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Composting, Turning Your Garbage Into Gold!

Printable Composting Flier This document is in PDF format.  Download the free viewer from }

What is Composting?
Composting is a controlled process of decomposition of organic material. Naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the material into humus. Composting is a convenient and cost-effective way to handle your organic waste and help the environment.

How to use compost
When the composted materials look like rich, brown soil, it is ready to use. Apply one half to three inches of finished compost and mix it in with the top four inches of the soil. Compost can also be applied as a top dressing in the garden throughout the summer. It is excellent for reseeding lawns, and can be spread one-quarter inch deep over the entire lawn to rejuvenate the turf. To make potting soil, mix equal parts compost, sand, and loam.

The Science of Composting
Successful composting involves balancing nitrogen and carbon-based materials (brown leaves and woody materials and green grass or food waste) with water and oxygen.

CARBON: The carbon component (the brown stuff: dead leaves, woody materials and dried brown grass) should constitute 75% of the compost pile.

NITROGEN: The remaining 25% should be the nitrogen-rich component (the green stuff: fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps).

WATER: The organisms that make compost require a warm, moist environment. The pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, but not dripping wet. Let rain replace moisture, and add water during dry spells. A cover helps retain moisture in hot weather.

OXYGEN: Compost critters need oxygen, just as we do. Lack of oxygen will slow down the composting process and cause odors.

Grass Clippings
Yard Trimmings (old plants,
wilted flowers, small prunings)
Vegetable & Fruit Scraps
Coffee Grounds
Tea Leaves
Wood Chips
Shredded Paper (low grade
paper not acceptable for recycling)
Meat, Fish, and Poultry (including bones)
Food Sauces
Fats, Grease, and Oils
Dairy Products
Pet Feces
Invasive Weeds
Treated Wood (or any materials containing strong preservatives or toxins)
Ashes and charcoal
Non-organics (plastic, metal, glass, etc...)

Building The Pile
There are as many different ways to make compost as there are people who do it. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

1. Build or purchase a compost bin. Call the Recycling Office a 225.389.5194 to receive copies of bin plans or information on discounted bin sales. Set the bin up in a convenient area with good drainage.

2. Start with a layer of woody, bulky material to allow air passage in the base of the pile. Add alternating layers of “brown” and “green” materials at a ratio of 4:1, with a shovelful of soil on top of each layer. Shredding leaves and trimmings will shorten the composting time. Be sure to bury chopped food scraps in the center of the pile. Add water to keep pile as damp as a wrung out sponge.

3. Turn the pile. Keep oxygen available to the compost critters by turning the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile, so the top becomes the bottom, every few months should result in finished compost in 6 months to a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.

Compost Troubleshooting

If the pile is not composting it may be too dry or have too much woody material. Moisten until slightly damp. Add fresh green material and turn. If the pile smells rotten and attracts flies it may be too wet or have non-compostables present. Turn and add dry material. Remove any meat or grease, large food scraps, etc. and then turn.

If the pile smells like ammonia then there is too much green material. Turn and add dry or woody material. If rodents get into the pile, rodent proof by having holes less than 1/4 inch.

Compost Structures

Hoops, bins and buckets can help you fit your compost into small spaces. Choose a structure that is the right size, style, cost and effort level for you. Remember to use recycled materials or containers whenever possible. Do-it-yourself bin building instructions are available by calling the Rotline at 225.389.5194.

Hoop BinHOOPS are easy and fairly inexpensive to build, and help to keep your yard waste compost pile tidy. Secure the hoop with hooks or twists of wire. To speed composting, undo the hoop, set it up next to the pile, and turn the pile back into the cage in its new location.

Wooden Box BinBINS hold yard waste compost, and when made rodent proof, work well for food wastes. Build with recycled wood, wire or other materials for an inexpensive and attractive structure. Many styles are commercially available.

BUCKETS are the apartment-dweller’s answer to composting food wastes indoors or out. Compact 5 gallon buckets with sealable lids can be obtained free from many grocery stores and restaurants. Stir the compost-soil mixture to aerate it once or twice a week, or when adding new

Check out the links below to learn how to build your own compost bin.

Visit The LSU Ag. Center External web link not maintained by City of Baton Rouge has several very good composting publications available.

Master Composter External web link not maintained by City of Baton Rouge is an interesting site on composting with an interactive message board and lots of information on composting.