Quick Start - Easy Composting

Composting is easy! Really!

Let Mother Nature do the work for you. You don't need fancy equipment, a science background or even much space to compost effectively. The result (humus) is full of nutrients and can be used as a soil amendment or as a mulch - all for free. You will be feeding your garden, helping the environment, doing your part to reduce waste, and saving money.

To see how simple composting can be, see this quick video by our own Linda Caldwell, co-chair of Ardsley's Veggie Gardening Mania initiative.

Composting is as easy as toss, wait and reap. There is no need to make it complicated! Composting is a great way to turn vegetable scraps, cardboard, newspapers and yard waste into black gold – the rich beautiful humus end result. Why spend money buying bags of compost, manure, topsoil, potting soil or fertilizer when you can produce your own? Composting also means less garbage and paper to haul out to the curb weekly. Sound good? Then let’s get started with super easy composting. We’re going to answer four key questions to take the mystery out of composting. You know you’ve got black gold when all the material has turned into a beautiful, crumbly dark brown soil.

What can I compost?

You will be amazed at how much can be composted. Following is a partial list of what can be tossed on the compost pile. For more ideas go to the internet and search for “what can you compost”.


  • Garden waste: Leaves, Grass clippings, Brush trimmings

  • Any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, egg shells, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags (preferably minus the staples), pits, seeds, nut shells

  • Old wine, wine corks

  • Dust from sweeping and vacuuming, as well as dryer lint

  • Old herbs and spices

  • Shredded newspaper, paper, paper bags but not glossy paper

  • Cardboard, egg cartons, toilet/paper towel rolls

  • Pine needles, pine cones

  • Saw dust, wood chips, twigs (but not saw dust from pressure treated wood)

  • Fireplace ashes

  • Human and pet hair

  • Any organic material!


  • Animal/pet droppings or human waste

  • Animal products – meat, dairy products, fish/fish scraps, bones

  • Inorganic material

  • Glossy or coated paper

  • Vegetable/fruit barcode stickers – they are plastic

  • Sawdust from treated wood (pressure treated/painted/varnished)

  • Coal and charcoal-briquet ash (too acidic)

Sticking to the list of do’s will ensure your compost pile is safe and will not attract unwanted critters.

How do you compost? What do I do?!

Cold Composting Methods:

Cold composting is the easiest method of all. It is called a cold method because the compost pile will not reach the higher temperatures that cause organic material to break down quickly and also kill weed seeds. If you choose to cold compost don’t put material with weed seeds in the pile since there will not be enough heat to kill them.

Toss and Go

This is the easiest of all. You just put the material to be composted on a pile or in a container and wait. That’s it. Nothing else to do. If you want to speed things up, toss the pile every now and again and keep it moist. You should have black gold in about a year.

Dig and Sow

This one is so easy – perfect for the lazy composter. Dig a hole or a trench and place your organic material in the space. When it fills up, cover it with dirt. The material will rot in place and release nutrients along the way. If you have an existing garden, this is a single step process – no need to haul the black gold to the plants. It is already where it is needed.

Hot Composting Methods:

Hot composting is also easy but requires a little more attention. It is called a hot process because the temperature in the composting pile will ideally reach temperatures between 144 F and 155 F, which will kill weed seeds. Hot composting produces black gold much faster – between several weeks and several months.

Your goal is to try to keep the ratio in the pile to approximately two parts carbon (which would be brown items like leaves, dirt, wood ashes, paper, cardboard, straw) to one part nitrogen (which are green things like grass clippings, manure, non-animal or dairy food scraps, green garden waste). You don’t need to be scientific about the mix, just mindful that if you add brown things, you’ll need to add a few green things too and vice-a-versa.

A compost pile should never smell. If your hot compost pile has a foul odor it either means it is too wet or there is too much green (nitrogen) in the pile. If it is too wet, let it dry out a bit. If there is still an odor your ratio is out of whack. Simply add brown material and stir it up to fix it – the odor should go away in a day or two.

Treat your compost pile like a tossed salad – turn it once a week to mix it all up to supply oxygen, and make sure you always keep it as moist as a damp sponge. If you want to be a lazy composter, no need to turn – just make sure you add leaves as layers. They are fluffy and will ensure there is oxygen in the pile.

That’s all there is to it!

Where can I compost at home?

You can create a simple compost pile in your yard out of sight of neighbors, or you can reuse household items as compost bins. If you want to get fancy there are a multitude of composting bins for sale, but quite honestly there is no need for the expense.

If you choose to contain your compost remember that composting needs air, water and food (the material) to feed the microorganisms that will work to give you black gold. If you are going to repurpose an item as a compost bin, ensure that you supply air by poking or drilling holes in the item. Often repurposed items for compost bins are garbage cans with lids, plastic storage bins with lids, milk crates and even cardboard boxes. For ideas on how to repurpose items to become compost bins, perform an internet search on “how to make a compost bin out of a repurposed item”.

Here's some simple steps on how to repurpose an item:

1. Choose your item – best for it to have a lid and be of a good size for your need

2. Drill or punch holes in the sides (for air), in the bottom (for drainage), and the top (for air and water)

3. Line the bottom of the receptacle with shredded/torn newspapers or dried leaves

4. Add a good layer of dirt (adds the microbes to the mix)

5. Toss in your compostable items, stir them in as you add them

6. Give a big stir and water occasionally

7. Let the microorganisms do the work!

You may wish to have a couple of bins going at the same time. When starting a new compost bin, add some compost to get the microbes in the mix.

It’s also handy to have an airtight container on the kitchen counter for collecting scraps as you are cooking.

When can I compost?

You can compost all year long, but composting is fastest during the warm summer months.

Need some more information? Check out this informative site.