HomeComposting in Chittenden CountyBackyard Composting in 6 Steps

Backyard Composting in 6 Steps

Composting at home is easy! Here are 6 simple steps that will have you turning your food scraps into soil in no time.

We offer free backyard composting webinars, workshops, and tours listed below when available. Or you can view our composting Youtube channel.


None listed.


sat22jun9:00 amsat10:00 amPublic Tour of CSWD's Organics Recycling Facility, Home of Green Mountain CompostCome visit the home of Green Mountain Compost!

sat22jun10:00 amsat11:00 pmComposting with Worms WorkshopCome learn how make your own compost at home!

1. Collect materials

You can collect your food scraps in any container with a lid, from a yogurt tub to a child’s beach pail. Kitchen pails designed for collecting food scraps are sold online and at many local garden centers. 

Rule of (green) thumb: Whenever you add food scraps, cover them with at least as much brown leaves. Besides adding needed carbon, it’ll also help reduce odors.

Besides collecting food scraps and other nitrogen sources listed below, you’ll also need to collect some dry, brown carbon sources.

Nitrogen (green, wet)Carbon (dry, brown)
grass clippingsdead leaves
weedshay or straw
manurecorn stalks
vegetable & fruit scrapssaw dust
coffee grounds & filtersdried, brown grass clippings
tea bagsnewspaper*
eggshellsfood-soiled cardboard*
*shred and add in small quantities

Any organic material will decompose, but it is a good idea not to add materials to a compost bin that will take a long time to decompose or that will attract animals.

Do NOT add the following to your home compost pile.

  • grease or oil
  • dead animals
  • diseased plants
  • fatty foods or any meat or bones
  • human & pet waste
  • treated wood
  • coal or wood ashes
  • pine needles or oak leaves (small amounts are OK)
  • pesticide-treated plants
  • weeds with seeds or runners–they will not be killed at the temperatures present in back yard piles. We recommend bringing these to CSWD as yard debris if you are making compost to spread on your garden.

2. Select a container

A backyard composting bin doesn’t need to be complicated. Food scraps and leaves will break down into compost even if they’re left in an open pile. However, most people create a container to keep animals out, speed the process, and maintain a neater yard.

Download our backyard composting bin plans for a guide to building a variety of backyard composting bins; everything from a simple three-pallet option to the “taj mahal” of composting containers.

Backyard composting bins and tumblers are also widely available for purchasing at local retailers and online. Attend a CSWD workshop or webinar to learn how to choose one best suited to your yard and use.

3. Choose a location

Selecting a site for the pile is a balance between convenience and consideration. Although a well maintained compost pile should not generate odors or attract animals, we advise not placing it too close to outdoor living areas or property lines.

4. Build the pile

The basic idea is to alternate wet and dry materials. This will help create optimal conditions for the micro-organisms that decompose organic matter. Have a leaf pile near your compost bin. When you add food scraps, add at least that amount of dry leaves on top. Not only does that add needed material for the process, but it helps keep odors down.

To discourage insects, rodents, and other “vectors,” be sure to bury food scraps near the center of the pile and cover with dry materials. Do not add meat, dairy products, or fatty foods.

5. Let it cook

The microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects, will decompose the material in the compost pile. It’s just a matter of time. The rate at which this process happens depends on three extra ingredients: air, water, and temperature.

Microorganisms are living creatures and need the right diet as well as air and water to live. To ensure that they have enough of both, as often as you can remember, stick a pitchfork into various spots in the pile and wiggle it to open up new avenues for air and water to enter the center of the pile. The more you do this, the faster your pile will turn into compost.

We all move a little more slowly in cold temperatures, and those microbes are no different. The warmer the air temperature, the faster the microbes work. That’s why breakdown slows considerably in the winter.

6. Harvest the compost

The compost is finished when it is dark brown and has an earthy smell. To remove any large chunks, sift the compost through a garden sieve or milk crate. The chunks can be placed back in the pile for further decomposition.

Use the finished compost in your garden to add nutrients to the soil around plants. It can also be used to repot house plants, as a bedding for seedlings, or as mulch around trees and shrubs. Lawns love compost, too — sprinkle about a half inch in the spring and fall and you’ll be amazed at how well your grass responds!