Compost is Mother Nature’s ultimate recycler

UC Master GardenerApril 17, 2013 

Compost is easy to make, and your garden will benefit from it.


Q: What does it take to make my own compost? — Eric from Santa Margarita

A: Choose a convenient site; keep the compost pile close to your garden in a shady location. Doing so will encourage you to add to the pile and observe its progress.

If you only compost garden waste, piles don’t need to be enclosed. Kitchen wastes added to the pile require a sturdy enclosure to prevent animals from digging through the piles. Work with what your yard and kitchen produce. Shred and cut the materials into small pieces for faster composting.

If you need to import materials, ask neighbors for leaves or green plant waste. Reuse and recycle your shredded newspaper, or add cardboard, well soaked and cut into pieces.

You can help the many organisms who turn these mate rials into compost by giving them a good mix of green and brown materials.

How fast you can harvest your compost is determined by the combination of carbon and nitrogen in your pile, which must be kept at amoist consistency. Your compost could be ready to harvest in as little as four weeks or it could sit through the winter and be only partially decomposed, depending on the amount of material added to your pile.

Examples of material that can be composted include kitchen scraps, horse manure, leaves, sawdust and cardboard.

It’s a good strategy to alternate between thin layers of high-carbon browns (such as wood chips, dried leaves, dried grass, and straw) with thicker layers of high-nitrogen greens (fresh, moist materials such as grass cuttings, manure and food scraps); avoid meats, fats and grease. Be sure to moisten each layer.

Every ingredient you add to the pile will host a different group of microorganisms; this diversity will lead to the successful breakdown of the parts that turn the waste into rich-smelling, soil-like material.

To learn more about the benefits of composting, including worm composting and soil properties in general, attend the Advice to Grow By seminar at the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.


Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at or email

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