Your Complete Guide To Mastering Perfect Compost

5 comments by Luke Marion

Healthy Plants Begin With Healthy Soil 

A multivitamin contains all (or hopefully most) of the necessary nutrients needed for a healthy body. You can also get those nutrients from the food you eat. For example nuts have protein, vitamin B, and omega fatty acids, greens have fiber, Vitamin C, K, Iron, and bananas have potassium. 

Your compost is no different for your plants. You can either fertilize in the multivitamin approach, or you can feed them the inputs they need in the form of compost. 

Compost is the process of breaking down organic material into a usable form of soil that contains all the necessary nutrients and structure to sustain plant life. 

BUT... Not all compost is created equal!

compost can leach: Leaching is the process of nutrients being dissolved in water and running through your soil. Leaching can happen with rain, snow melt, or even irrigation. Fresh compost is always recommended! 










You are what you eat: compost is only based on what you put in it. If you have low quality inputs, the output will be low quality


holding compost

Leaves vs. grass: Leaves are from trees with deep roots. These roots extend  20-30 feet!they can often reach nutrients that are lost on the surface due to leaching, and are otherwise void from grass clippings which have shallow roots. 

Variety is the spice of life: When it comes to a nutrient rich compost, having a wide variety of inputs is best. Leaves have lots of trace minerals, but lack nitrogen. Grass clippings have lots of nitrogen, but lack carbon or trace minerals. Mix it up and add things like eggshells and kitchen scraps too! 

holding compost

Bacteria vs. Fungi

Annuals benefit from a bacterially dominated compost, the bacteria source nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. Bacterially dominated compost is achieved through hot composting. 

perennials benefit from a fungally dominated compost. Fungi like mycorrhizae mine nutrients for the plant from the soil and increase the root mass. Fungally dominated compost is achieved through cold composting. Think leaves sitting on a forest floor! 


Quick and "dirty" Guide to making great compost

  1. Choose a Compost Bin or Pile:
    • You can use a compost bin, a designated area in your yard, or a pile to create compost. Bins help contain the compost and maintain a neater appearance.
  2. Balance Carbon and Nitrogen:
    • Composting is often described as a balance between "browns" (carbon-rich materials) and "greens" (nitrogen-rich materials).
    • Browns include items like dried leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, and cardboard.
    • Greens include kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds), grass clippings, and fresh garden waste.
    • Aim for a C:N (carbon-to-nitrogen) ratio of roughly 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
  3. Chop or Shred Materials:
    • Smaller pieces of organic matter break down more quickly. Use a shredder or chop materials into smaller bits to speed up decomposition.
  4. Layer Materials:
    • Alternate layers of browns and greens to maintain the carbon-to-nitrogen balance. Start with a layer of browns at the bottom.
  5. Maintain Moisture:
    • Keep the compost pile consistently moist, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Water as needed to prevent it from drying out or becoming waterlogged.
  6. Turn the Compost:
    • Regularly turn or aerate the compost pile to provide oxygen to decomposing microorganisms. Turning the pile also helps distribute moisture and speed up decomposition.
  7. Cover or Enclose the Pile:
    • Covering the compost pile with a lid or using a closed bin can help regulate temperature, retain moisture, and deter pests.
  8. Monitor Temperature:
    • Composting generates heat as organic matter breaks down. A compost pile can heat up to 130-160°F (54-71°C) when active. This heat kills weed seeds and pathogens, helping to create safe compost.
  9. Avoid Adding Certain Materials:
    • Do not compost diseased plant materials, meat, dairy, oils, pet waste, or treated wood. These items can introduce pests or pathogens.
  10. Patience is Key:
    • Composting takes time, typically several months to a year, depending on various factors like the size of the pile, materials used, and environmental conditions.
  11. Harvest the Compost:
    • Once the compost is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling, it's ready to use in your garden. You can sift it to remove any remaining large or uncomposted materials.


  • Tom Braak

    I lived in Haiti for 23 years.had a fruit tree nursery, giving fruit trees away. The key was our compost pile. 30 feet long,4′×4′. Bat guano, chicken poop rice hulls and green weeds, no seeds, coffee grounds egg shells, and banana peels from street venders (in the spring we gave them a few fruit trees each). We also gave compost to the farmers who received the trees and taught them how to !ale it. Over 25 kinds of fruit! Wanted to diversify their harvest. Bought trees in Miami and planted to have stock. Got permission from the Ministry of Agriculture. Had hopes of one day exporting to the states. I got ran over in 2018 and was shipped stateside. Project shut down as no insurance.

  • Debra

    Aged Chicken coop bedding that had clean straw and finely shredded pine shavings with heavy chicken droppings piled up in a small area for about a year seems to fit our use, We then add some commercial finished cow manure compost and mix in some worm castings. We are then leaving this “rough” almost finished compost in an inactive garden bed through the winter(about 4 months) before topping with a potting soil blend of peat moss and then some vermiculite a month before planting.

    This SEEMS to work well in our small NE Tennessee (7a) raised bed garden over poorly natural hard clay soil. No till, Non-GMO, vegetable garden with beans, peppers, tomatoes, and some squash. What we don’t eat goes back to the chickens or the compost pile for a recycle. We are retired and just offset our grocery bills with a small amount of garden. We also give to others who cannot grow their own.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks, so much, MI. The part I needed and didn’t have, but you provided, was the use of leaves. Here in far north California, we have lots of oak leaves, and some pine needles. I’ve always used oak leaves to amend in the rows of my garden to decay during winter, but never thought of feeding my compost pile with them. I’m certain my pile needs “browns”.

  • Irene N.

    I started composting two summers ago, and find it to be very satisfying. It’s not only good for your garden and beneficial for your garden, but economical and easy to do. This article demystifies the process.

  • Roxanne

    I just started following your website.
    I can’t wait to order seeds.
    Thanks for sharing your garden with us

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