UT Extension News – Composting Dos and Don’ts

November 10, 2023

Smith County Agriculture News – By Katie Martin, Smith County Extension Agent

Backyard composting is a simple way to improve your soil while keeping more waste out of the landfill. Composting is simple in theory, and with a few basic dos and don’ts in mind, you can turn leaves, grass clippings, and food waste into rich humus for your garden, landscape, or flowerbeds.

Do: Begin your compost pile with an appropriate mixture of green and brown materials. Green materials, like kitchen scraps and fresh yard waste, provide nitrogen, while brown materials, such as dried leaves and straw, supply carbon. A proper balance of approximately 2 parts carbon-rich materials to 1 part nitrogen-rich materials ensures efficient decomposition. Do turn your compost pile regularly to aerate it and speed up the decomposition process. Additionally, monitor moisture levels to maintain a consistency similar to a damp sponge. Using a compost thermometer can help you gauge the internal temperature of your compost pile, ensuring it reaches the ideal range of 130-160°F, which is necessary to kill weed seeds and pathogens. Do make sure your finished compost appears dark and crumbly with an earthy odor.

Don’t: Do not add diseased or insect-infested plants to your compost pile, as it can spread pests and diseases. Similarly, do not incorporate meat, bone, dairy products, or whole eggs, as they can attract rodents and create unpleasant odors. While a properly managed compost pile will get hot enough to help kill weed seeds, your future self will thank you for avoiding compositing weeds that have already gone to seed. Also, avoid adding anything larger than 2 inches in size as smaller particles are more quickly turned into compost. While newspaper can be added to compost piles, its high carbon content will slow down decomposition, so recycling through community paper recycling centers instead is recommended. Refrain from composting pet waste, which can contain harmful pathogens. Lastly, do not let your compost pile become too dry or too wet, as either extreme can slow decomposition and create unfavorable conditions for beneficial microorganisms.

Whether you compost in a pile, bin, or pit, composting is a simple yet effective way to reduce waste and enrich your garden’s soil. By adhering to these dos and don’ts of composting, you can have free soil amendments and mulching materials right at your fingertips!

For further information about composting or any other agriculture topic, please visit our website at smith.tennessee.edu or call our office at 615-735-2900.