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"Compost it Yourself" Guide

What is Composting and Why Do It?

Composting is nature’s way to recycle. It is the controlled, natural decomposition of organic matter. Microorganisms and macroorganisms break down organic materials into compost, or humus, a nutrient-rich soil amendment that improves the health and efficiency of your garden ecosystem from the ground up. 

Composting has many benefits for the homeowner and the environment:

  • Soil: Benefits your yard and garden by improving soil health and fertility, which increases plants’ resilience to pests, disease, and other environmental stressors.
  • Water: Helps soil hold more moisture, minimizing erosion, runoff and nutrient loss, and reducing the need for frequent watering.
  • Recycle: Diverts valuable organic resources from becoming hazardous materials in the landfill, and encourages natural nutrient cycling.
  • Money: Saves money by conserving water and replacing the need to purchase commercial fertilizers and soil amendments. 

Composting can be practiced almost your backyard, at work or at school, even in an apartment! All you need to get started is a little bit of space, the basic ingredients, and an understanding of the process.

Composting in Style

There are several different styles of composting. Some require more time and effort, but yield quicker results. Many composters find they maximize their efficiency by practicing more than one type of composting, or by setting up multiple bin systems to have several stages of decomposition occuring simultaenously. Which style of composting best fits your needs and lifestyle? 

  1. Active Composting is a more engaged style of composting, and involves turning the pile on a regular basis and maintaining optimal moisture and temperature levels. This method kills weed seeds and produces finished compost in the shortest period of time. 
  2. Vermicomposting or, composting with red worms, is a fun and easy way to recycle your food scraps. It uses less space than traditional composting, and can be done in an indoor setting. This method produces worm castings, another nutrient-rich soil amendment. 
  3. Passive Composting is a more relaxed style of composting, an involves turning and adding water less frequently. The pile won’t gener- ate as much heat and may dry out at times, so the materials won’t decompose as quickly, and weed seeds may not be killed. 

Composting Basics

There are four basic ingredients are required for composting: Greens, Browns, Water, and Air. Mixing the proper amounts of these ingredients together will provide the composting organisms (see Compost Critters) with enough nitrogen, carbon, moisture and oxygen to break down the materials efficiently.

GREENS are fresh organic materials that serve as sources of nitrogen. Greens are the primary energy source of the active microorganisms, and are useful as a supplementary source of moisture in the pile.

BROWNS are dried or dead organic materials that serve as sources of carbon. Browns are useful for retaining moisture, creating small air pockets, and supporting a more diverse community of decomposers in the pile.

WATER helps ensure efficienct processing of organics. Ideally, the pile is kept as moist as a wrung out sponge. Too little moisture will inhibit decomposition, but too much water can produce smelly, anaerobic conditions.

AIR is essential for a sweet, earthy-smelling compost pile. Turning your compost pile regularly will help to inhibit the growth of odor-causing anaerobic bacteria, and will result in faster decomposition.

Learn More

Download the complete Compost it Yourself Guide to learn more.


This guide was made possible with funding from the County of San Diego, the City of Encinitas, and the City of Carlsbad.