Introduction to Composting
There are a number of ways you can get involved in composting from home:
- backyard composting
- indoor vermicomposting bin
- subscribing to a local food scraps collection service
- participating in a food scraps drop-off program in your local community
Why Composting is Important
Composting organic materials such as yard trimmings and food scraps reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. Preventing organics from landfills reduces the production of methane, a power greenhouse gas.
Adding compost to the soil:
- provides valuable nutrients;
- improves soil structure;
- adds beneficial soil micro-organisms;
- suppresses certain plant diseases
- reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides; and
- helps prevent soil erosion and nutrient run-off.
How to Compost at Home
Composting at home is easy; all it takes is a little time, effort and patience. After plants and animals die, they decompose naturally as bacteria and fungi go to work breaking down the remains. Once decayed, the original material is no longer recognizable and takes the form of a rich, dark, soil-like substance. When humans help this process along it is called composting and the product is called compost.
For good composting, the bacteria and fungi that do most of the work must have four things to thrive, which are captured in this simple rhyme:
Making compost takes some care; add greens, browns, water and air.
- Greens are your nitrogen source and include food scraps (such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags and old bread), fresh grass clippings, fresh weeds and manure.
- Browns are your carbon source and include fallen leaves, dry weeds, shredded paper, wood chips and straw. Browns provide structure for the pile, allowing air to flow more freely.
- Air - Compost microorganisms need oxygen! While not necessary, turning (or mixing) the pile twice a month will add more air and speed up breakdown.
- Water - Composting works best with the right amount of moisture. If the pile is too wet, add some leaves, shredded newspaper or sawdust. If it's too dry, add some water.
DEC's composting pamphlet (437 KB, PDF) can help you start composting!
Composting with worms is known as vermicomposting and you need four things to get started - a bin, bedding, worms (red wigglers recommended) and food scraps. Red wigglers are attracted to food odors and eat the degrading food and microorganisms, which really reduces odors in the bin! As worms eat their way through the food scraps in your bin, they create castings which can be used as a soil amendment in your house plants or garden.
What You Can Compost at Home
- Fruit and vegetables
- Coffee grounds
- Indoor plant trimmings
- Yard trimmings
What You Can't Compost at Home
- NO meat, fish, poultry, bones, or fatty foods such as cheese and oils. These attract animals and do not compost well in a home system.
- NO dairy products. They attract animals and do not compost well in a home system.
- NO cat litter or dog feces. These materials may contain disease organisms that remain after composting.
- NO plants that spread through stems (rhizomes) or roots (e.g. ivy, grass).
How to Use Compost
- Compost has many uses around the home. It is ready to use when it is dark and crumbly, and smells earthy. This usually takes 6 months to one year.
- Gardens and Lawns: Mix it into the garden soil or sprinkle it on the lawn to improve moisture retention and soil texture, and to add beneficial microorganisms and nutrients.
- Prior to adding compost to the lawn it is best to screen it with a ½ inch mesh or smaller.
- Landscaping: Use it around garden beds, trees or shrubs as a mulch.
- House Plants: Use 1/2 to 1/3 of your container volume instead of soil.
Trouble Shooting Your Compost Pile
|The Pile Smells
|Too many "greens"
|Add more browns and turn the pile
|Not enough air
|Turn the pile
|Too much water
|Add dry browns and turn the pile
(Just a few drops should come out when you squeeze a handful of the partly degraded composting material.)
|The Pile Isn't Doing Anything
|Pile is too small
|Increase the size of the pile and add more material.
|Too wet/not enough air
|Turn the pile, add more browns.
|There are too many browns
|Add more greens and mix in.
|The Pile Freezes in the Winter
|Pile too small and not insulated
|Increase the size of the pile and add more material. Add a layer of browns around the bin as insulation.
|Flies are on top of the Pile
|Food is not buried
|Bury food three inches under browns or composting material.
|Animals are Attracted to the Bin
|Food is not buried
|Bury food three inches under browns or composting material.
|Bin is not Animal Resistant
|Use 1/2 inch hardware cloth around the bin.
Local community composting programs are gaining in popularity across New York State. Communities are diverting food scraps from the waste stream and supplying participants with fresh, local compost! Look for a food scraps drop off program in your area or residential food scraps pick up service.
Additional Resources for composting in your community
- Institute of Local Self Reliance Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting
- NYC Community Composting
- Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension for home composting workshops
Composting Your Pumpkin Leftovers
Pumpkins and other fall gourds are great additions to your home compost pile. Below are some tips for composting pumpkins:
- Smash up any pumpkin rinds and guts before mixing them into your backyard pile with plenty of carbon sources (leaves, wood chips, twigs, etc.)
- Be sure to remove any candles, wax, or lights from your pumpkin and avoid composting anything that is painted or has glitter.
- Removing seeds ahead of time can help prevent growing pumpkin plants in your compost pile later on.
Pumpkin Smash and Pumpkin Drop-off Events - Check Back Fall 2023
Instead of throwing your carved pumpkins into the garbage, some local governments and community groups host pumpkin smashes or pumpkin drop-off events where residents are invited to drop off their pumpkins for composting. If there is an event happening in your community that you would like listed, please email [email protected].
Keep your tree out of the landfill and make the most of your christmas tree:
- Your municipality may offer a free tree collection or recycling program that will turn your tree into mulch or compost. Contact your local department of public works to find out. Remember to remove all lights and decorations first.
- If you have space in your yard, consider using your tree as a brush pile for the birds. Not only will the pile provide extra shelter for feathered friends during the cold winter months, but it'll also give you some excellent backyard bird-watching opportunities!
- Some farms accept Christmas trees for their goats to munch on the vitamin C rich needles. Be sure to confirm that the farm near you is currently accepting Christmas trees before considering this option.
Christmas Tree Collection Events
Be sure to remove any tinsel, ornaments and other decorations before dropping off your Christmas tree.
- December 26, 2023 - January 31, 2024: Town of Rochester
- December 26, 2024 - January 19, 2024: Christmas Tree Collection - Cayuga County
- January 2024: Town of Bethlehem
- January 2024: Christmas Tree Collection (no tinsel, ornaments, etc.) - Cooks Family Farm located at 189 Ragged Lake Rd Owls Head, NY 12969
- January 2024: Christmas Tree Collection (no tinsel, ornaments, etc.) - River Valley Regeneratives located at 36 Church St. Rexford, NY (drop next to greenhouse or drop by the farmstand)
- January 2024: Christmas Tree Collection - Ontario County
- January 2024: Christmas Tree Collection - Niagara County Soil and Water Conservation District Office at Niagara County Fairgrounds (4487 Lake Ave Lockport)
- January 2 - January 12 (excluding weekends), 2024: Onondaga County
- January 3 - January 31, 2024: Oneida County & Herkimer County
- January 5 - January 13, 2024: New York City
Large Scale Composting
Many residents do not have the time or space to compost large quantities of organic materials, such as fallen leaves. Some municipalities operate compost facilities that accept leaves, grass and branches. These facilities divert materials that would otherwise take up space in landfills. In addition, many municipalities now ban leaves from landfill disposal. Since burning leaves is prohibited in New York State, sending leaves to a compost facility is one of the few options still available to residents. Find out what's happening in your area. If no program exists, urge your community leaders to put one in place.
Leave it on the Lawn - Reuse Mulched Leaves & Grass Clippings
Leave it on the lawn refers to leaving cut grass and leaves on your lawn and allowing them to naturally decompose. Mulch mowing leaves and leaving cut grass on your lawn saves time, returns nutrients to the soil, and is good for the environment.
Learn more about reusing mulched leaves and grass clippings.
Celebrate New York State Compost Awareness Week May 5 - 11, 2024
New York State joins the international community in celebrating Compost Awareness Week each year in early May. Join us May 5 - 11, 2024 to celebrate Compost Awareness Week. This year's theme COMPOST...Nature's Climate Champion! highlights the role compost plays in fighting climate change.