Backyard Composting

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CompostWouldn't you prefer to see your garden grow rather than the landfill? By composting your food and yard waste, you can turn this waste product into a valuable soil amendment for your landscaping and garden. For detailed instructions on how to compost, you may down load this educational Composting Booklet right now. For a hard copy of this composting booklet, please contact the Environmental Services Division at (916) 617-4590.

For additional information about composting, please visit:

Aim for Green

Composter's Guide

Vegetable and fruit scraps along with yard clippings make wonderful compost. Would you prefer to see your garden grow rather than the landfills? Did you know that in West Sacramento approximately 30% of household wastes going to the landfill are leaves, grass, and food waste?

Composting doesn't have to be smelly or unsightly. Backyard composting provides a home and food for number of decomposer organisms, keeping them happy so they can do their job. Adding compost to your garden improves soil fertility and texture, and reduces watering and weeding needs. Your plants will love it!

To learn more about composting follow the links provided below.

Composting Basics

Remember composing requires...

  • Greens & Browns - No matter what you compost, your bugs need a balanced diet.
  • Water - Material should feel like a damp sponge.
  • Air - Don't compact, and turn if necessary.
  • Surface Area - Chop up ingredients into small pieces before adding them to the bin.
  • Heat - Fill the bin to a height of 3 feet or more to provide adequate insulation.

What Can I Compost?

  • Grass Clippings
  • Leaves
  • Plants
  • Old potting soil
  • Chopped brush and prunings
  • Annual weeds
  • Wood ash
  • Sawdust
  • Hay and straw
  • Farm manures
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Breads and grains
  • Egg and nut shells
  • Rinds
  • Coffee filters and tea bags

What Can't I Compost?

  • Diseased Plants
  • Weeds with seeds
  • Invasive weeds
  • Meat or fish scraps
  • Bones
  • Cooking oil, fat or grease
  • Human or pet feces
  • Unchopped woody wastes

How to Compost & The Results

LeafComposting in a bin is easy. You don't need a bin to compost, but it keeps your site neat and contained.

Choosing a spot is important. Composting under a tree prevents the pile from drying out too quickly. However some trees' such as pine, eucalyptus, acacia, juniper, cypress, California bay laurel, or black walnut, produce acids. These trees should be avoided unless your bin is covered. Drainage from beneath the bin is also important. If you have a moveable bin, composting where you plan to plant next year gives your soil a head start.

Compost bugs need a balanced diet. High nitrogen or "Green" materials are food, plant waste, and manures. "Brown" materials, such as dried leaves, straw and woody materials, tend to be high in carbon. The compost bugs like a mixture of Greens and Browns in their diet. Chop up any large pieces first. The bottom layer should be Browns, especially those that allow a lot of air circulation, such as corn stalks or brush. This layer can be up to 6 inches deep. Then layer Greens and Browns in your bin (1 to 2 inches deep each) with a light sprinkling (a half shovel-full for each layer) of garden soil or finished compost to speed up the process.

Cover food scraps with a light soil layer to decrease odor and flies. End with a Brown layer, or your bin will attract flies. Your pile should consist of about one-quarter to one-half Greens and one-half to three-quarters Brown, though fifty-fifty is fine, too. Make sure to water each layer as you fill the bin, enough to create a damp sponge consistency. If you squeeze the materials between your fingers and water drips out, it is too wet. Do not compact the materials as you build the pile. Your bin should be filled to a height of 3 feet or more. This will be sufficient to hold the heat in when the bugs go to work. Maintaining the heat kills germs, fly larvae, and weed seeds and helps speed up the composting process.

You may want to turn the pile occasionally, especially if you are composting food wastes. "Turning" involves lifting off the bin and placing it next to the compost pile. Then shovel the compost into the empty bin, with the material from the top of the pile going to the bottom of the bin. Yard waste compost (alternating layers of grass and leaves, for example) may be left unturned, requiring occasional watering for a slow, "layer it and leave it" compost. Turning, however, will increase the air flow, drainage, and open up pockets of slower composting materials. Turning should be done once every week or two. New materials may be layered on top and periodically turned into the pile. Water while turning to keep the pile moist inside and out. Remember, watering more often may be necessary during the hot summer months. During heavy rains the bin should be covered to prevent the pile from getting water-logged.


Symptoms Why Solutions
Smells bad?
  • Not enough air.
  • Too much water.
  • Too many greens.
  • Turn it.
  • Mix in more dry browns.
Attracts flies or rodents?
  • Too wet.
  • Greens are exposed (on top?).
  • Too many greens.
  • Meat or grease present.
  • Mix in or cover with more browns.
  • Turn it.
  • Remove meat.
Attracts ants?
  • Too dry.
  • Water layers more frequently.
  • Turn it.
No progress?
  • Too dry.
  • Too small.
  • Too many browns.
  • Too many large pieces.
  • Water more thoroughly.
  • Add more greens.
  • Fill bin higher.
  • Chop up large pieces.
Damp and sweet smelling, but not heat?
  • Not enough greens.
  • Mix in more greens.

Composting Results

Depending on the method you use, your compost will be ready in anywhere from a few months to as long as 12 to 18 months. The speed of the process depends on how often the materials are turned (if at all), the size of your ingredients, the type of materials you are composting (woody materials take longer, for example), and the care with which you maintain your compost (see "The Basics"). Compost should be allowed to "cure" for 3 to 6 months while you build a new pile. Finished compost is fine, dark, and crumbly, with a sweet, earthy scent and contains about 50% of the volume of the original materials. Woody chunks or twigs can be sifted out for a finer consistency. Mix finished compost with potting soil, use it as mulch, or dig it into the soil.

Mulching & Worm Composting

Mulching & Worm CompostingMulching
Chipped woody yard waste or leaves can be spread around trees and shrubs without composting. Wood chips can also be used for garden paths. Mulching will help keep the soil moist in hot weather and lessen soil erosion and compaction due to watering or heavy rains. As mulch slowly decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil. Avoid mulching with acidic plant materials.

Worm Composting
A worm box can be constructed to compost food scraps. It is especially convenient for small spaces and produces a superior compost. Worms need a box with air holes, bedding material (such as shredded newspaper), and a lid. The box should be shallower than it is wide. The worms need to be kept slightly moist. Composting worms are sometimes called "manure worms" and often can be found in an old compost pile. These are different than the earth worms that you find in the ground. Common earthworms or nightcrawlers often won't survive in a worm box or may tend to "escape."

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