.
  • Then begin to add your materials as you have them. The smaller the pieces you put into your compost heap, the faster they will decompose.
  • Add equal parts green and brown material to build a balanced compost heap (layer works well)

 3. Add water

  • Add water when you first start your compost pile and each time you turn your pile.
  • The compost pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge to be composting effectively.

4. Maintaining your compost bin

  • Turn your pile with a pitchfork or shovel every couple of weeks during the summer to provide an adequate air supply.
  • You will know that your compost pile is working when the material starts to heat up. 
  • In the winter, your compost pile may freeze solidly. Just keep adding your green and brown material as usual.
  • In the spring, when it thaws, the pile will pick up the composting process just where it left off the previous winter. Only really large compost piles are insulated enough to continue composting year-round.

 5. Finished Compost

  • Your composted material is ready to use when it has an “earthy” smell, is dark in colour, cold and most of the materials are unrecognizable.
  • The composting process can take from two months to two years, depending on the materials used and the effort involved.


How to Use Finished Compost

Lawn Top Dressing

  • For best results, aerate the entire area.
  • Spread 0.5 to 1.25 cm (1/8″ to 1/2″) of mature compost evenly over the area using a rake.
  • Water thoroughly.

Flower Beds

  • For existing beds, add about 2.5 cm (1″) of compost and work it into the soil.
  • Water until the entire root zone is saturated.
  • For best results with new beds, add 2.5 to 5 cm (1″ – 2″) of compost and rototill to at least a 12 cm (5″) depth. Plant and water accordingly.

Vegetable Gardens

  • Apply about 2.5 cm (1″) of compost and incorporate into the soil to a depth of 12 cm (5″).
  • Do not over apply compost because many vegetables will not produce high yields if excess nitrogen is in the soil.
  • Compost used as a mulch can be turned into the soil prior to replanting.

Compost Tea

  • Fill a cloth bag with compost and put it in a barrel or bucket of water: one-part compost to five-parts water.
  • Let it steep for about a week, swirling it around a few times and make sure that the “tea bag” is submerged.
  • You can then pour the “tea” over your plants.
  • Put the compost either back into your composter or spread it in the garden.


  • Apply a 5 cm (2″) layer of compost around plants with a rake
  • Avoid over or under mulching
  • Arrange mulch so water flows away from trunks, reducing chances for crown rot.
  • Finer-textured composts do not suppress weeds as well as coarse composts.

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