University of Maryland Extension

Backyard Composting


Backyard composting basics are fairly straightforward: layer equal amounts (by volume) of green, nitrogen-rich materials (fruit and vegetable scraps, plants, spent flowers and/or manure) with brown, carbon-rich materials (dry leaves, shredded paper, drier lint, straw). Add water as you create the layers so that the pile is about as wet as a wrung out sponge. As the microorganisms, earthworms, centipedes and other decomposers feed on your materials, the pile will shrink to about half of its original volume. Turning your pile periodically using a pitchfork will aerate and help speed up the process, as will adding water if the materials dry out. Compost is “ready” when you can’t identify any of the materials you added and it appears to be dark, rich soil.

The pile should be at least 3x3x3 feet, and not more than 5x5x5 feet. A bin is not necessary but it will help keep our pile contained. You can construct a bin from chicken wire, wooden pallets, cinder block, or snow fencing.

There are many benefits of composting. It helps reduce the waste stream going to the landfill. It retains moisture so you won’t have to water your plants as often. And compost in the soil attracts earthworms that aerate your soil.

Master Gardeners maintain compost bins in use and show other types of bins at demonstration sites in the County. The volunteers provide tips and tricks for successful composting and help residents get started backyard composting using the free compost bin provided to Howard County residents.

Master Gardeners are scheduled from March through October at Alpha Ridge Landfill, Robinson Nature Center, and at Howard County Branch Libraries: Charles E. Miller, Glenwood and East Columbia.

More information about composting is available from the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center Library

Backyard composting Publication #35

Backyard composting brochure

Redworm composting Publication #40


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