Composting in Your Backyard
Recycling Nature's Way - You Can Make a Difference!
Approximately 12% of the County's landfilled trash is yard trim. Composting is a safe, natural way to convert leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable refuse into valuable organic matter, known as humus, which is rich in nutrients. When spread in the garden, humus improves soil aeration, water retention and root penetration.
Home Composting Guide.
EPA compost information.
EPA seasonal planner.
Simple and fun composting information for kids (and adults too)!
Visit a compost demonstration site for hands-on composting techniques and "Let Worms Eat Your Garbage" vermicomposting. Compost demonstrations are offered April - October. Here is the 2014 schedule.
How Composting Works
Composting is a natural decomposition process. By observing a few simple rules, anyone can be a successful composter. Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa digest plant tissues in the compost pile. For microbes to accomplish their work, they need enough nitrogen, oxygen and water to feed on the carbon rich plant materials provided by you, the gardener.
Building a Compost Pile is Easy!
- Select the materials to be composted. In general, leaves, grass clippings, brush and vegetable waste all work well.
- Shred or chop materials to accelerate composting.
- Mix layers of plant materials high in nitrogen with those high in carbon. As a rule of thumb, green materials such as grass clippings are higher in nitrogen and brown materials such as leaves are higher in carbon. By alternating layers of green and brown materials, nitrogen becomes more readily available for microbial action.
- When nitrogen rich plant materials are not available, spread about a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer with each cubic yard of compressed plant material.
- Build your pile to maximum of 4 feet high by 4 feet wide. Piles higher or wider may lack the necessary oxygen to decompose quickly.
Care of Your Compost Pile
The optimal moisture content of the pile should fall between 40-60%. The compost should feel damp, but you should not be able to squeeze out any free moisture. To alleviate excess moisture, the pile can be covered to exclude rain or turned more frequently to allow it to dry. The pile should be watered during dry spells.
The Finer Points of Composting
A free standing pile will suffice or an inexpensive enclosure can be built with wooden pallets. More substantial enclosures may be built from wood and wire mesh, or attractive prefabricated compost bins may be purchased.
Do not add meat or dairy products to your compost piles - they cause odors and attract animals. To alleviate odors caused by excessive nitrogen or water-logged compost, turn the pile frequently. After a few dry days the odors will disappear.
If your compost pile heats up properly, most disease and insect organisms will be destroyed.
Depending on the type of materials placed in the pile and the number of times it is turned or aerated, composted material should be ready to use in the garden during the next growing season.
FREE Compost Bins
FREE compost bins (while supplies last) are available at 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Suite 514 or Alpha Ridge Landfill at 2350 Marriottsville Road. Compost bins are made from 100% recycled plastic and are available to Howard County residents only.
Here are directions to build a pallet composting bin out of wood pallets.
Pilot Composting Area at ARL
Check out the newly opened Pilot Composting Facility that's operating at Alpha Ridge Landfill! More...
Purchase HoCoGro Compost, topsoil and mulch from the Wood Waste Drop-off Area at Alpha Ridge Landfill.
A Special Note for Columbia Residents
Compost bins appropriately located in your rear yard, out of sight from the street, are acceptable in Columbia since they are not considered permanent structures. Check with your Village Office for local restrictions.
Rake and Take Program
Want leaves for your compost piles or garden? Have extra leaves, bagged and ready to go that you don't need? The Rake and Take Program finds and matches those that want leaves with those that have leaves. Leaves provide a carbon amendment to your compost piles and if left on your garden, will break down to give you rich, healthy soil. For more, see the Rake and Take Flier or visit http://mastergardener.umd.edu.
For More Information...
Home and Garden Center
University of Maryland, Cooperative Extension Service, (800) 342-2507
Howard County Master Gardeners
University of Maryland, Cooperative Extension Service, (410) 313-2707
Howard County Department of Public Works
Recycling Hotline, (410) 313-6444 (TTY 313-2323)