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Composting Basics


Composting is a natural, biological process that breaks down plant waste from the kitchen, lawn and garden into a soil-like material called humus. It’s done by microorganisms that consume the organic material to produce compost.

By composting in your backyard, you can turn your yard waste and food scraps into a valuable soil enhancement that offers many long-term benefits.

SVR Cares about Composting

Watch Composting Workshops from your own home!

Create Nutrient Rich Soil Amendment

Improve the fertility and health of your soil. Plants grown in healthy soil are more resistant to pests and diseases. As a mulch, compost conserves water, suppresses weeds, and protects the soil from compaction and erosion.

Compost Saves Water

Compost helps the soil hold moisture, reducing evaporation and water runoff.

Helps The Environment

Recycling valuable organic resources helps extend the lifetime of our landfill and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 

Choosing the composting system that is best for you

compost bin

Backyard Composting

Composting can be done in an open pile or in containers.
Large yard
Produce a lot of landscaping or green waste
Takes 6 to 12 months to create finished compost

Vermicomposting (Composting with Worms)

Small or No Yard
Produce limited landscaping or green waste
Only need to compost food scraps
Takes only a few months to create finished compost

Containers confine the compost pile and make it more manageable and visually attractive.

They can also provide weather protection, aid in heat retention and help keep animals out.

Four Essential Ingredients for Compost


Carbon rich, dry, woody materials such as fallen leaves, hay, dried plants and weeds.


Nitrogen rich, green, moist materials such as kitchen scraps, young weeds, and fresh grass clippings. Your “green” sources contain nitrogen and will help to heat up your pile. 


To accelerate composting, your pile should be moist but not wet, or the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.


Oxygen, is added to the pile by turning, or layering with bulky materials to create air spaces between materials. Making sure your pile has air flow will significantly speed up its decomposition.

 Backyard Composting Basics


materials if you want them to breakdown more quickly. The more you chop, the faster the decomposition process will be.


turn or layer brown and green materials to avoid compaction and provide oxygen to the pile. A good rule of thumb for a healthy carbon to nitrogen balance is 50% to 70% green material to 50% to 30% brown materials, per volume.


the air & water balance by keeping compost as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Aerate the pile by turning or creating air shafts. As the pile composts, it will shrink to half its original size or less.


compost can be done a couple ways: 1) Move your bin structure next to where it lies now. Move uncomposted materials back into bin and harvest finished compost. Sift or pick out any bigger unfinished pieces and put these back into the pile. 2) If your bin has a harvesting door, scoop out the finished compost from the bottom. Sift if desired.


The more work you put into your pile the faster you will get finished compost, but don’t worry, no matter how little effort you put in, nature will do its work – Compost Happens!

Do Compost:


  • Fallen leaves
  • Finely chopped
  • woody prunings
  • Pine needles
  • Untreated wood sawdust


  • Lawn clippings
  • Young weeds
  • Vegetable & fruit peels and scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Breads and grains
  • Egg shells
  • Manures from non-meat eating animals

Do Not Compost

• Meat & bones
• Fish
• Dairy products
• Greasy foods
• Plywood sawdust
• Treated wood sawdust
• Diseased plants
• Dog, cat, or bird feces
• Poison oak
• Bermuda grass, ivy & rhizome grasses
• BBQ or coal ashes

Backyard Composting Troubleshooting

Pile Not Composting
Too Dry?

Moisten till stilghtly damp and maintain moisure.

Too Much dry-woody material?

Turn, chop and add fresh green materials, or manure.

Pile smells rotten and/or attracts flies
Too wet?

Turn, add dry, brown materials.

Food scraps exposed?

Remove meat, grease, etc., and turn. Cover any food scraps with 2 inches of dry material or soil.

Rodents in pile
Food wastes in open bin, holes larger than 1/4″?

Turn compost and rodent-proof your bin.

Rodent attracting foods present?

Remove meat, grease, etc., and turn. Cover any food scraps with 2 inches of dry material or soil.

Vermicomposting (Worm Composting) Basics

Compost worms are called “red worms” or “red wigglers.” They are often found in compost piles, but are different from the earthworms you normally find in the ground. Their scientific names are Eisenia Fetida and Lumbricus Rubellus.

Feeding the Worms

Start your worms out with 2-3 quarts of scraps.

Include some chopped up soft food (melon, grapes, cooked vegetables) or somewhat rotted foods that will decompose quickly.

After the first feeding, feed the worms weekly, starting out with about a quart of food scraps per week.

As they multiply, you can add larger quantities of food scraps. After a few months you can add about an inch of food scraps each week.

To avoid fruit flies and odors, bury food under a layer of the bedding. Don’t dump and run!

Maintaining your Worm Bin

Add fresh bedding every few weeks. Always keep a two- inch layer of fresh bedding over the worms and food in your bin. Shredded, nonglossy newspaper works great!

Keep bedding a little wetter than a wrung out sponge.

In a plastic bin, add dry bedding to absorb excess moisture. 


After you have fed your worms for 3 to 6 months, you’ll see some worm compost in the bottom of your bin. You can harvest what’s there, or wait until your bin is nearly overflowing. No matter which method you use, some worms will remain in the compost. Worms put in the garden with the compost will not live long, but your main goal is to reserve enough worms to re-start your bin.

Here are a few methods for separating the worms from the compost

Method #1: Most of the uneaten food, bedding and worms will probably be in the top third of your bin. Remove this material, worms and all, and put it aside to start a new bin. Remove the remaining material from the bin for use as compost. Put the uneaten food, bedding and worms back in the bin, and resume feeding and maintaining your bin.

Method #2: This method works only in bins over three feet long. Move the contents of your worm bin to one side, place fresh bedding in the empty space and bury your food wastes there for a few months. Harvest the other side after most of the worms have moved into the new food and bedding.

Method #3: Spread a sheet of plastic out in the sun. Dump the contents of the worm bin and build a few cone shaped piles on the sheet. Gently remove the top layer of each pile until you see worms. To escape the light, the worms will dive deeper into the piles. After repeating the process every 20 minutes or so for a few hours, you will be left with a wiggling pile of worms. Return the worms to their bin with some of the compost for bedding.

Do Feed Worms

Worms like to eat many of the same things we eat, only they aren’t as picky. Stale bread, apple cores, lettuce trimmings, coffee grounds, and nongreasy leftovers are just some of the foods we usually discard that worms love.

Worms prefer smaller-sized scraps and will eat through them more quickly than large or whole pieces of food.


  • Vegetables Scraps
  • Fruit Scraps and peels (mold/rot is fine)
  • Bread and grains
  • Tea bags
  • Non-greasy leftovers
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Napkins, paper towels

Do Not Feed Worms

  • Meats, fish
  • Greasy foods
  • Dairy products
  • Twigs and branches
  • Dog, cat, or bird feces

Don’t overfeed citrus should be no more than 1/5 of worm food (put in backyard compost)

Vermicomposting Troubleshooting

Worms are dying
Too much food in bin, starting to heat up like hot compost?

Feed less food or less often or get another bin

Too dry?

Add water until slightly damp

Too wet?

Add dry shredded paper

Too Much Food?

If your worm bin starts to smell bad, it could be a sign that you are adding more food than the worms can process. If too much food is added, it can even heat up and kill the worms! Quit feeding for awhile and when most of the food has been eaten, start feeding again.

Bins attracts flies
Food exposed?

Bury food complety

Spring fruit fly invasion?

Feed less fruit, put bin outside away from people

Bin attracts ants
Too dry?

Add water until slightly damp, put bin outside away from people

Sowbugs, beetles, or other critters in bin
Not a Problem!

These are good for your compost!

Composting Brochures

compost bin

Backyard Compost (English)

compost bin

Backyard Compost (Spanish)

compost bin

Vermicomost - Worms (English)

compost bin

Vermicomost - Worms (Spanish)

Backyard Composting

Watch and learn how to easily compost yard clippings and kitchen scraps!





Vermicomposting - Worm Composting

Learn the basics of vermicomposting and how easy it is for worms to eat your food scraps! 





NPR Life Kit - How to Compost at Home

All About Composting from StopWaste

Reduce Food Waste

Jardin El Sol

Demonstration Garden at Sun Street Transfer and Recycling Station

Join us for In-Person workshops when safe to do so.

Compost Happens

“…no matter what you do, no matter how many little mistakes you make, you are still probably going to come up with reasonably good, usable compost.”

Stu Campbell, Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting

Compost = Life & Love

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(831) 775-3000

128 Sun Street, Suite 101, Salinas, CA 93901


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