Backyard Composting Information

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The recycling and decomposition of plant materials is called composting.  Composting transforms organic waste into a soil-like material that can provide enrichment for crops, gardens, lawns and houseplants.  Composting yard, garden and some food wastes reduces the waste stream and helps the community reduce both soil waste and associated environmental problems.

Nature's recycling system is simple.  Leaves that fall to the ground form a rich, moist layer of mulch that protects the roots and plants and provides a home for nature's recyclers: bacteria, worms and insects.  These natural recyclers feed on the mulch, turning it into compost.  As mulch and organic wastes decompose, nutrients essential for healthy plant growth are released into the soil.

Source: Michigan DNR


Gardeners Don't Make Compost


Gardeners don't make compost!  Microorganisms make compost by digesting organic materials.  People simply provide the right environment to accelerate natures own soil recycling.  These digesters are present in soil and include bacteria, protozoa, and fungi.  Microorganisms need food, oxygen, water and the proper temperature to thrive and multiply  For food, the microorganisms need both nitrogen for body-building (such as green grass or manure) and carbon for energy (such as dry leaves). 

Too much nitrogen (as pure grass) may create odors.  Too much carbon slows the process. A ratio of 1 part nitrogen to 30 parts carbon (1-30) is ideal, and this approximates one part green to two parts brown material.  The microorganisms release heat at various levels depending on the type of activity and organisms present.  They flourish when the conditions are optimal for their growth, and they die back when their decomposition work is completed.

Resources to use:

Livingston County Extension Service: (517) 546-3950

Livingston County Soil Waste Department: (517) 545-9609

Michigan Composting Council: (517) 371-7073


Composting Recipe


1. Layer one part green materials with two parts brown materials:

Green Materials with High Nitrogen Content Include:

  • Grass, Weeds and Non-Woody, Garden Prunings
  • Spent Flowers, Bouquets
  • Farm Animal Manures (cow, horse, chicken, sheep)
  • Fruit and Vegetable Garden Scraps
  • A Sprinkling of Blood Meal or Cottonseed Meal

Use one part greenor one-third of the compost pile.

Brown Materials with High Carbon Content include:

  • Dry Leaves
  • Dead Brown Plants or Potted Plants
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Pine Needles
  • Finely-Chopped Woody Brush
  • Corncobs

Use two parts brown or two-thirds of the compost pile

2. Sprinkle a half-inch of soil or manure compost every few layers to provide the microorganisms necessary for the decomposition process.

3. Add water to keep the pile as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

4. Mix or turn periodically with a garden fork. Microorganisms need oxygen and small particle size.  The more often you turn the pile, the quicker it breaks down.

Notes: Do not add meat, dairy products, diseased plant material, dog or cat wastes to a backyard compost pile.  A compost pile made with predominately green materials (i.e. grass) may become soggy and release unpleasant odors.  If this happens, break the heap apart and rebuild it, adding layers of brown materials and turn more often to dy out the pile.

One part green and two parts brown, helps the organics turn into compost.  Add some water and some soil.  Turning is the only toil.

Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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