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Get the Dirt on Compost

Backyard compost is a good way to get rid of food scraps.

Start Composting in Your Backyard

Up to 25% of the average household waste stream is food waste. Rather than tossing non-edible food scraps, compost them! The town of Bedford offers food scrap recycling at the Recycling Center where you can drop off organic kitchen waste, or you can sign up join the curbside pick up program. But, if you have a little place on your property for a compost pile or bin, consider composting at home. You’ll avoid extra trips to the recycling center and after a while you will have nutrient-rich fertilizer to put on your lawn and gardens!

What Goes In?

Browns and Greens

Browns are dry, carbon-rich plant materials with no life in them. For example autumn leaves,

  • straw
  • woodchips
  • twigs
  • shredded newspaper

Greens are fresh, moist, nitrogen-rich plant materials that still have some life in them like:

  • fresh leaves
  • prunings
  • grass clippings
  • food waste such as vegetable and fruit scraps and coffee grounds

The optimal brown (carbon) to green (nitrogen) ratio is 30 to 1 for an active compost pile. While composters aim for that perfect ratio, the composting process will still happen if you don’t have it—just not so efficiently.

Note:  Do not put meat, oil, cheese, bones, shellfish, fish, or other things that could become rancid or attract animals to an outdoor compost pile. You also want to avoid things that take a long time to break down (like compostable forks). All of these items are accepted in the drop off compost program at the recycling center so you may choose to bring them there.

Compost Pile or Bin?

Compost Piles

Depending on the space you have available to you outdoors, you may opt for a compost pile.

To make one, simply leave your browns and greens in a pile outside. A 4×4 foot square is a good minimum size to hold in the heat and moisture that make compost organisms thrive.

The pile doesn’t have to be contained in any way, although wire fencing will keep it tidier. 

Compost Bins

Bins allow for more organized, less messy composting. However, composting in bins may take longer for each batch to “cook.” There are many different compost bins available in stores and online. You can also build your own bin.

Compost containers and drums are good for small-scale composting of kitchen waste. Make sure any compost container has holes in the sides so that air can circulate into the bin. Note that kitchen waste is highly “green” nitrogen material, so it’s wise to keep a pile of leaves or other “browns” on hand to periodically add to the bin to suppress any odors.  Mill River Supply in Bedford Hills sells the Earth Machine in Bedford Hills which is a great option for at home composting (and if you say you heard about it from Bedford 2030 they give you a discount). Add material to the top and remove compost at the bottom.

Outdoor compost bins are simply contained piles. If you choose to use an upright compost bin, don’t continually stir it up. Let the old stuff decompose at the bottom while the newly added waste settles on top. You can stir the top 10 inches or so to ensure that it is evenly distributed but don’t go any deeper than that.

Compost tumblers can be fun, especially for teaching kids about composting, but don’t continue to add food scraps while older scraps need time to turn to compost. Fill the bin over a defined period and then let that whole batch compost before emptying it and starting a new cycle. Double side-by-side tumblers allow you to fill one bin while the other “cooks.”

Outdoor purchased bin
Outdoor built structure
Compost tumbler

Best Practices

Keep the entire pile damp, but not soggy

Moist piles provide ideal conditions for the organisms that do the work of turning your plant materials into finished compost. Dried-out piles take longer to break down.

Mix your materials

Mixing the pile allows air to be incorporated, distributes excess water, and speeds the process by providing the most contact between browns and greens. Compacted or soggy piles can produce unpleasant odors.

Chop everything into smaller pieces

Break up your browns and greens to create more surfaces for the organisms to work on. Your pile will compost faster and be easier to mix together.

If your compost ever begins to smell, mix in some browns – it’s that simple! 

Wait a while. If you chop things small and your pile is in a warm area, you could have finished compost in only a few months.

Finished compost is a rich, dark material that looks like soil and has an earthy smell.

Finished Compost is a Great Fertilizer

Compost is rich in nutrients, and makes great fertilizer for your garden. 

Compost can be: mixed directly into your soil, applied as a thick layer of mulch in your vegetable and flower gardens, added as a top dressing on your lawn, added as an amendment to potting soil, and even soaked in a bucket to “boost” water for your indoor or outdoor plants.

Compost piles are often divided into three sections. #1 has fresh waste (keep turning often), #2 has compost that is cooking (leave it alone), and #3 has finished compost (use on the garden). When #3 is empty, move everything along re-start the system, aerating the compost in the process. When moving from #2 to #3 you may want to use a screen to sift out rocks, sticks, etc.
Earth Machine has a door to remove finished compost from the bottom of the pile when ready

Learn more aboutcomposting on our Food Waste Action Page.

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