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Making a good compost can be like composing a work of art, or it can be like doodling while on the telephone, something that fills the empty/quiet spaces without being too interruptive. No matter what way we choose to do it, there are certain things we can put in compost to make it awesome.

Though it has the reputation of being a good place for food scraps, in reality, compost is a good way to deal with much more than that. And it has to be: food scraps are high in nitrogen which means they need an equal amount of carbon-rich material to balance out the mixture. That’s composting down to its basics.

Now, for those who want to make compost the best it can be, something rich and complex and amazing for next year’s garden, here are some of the other things that make compost more than just a smelly pile of kitchen waste.

Source: Project Diaries/Youtube

Air & Water

Like all living things, compost needs air and water to survive and, more to the point, thrive.

For those who want to make quick, artistic composts, turning them regularly will provide lots of air, which spurs the microorganisms on to their job of decomposing organic matter. For the lazy compost pile, this might be reduced to putting a few inches of sticks and branches at the bottom of the compost pile so that air can move in from underneath it.

As for water, the right amount is when the carbon-rich materials, such as shredded paper, leaves, or wood shavings, are wet enough to just squeeze a drop or two of moisture from them.


It’s possible to make compost from just grass clippings or a pile of leaves, but a really good compost pile will have lots of diversity. That means we want different types of nitrogen-rich materials like dinner scraps, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings, along with varied types of carbon-rich materials, such as dried grass clippings, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded leaves, and paper trash. Different shapes and sizes help the process, too.


  • Overall Pile: Many of the compost bins and contraptions bought from stores are too small to make good compost. To keep it simple, a compost pile should be no smaller than a cubic yard. That’s three feet tall, three feet wide, and three feet high. Slightly larger than this is even better. This bulk amount provides enough material for the inside to heat up and get the decomposition moving.
  • Small Materials: Smaller materials are always better for a compost bin. Larger stuff, particularly carbon-rich materials, takes longer to decompose, and that means a longer wait for the compost to be ready. Cutting things into small pieces, from leaves to sticks to banana peels, will make the compost break down quicker. It’ll also mean that when it’s time to move the compost pile to the garden bed, there won’t be large rogue pieces of stuff remaining. It’ll all just be beautiful, rich soil.
  • Add at Once: Adding as much of the compost material as possible each time makes a big difference. Throwing in one banana peel at a time won’t work very well. It’s much better to add a significant amount of stuff, a good two-to-three-inch layer of food scraps covered with an equal layer of shredded paper or leaves or wood shavings. Putting in a lot at once gets the compost fire going, which means the compost will decompose faster.

Source: Morag Gamble: Our Permaculture Life/Youtube

Compost Activator

What makes a compost pile work is all the living organisms that feed on the materials in it. Worms, all sorts of insects, different fungi, bacteria, and tons of other stuff eat, digest, and poop out the compost materials. So, the more we can interest and collect these different microorganisms, the better our compost will be. We can add certain things to the pile to help with this: comfrey, old compost, nettles, urine, animal manure, and other high-nitrogen items.

Choice Ingredients

There are lots of items that are just made for good composting, and food scraps, despite the motivation for most compost bins, aren’t one of them. Food scraps are much better for vermiculture (worm farms). However, in a compost pile, the combination of spent coffee grounds (mildly acidic) and wood ash (alkaline) is a great duo to add lots of micronutrients. A heap of compost worms, yeast, fungi, and/or compost microbes can help. Sugary stuff like fresh fruit peels or fruit past its prime is good, too, because the right bacteria loves it. Shredded leaves are great in combination with green grass clippings.

Even for those looking to do a simple, slow (cold) compost pile, it helps a great deal to use some or all of these ideas. It’ll mean the compost behaves, never getting smelly and attracting rodent pests, and it’ll mean the resulting compost will contain a well-rounded assortment of nutrients and soil biota.

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