Composting 101: Feed Your Garden With Nature’s Fertilizer

Suburban America is taking an age-old technique to recycle trash into nutrient-rich flowers and plants.

Composting is an economical and eco-friendly way to revitalize your garden using everyday waste collected from your kitchen and yard. It boosts your beds, too. Nature’s fertilizer motivates those annuals and perennials decorating the front yard, providing another weapon of defense against Florida’s, now, unpredictable summers.

Building a backyard compost pile means tapping into one of nature’s miracles while also saving landfill space. Turning decomposed organic material into rich soil mimics a forest ecosystem, leaving a healthy, native foundation for plants and flowers. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims yard trimmings and food residuals account for 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Recycle the table scraps, save the fertilizer and guard against soil erosion—the green benefits are endless.

The composting equation is simple: Think green, brown and water. Green is nitrogen and protein, delivered by grass clippings, green leaves, fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds. Brown is carbon and energy, a byproduct of dried grass, brown leaves and straw. Keep the compost pile moist. Water nourishes the microorganisms, helping to drive the decomposition process.

Now you need a bin to pile the compost. There is no perfect method to store and salvage Mother Nature’s goods. Outdoor, indoor, DIY or store bought, the key to composting is more in the mix and management, than the location and construction.

Composting is an art and a science.


  1. Collect available organic elements based on the above green and brown ingredients – mix equal parts of green and brown. Minimize odors using a container lined with charcoal filters.
  2. Fill the container and empty the compost ingredients in your choice of bins. Keep your bin in the shade. The ideal scenario includes two bins: one, fresh and raw; the other, mature compost ready to fertilize.
  3. Take a shovel, pitchfork or rake and shuffle the compost every few weeks. Water the pile and keep moist. Watering and working the pile breathes oxygen into the mix and drives decomposition.
  4. Create a well-managed compost pile that will not attract rodents, nor emit nasty odors.
  5. Be patient. Decomposition may take several months. The end result should smell earthy, look dark and feel loose—a natural product that should be reminiscent of the forest's floor.
  6. Remember, the mix is important and it may need to be adjusted. Err on the brown side, as too much green can result in a smelly garbage pile. Smell is a good indicator of quality. Too much—or too little—brown, green, or water may generate a filthy odor.  

Do Not:

  1. Compost dairy products, fat, meat, bones, grease, diseased plants, charcoal ash and pet waste.
  2. Compost grass clippings treated with chemical pesticides, as they may kill organisms necessary for decomposition.
  3. Stack larger pieces destined for your pile. Cut, shred or grind into smaller pieces. This helps even the mix, insulate the pile and feed vital microorganisms. 

Composting supplies can also be purchased in Temple Terrace at local nurseries.

Take a Class

Want to dig deeper into composting? Hillsborough County runs a composting class as part of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Workshops at the Extension Office, 5339 County Road 579, in Seffner. The next workshop is scheduled for July 22 at 10 a.m.

Handy Web Link

  • The EPA's compost page includes more tips, links and information.
Patti McDonald July 14, 2011 at 08:42 PM
I was just thinking about starting a compost pile the other day.


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