Organic Composting 101 – Making Compost Better

Welcome to organic composting 101.

This isn’t just a way of recycling organic waste – organic compost is actually one of the most valuable things we grow in the garden.

What is organic compost?

It just means we’re making compost from organic materials, without any added chemicals or genetically-modified ingredients or manure from animals that have received drugs, etc.

Since compost is a complex community of living organisms, we kind of are ‘growing’ it just like we grow cucumbers or raspberries.

There are different organic composting methods and lots of details that can help you fine tune when you’re making compost, but the basics are as follows…

YouTube video

Click for video transcription

Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of

Today we are talking about organic composting and we are going to be making some compost together. The reason I love compost so much is what it does for my garden. It’s kind of behind these trees here and that is to bring in fertility and organic matter and beneficial microorganisms and insects and a whole host of benefits to the garden. Now we are doing organic composting today and all that really means to me is that we are using organic materials. No genetically modified materials, well now you can spike it with any chemicals.

We are not going to use maneuver from animals that receive a whole lot of antibiotics and hormones and things like that. We are going to try to keep it clean. In terms of materials you don’t want to use ,I have a few around here, one would be anything that’s toxic such as this paper. If you could have this kind of colored paper, it really has a lot of toxins in it, anything that you might think of being toxic you probably don’t want to put in there.

You can put most weeds into the compost they will be taking care of no problem, there are a few like this quack grass or bind weed or others that really spread that you really don’t want to take the chance that they are going to be put all throughout your garden when you spread your compost. Leave them now put other weeds in, some people are pretty nervous about using dog or cat maneuver, personally I have no problem with using a bit of it. I am not going to get into more detail on that today. It is kind of a controversial topic but I have no problem with a tiny amount of that stuff in there likewise you can use your own human maneuver and urine in a compost pile.

They are great nutritionally, they are great to divert from this sour system. You can put meat and other animal products in there but it will sometimes attract like skunks and raccoons and things like that, so a lot of people don’t use them in the compost. If you thing that you could attract even just put your food scraps, rat source, skunks and raccoons and things like that. What again you want to do is build a bin that doesn’t let them in, that’s getting the talking about some ingredients we can use. Now you may have heard compost ingredients to be discussed as greens versus browns and that doesn’t really refer to the color of the necessarily, although sometimes it does.

What it really refers to is greens means more nitrogen rich materials and brown means more carbon rich materials and we are trying to balance out those two nutrients, those two elements in the compost pile. So greens means things like maneuver, I don’t have any maneuver today, I don’t tend to use it all that much in the compost pile but that is one that is more of nitrogen source, especially when you get down to the bird maneuver like chicken maneuver.

Another one is fresh grass clippings or weeds that you might have picked that contain more nitrogen. Young plants, especially tentative have more nitrogen and as they get older they become more carbon rich, food scraps are another one, they tend to be all over the map for their carbon to nitrogen ratio but we tend to think of them a little bit more than nitrogen, now I want your raw material as your carbon rich materials, for me what are main ones is straw or you can use hay too, hay has a little bit more weed seeds but that can be okay, that’s a really good one. Leaves are great carbon source and nice nutrition source too. I like to put them in the compost obviously in the fall and the n I don’t tend to use it much but if you do have some saw dust or some wood scraps, they can make nice carbon component of the compost pile suite there, very high in carbons.

They need to be balanced it with a lot of nitrogen but that’s okay, now you can just take one kind of nitrogen and one kind of carbon source and mix them together and that’s fine but I do like to get a diversity if possible because the more different sources I am bringing in, the more different microorganisms I am bringing in and different nutrients I am bringing in and generally I am going to get a nice or more diverse compost pile. When it comes to mixing these things together, a general simple rule for composting 101 is to try to get 2 to 4 times as much brown carbon materials as green nitrogen materials and so really that just keeps it simple, you can get a lot more technical and mathematical about it but that’s an easy way to go about it.

Let’s get into how to make organic compost and we get into my bin here, you can see I have out of palettes because that’s the free and very easy way to do it, I just tie them together with a little bit of rope, you don’t even need a bandage just keep things a little bit tight here in terms of size this is about the minimum I would go with which is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet tall and then I go up to a size of about 5 feet by 5 feet 5 feet. I have actually been leaning a little more to larger size as recently because it helps to get the pile harder. What happens if the pile is too small if it’s much smaller than 3 by 3 by 3 it’s not going to be able to heat up and I think heating up is what allows the composting process to happen and it also kills weed seeds and pathogens.

So we want to get some heat going in there, on the other hand if your pile gets too big and there is not enough air getting into the middle and we want air to be outflow with the pile because we are trying to make aerobic compost because we are trying to get aerobic air breathing microorganism. The way to make sure that you have enough air in the pile and the pile stays nice and hard and that all of the materials get into the middle of the pile is to turn the piles, that’s what I am going to do right now. So you can see it starts to look a little more like compost when I get down to the bottom of my pile but for me it doesn’t look entirely like compost because I put in things like this big stocks of corn or tomatoes.

First of all I would like to recycle them but it also helps keep it more aerated as well. So at the end of the process, eventually they will break down but by the time I am ready to use the compost, there still going to be in there and will have to strain them out but it adds more air. So for this turning of compost what a lot of people will do is they will have two or three bins in alternative from one bin into another. I just keep it simple with one band and so I turn my compost out, turned your back in and kind of mix it in a little differently and then make sure that everything is getting a chance to be in the middle of the pile and it introduces a lot of air in there too.

That’s for how often you turn that kind of depends on what your goals are, if you want compost that has done really fast like as little as a few weeks, you can chop up all your materials really small, make your pile and then turn it every 3 to 7 days, what I like to do is just turn my compost pile a couple of times throughout the growing season, when I do that it may take 8 months for it to get done but it’s going to save me a lot of work and a lot of time and it’s going to retain more nutrition because every time you turn a pile and get more air in there, it gets the metabolism going faster and it gets breaking down more and off casing more, I would like to retain more nutrition, retain more fungi and beneficial organisms.

So now I am going to start turning my materials back in. So that’s how I like to water every time I build or turn a compost pile whenever I am shelving materials into the pile there always getting water, so I make sure I have a lot of moisture in there. So that’s it for organic composting 101. If you have any questions leave them down below and I will answer them. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me and my sister over on Facebook at or me over on YouTube at I request you, just to keeping on your toes there.

Organic Composting Ingredients – Don’ts

Organic Composting 101

Generally speaking, almost anything that was once alive can go in when making a compost bin.

You probably want to avoid large amounts of meat, too much dog and cat waste, and obviously anything toxic.

I avoid pernicious weeds like quack grass and bindweed, which might survive the organic composting process and spread around my garden, but other weeds are okay and just add to the nutrition.

You might also want to think about whether there are any large critters in your area who would enjoy eating your compost pile (rats, raccoons, bears…), and either avoid putting in materials that will attract them or build a bin they can’t get into.

When making compost, I don’t use genetically modified materials, because those pesky little genes, once transplanted into a different organism from the one they started in, tend to feel restless in their new home and are more likely to jump ship and find their way into other organisms in your garden…

Organic Compost Ingredients – Yes, please!

The basic organic composting ingredients are plants (such as leaves, weeds, grass clippings, and straw), manure, and food scraps.

You may have heard talk about “greens” and “browns.” This refers to the relative proportions of carbon and nitrogen in each material, not to their actual color.

“Greens” are relatively higher in nitrogen, like horse manure or especially other manures such as chicken manure (even though they’re brown!), fresh grass clippings, seaweed, and many kitchen scraps.

“Browns” are higher in carbon, like straw/hay, leaves and sawdust or wood chips.

Plant materials fall in different places along this spectrum. Higher-nitrogen materials tend to be softer and more pliable, while higher-carbon materials feel more stiff and woody.

You want a ratio of somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1 browns to greens, by volume (update: these days I use more like equal parts browns and greens). Too much carbon, and your organic compost will be slow; too much nitrogen, and it risks getting anaerobic, smelly, or even too hot.

The more diverse your feedstock, the more diverse the nutrients and microbes will be in your finished compost…

Composting 101 – How To Make Organic Compost

Finished Organic Compost

For a nice hot compost pile, the ideal size is between 3’x3’x3′ and 5’x5’x5′. I’m leaning a little more to the bigger side these days.

Too small and it won’t get hot enough, so weed seeds won’t be killed. Too big and the center won’t get enough air to keep the process aerobic.

The main way to get air into your compost pile is to turn it.

You can do this as soon as the compost cools down after a week or so, or you can turn it once or twice a season, depending how your desire for fast organic compost and burly shoulder muscles balances with your basic human laziness.

Making compost that stays hot by turning it often can be done in as little as a few weeks if you’ve found a way to chop up all your materials into small pieces.

But I usually like to turn it just a couple of times throughout the season even if it takes 8 months to finish, because in addition to the fact that it’s less work, it retains more nutrients and beneficial organisms that way.

It depends what your goals are. Turning more often keeps it hotter and hence faster, while leaving it alone allows it to generate more humates and off-gas fewer nutrients, and it encourages more diverse beneficial microbes.

The next step for how to compost is to get the right moisture level. The cliché is “as wet as a wrung-out sponge.”

If your materials are dry when you’re building it, you’ll want to water the layers as you go. Then you can put a tarp over it once the ingredients are all in, or just top it with a layer of straw to keep moisture in or out as needed. In summer you may need to water it a few times.

Don’t be surprised if your beautiful compost pile shrinks down to as little as a third of its original size.

That’s just the microbes doing their job, turning your waste materials into an alchemical elixir that keeps your garden healthy and thriving.

What did I miss? Ask me your organic composting 101 questions down below…


  1. What do you think of adding “compost maker” to the compost to speed up decomposing? It seems like it takes almost a year for my compost to decay. The product says add water to the granules to make a liquid and pour over the compost.

    1. It depends what’s in the product. If it’s chemicals, I’m probably not a big fan. If it’s organic, it may be somewhat useful, although I wouldn’t spend too much money on it, because if your pile isn’t working, it’s more of a problem with the things I discussed in the article – moisture, air, size, ingredient ratios, etc.

  2. Chris Campagnaro says:

    Black Gold!!! … Lots of kitchen scraps, yard waste, grass clippings, a little straw, and last fall’s leaf mold, in a 3 compartment bin, … stock turned back and forth in 2 compartments, … and screened in the 3rd one, produces enough nice rich compost in situ to supply about 90% of our demand. We supplement with a few bags from the garden centre each season as we don’t have a supply of bulk, organic compost in our area. We tried for ages to work with one of those narrow plastic commercial bins, but it was difficult to heat up at all, and just a slow, small supply. The three cubic meter cedar bin is really nice, 2 cubic meters would be fine also.

    1. Beauty! I think I cut it out of the video to keep things short, but it’s not a bad idea to line a bin with hardware cloth like this keep out rodents, and allow for good air circulation. For people who have been asking, the white pipe is another way of introducing air into the middle of the pile.

    2. Cheerful 1 says:

      Wonderful! I do vermicomposting (Eisenia Fetida worms) and before adding them to my piles had a horrible time getting anything to decompose. Now, it happens rapidly. Are you using worms in your White plastic piping? Looks perfect for it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. We save our fruit and veggie scraps, i.e peelings. The other day I was on my way to toss it in the compost, and noticed the scraps had mold growing. Can that still go in the compost?And how about half eaten uncooked fruits i.e. an apple?

    1. Chris Campagnaro says:

      Moldy and half eaten is all good for the bin!

    2. Yes, all that stuff can go in no problem, cooked or uncooked. Mold is just another kind of microbe that will be added to the diversity of your pile.

  4. good info some I knew already. My concern is getting the compost hot enough to kill the bad bacteria and how do that? I’m finally able to check into your academy but hopefully will have a better computer by next week so I can really get into your stuff. Have a question. I got my bill from you the $27. and then the following month I had another bill from you again $27. Do you have any idea why this happened? Or was it my mistake? I’m not good with computers . Thank you

    1. Well if it got so hot that it killed the bad bacteria, it would probably kill the good bacteria, too. But I know what you’re saying – you want to get a compost pile that is really working well, so that the bad bacteria will be kept under control by the good guys. I gave lots of good tips in the video – for example, make the pile big enough, use a good ratio of browns to greens, maintain proper moisture, and turn the pile once in awhile to introduce air.

  5. Susan Kulis says:

    Hi Phil, hope you’re bearing up during this difficult time. You seem like such a fine, generous person. I love to watch your videos as much for the positive energy you put out as for the information. I always feel good watching them. Your energy is still very positive, and that is a good thing. I know you will have a bright future. If you can give yourself time to experience whatever feelings may come up about yourself, Heather, the relationship, what happened, it can be a time of personal growth. I’ve been wanting to offer words of support for you, just haven’t found them till now. Be strong, and know you have much support.

    1. Thanks Susan. I appreciate your support.

  6. What size PVC pipe is that and what is the strategy for positioning them in compost pile? In your experience does this speed up composting process? Thanks

    1. It gets air into the middle of the pile. I’ve done a little of that in some of my piles, but have never tested to see how much of a difference it makes.

      1. Chris Campagnaro says:

        Sorry for being slow replying. The pipes are 3″ dia. with multiple 3/8″ holes drilled all through them. Also, the front of the bin has rows of 1″ holes drilled through, which I push a pointed dowel through on the horizontal plane in and around the vertical pipes creating a network of air passages all through the pile. The theory, as Phil points out, is improved airflow from the outside to the center of the pile. I haven’t tested this in a side by side either, but I can say that you can feel heat coming out of the top of the pipes if you hold your hand over them. And, on a cool morning steam rises out of the pipes like a little reactor. I have to assume that hot air is rising up and out, and therefore drawing air through the pipes, and hopefully through the pile also. I’ll probably never really know for sure if its improving my efforts because every pile I do garners slightly different results based on all of the other variables like C:N ratio, moisture content, etc. I’m going to keep doing it though, give it a whirl!

        1. The pipes sounds like a good idea but, along with letting in air, wouldn’t they also let out heat and perhaps prevent the center from getting hot enough?

          1. Good point, but oxygen stimulates the microbes to do their thing, which creates heat in the first place. Perhaps the pipes do let some heat out, which may even be a good thing because it is possible for a pile to get too hot. A balance needs to be found. Thanks for asking about that.

  7. Thanks for this, Phil. Now I know why my compost has been coming out too wet. Too much green, too little brown.

    1. Yep, that’ll do it. Pretty easy fix, fortunately.

  8. Hi Phil, Great composting lesson, thank you.Question: My EM 1 activation (first try) has dropped to 3.23 ph, and no longer fizzes; is it still good, or should I start over?Thanks for all the great gardening information.Jeff

    1. Sounds about perfect to me! I like my AEM to sit at 3.1-3.4. And the fizzing does stop eventually, so you’re fine.

  9. Animals and composters: Electric fencing sounds scary to the uninitiated, but the kind appropriate for protecting animals from your compost is very low current (like a static shock from bouncing on a trampoline), simple to set up, and costs about a hundred bucks. Save the bears, coyotes, wolves, foxes and even goats from getting into your compost. One zap on a wet nose does the trick. (Don’t know about racoons — they don’t live here.) Where I live (Whitehorse) many bears are destroyed because they were attracted to neighbourhoods, and still folks have open composters that are wildlife dining buffets. You can get a solar powered fencer and wire at any feed store.

    1. Fantastic idea in my view – thanks for sharing.

  10. I read that I shouldn’t put in Rhubarb leaves as it affects the PH and makes it a less hospitable environment for the microbes. I have an “abundance” of Rhubarb leaves and they’re now accumulating their own pile! Thoughts on this?

    1. It’s no problem at all. The chemicals in rhubarb will be taken care of fairly quickly. If your pile was 50% rhubarb, I’m not exactly sure what would happen, but I’d still try it and I wouldn’t worry.

  11. my compost is ready to use in a month , plus worms do my turning !!

  12. Jennifer Hrovat says:

    My compost is way too green-heavy… I read somewhere that I can add shredded carboard to up the brown ratio… is this a good idea? And can it really be just any old box or do I need to be careful about it having any printed ink on it? what about newspaper?

    1. Yes, you can use those things. They’re not ideal because the glues and some of the inks may have chemicals in them, although most newspaper ink is made from soy now. So while I’d prefer to use straw or wood chips as my browns, newspaper/cardboard will work in a pinch.

      1. Cheerful 1 says:

        Soy is one of the most heavily sprayed of crops. It is GMO designed for Roundup use. Just sayin…..

  13. Michael Ray says:

    will chopping weeds work?

    1. Absolutely. They’re often very nutritious.

  14. what about adding shredded non-glossy-non-colored newspaper to pile ?

    1. Not much nutrition in there, but it is a carbon source if you don’t have enough leaves/wood chips.

  15. Keith Taylor says:

    Good article. I always add wood ash, including bits of charcoal and my own urine to my compost pile and my garden, with excellent results. The charcoal helps retain moisture and the urine contains nitrogen and auxins that help plants grow. Oh, I NEVER use medication, so I know that my urine is safe to use on my plants. As my language is British English, I cannot understand why Americans, especially the organic gardeners, keep referring to soil as “dirt”. Dirt is the stuff you want to get rid of, whereas good soil is what you want in your garden, don’t you think?

    1. Yes I agree, but also, ‘dirt’ is just a word, so I don’t get too worried about it.

    2. Megan Lewis says:

      HI Keith: I think many Americans simply have never stopped to think about the difference or perhaps don’t know the difference in the two terms. I feel it’s a very valuable distinction and people begin to think about things differently when they make the distinction and use the more accurate terms. But, of course, not something to be made too big a deal. Thanks for pointing it out. It’s all a learning process. And, so many thanks Phil for all your incredible help and advice!!!

  16. Neil Long says:

    I have a couple questions regarding composting.My compost pile is very neglected this year. About all I’ve done was turn it and incorporate more grass clippings into it. I had a chance to check it tonight and it was bone dry with a grey mold throughout. I’m just wondering if I should be concerned. My gut tells me that the pile is decomposing it’s best under such dry conditions, and that I should just turn it, watering as I go. Size is about 12 cubic feet. Matter is horse manure, pine shavings, straw, grass clippings, household vegie waste. It isn’t clumping or matting, its very loose.I have some crushed limestone we use for horse stalls. It’s not powdered, but it’s fairly fine. How much could I incorporate into my pile?Is there a problem with having your compost pile in your garden? I’ve always heard that attracts disease and bugs. After reviewing some of your wonderful resources it doesn’t seem like it would be a big problem.

    1. Yes, turning the pile and adding a bit of water is probably a good idea. Adding 5lbs of lime per cubic yard of compost (so 2lbs in your pile) is a beneficial practice.Compost piles can attract insects, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, though. I keep my pile right in my garden.

  17. Phil Woodruff says:

    Howdi – trying make ericaceous compost for blueberries etc. – have you done a lesson on this?? I bundled a load of pine needles, bracken and the “leaves” of the decidous dawn redwood in a composter in the autumn – looked at it yesterday and it stank and hadn’t broken down much.

    1. I don’t have a lesson on that. I’m kind of surprised it stinks, but it sounds like it would be very beneficial to throw in some wood chips and sticks to add more carbon, promote more air in the pile, and soak up some moisture.

  18. Is mushroom substrate good for a vegetable garden?

    1. It’s useful as organic matter, but there’s nothing about it that’s especially helpful as far as I know.

  19. Avanee Jain says:

    Hi Phil, I run a small organic garden nursery in Gujarat, India. We follow a technique called Amrut Krishi, by Deepak Suchde. It’s a method which involves making a wholesome compost over a period of 3 months. You might want to check it out. There are lots of videos available on the net. If u have time, please go through my page as well. Its farming.upajLooking forward to seeing more of your videos.Avanee Jain from Upaj

    1. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  20. Brian Michael Shea says:

    hi phil. did you use a pallet on the bottom of the pile, or did you just leave it on the ground?

    1. Right on the ground Brian. Sometime I throw some coarser material at the bottom suck as branches to facilitate airflow from underneath, but that’s all.

  21. Phil is it good idea to add some EM to the compost pile? Or is it not really needed?

    1. EM is used a lot in composting, but I haven’t seen studies on what happens to a pile with and without EM. I spray my pile every time I’m spraying my garden, but I don’t put together a spray just for the pile – only when I’m already spraying.

  22. It’s winter. Should we keep adding kitchen scraps to the compost pile even in extremely cold weather?

    1. I prefer not to let too much cold air deep into the pile in winter because I want it to stay as warm as it can. If your pile is big enough, you can certainly tuck the scraps into the edge, but ya, I don’t tend to go too deep in the winter.

  23. Phil, I’m in the South (zone 8a). Hydrilla is becoming a problem in lakes and ponds. Last year it was so thick, growing from the lake bed to the surface, that my fishing line just lay on the surface. A friend had her father weld a Hydrilla rake using rebar. The first throw came up looking like Cousin It from the old Adam’Smith Family shows. It was wet and heavy! But, after a few hours in the hot Alabama sun, it was as light as cotton bowls. Now I have a never ending source of free organic material for my raised beds and compost bins. By the way, fishing has been great this Summer! It’s impossible to eradicate this envasive plant, but I now have it under control.

    1. Excellent, thanks for sharing Duane!

  24. Thank you for your efforts in educating us and willingness to share your knowledge and experience!
    Since you only use 1 bin, do you keep adding material (for example: food scraps at the end of a couple of days) to your pile or do you stop adding to that pile and start a new pile to allow your first pile to decompose?
    I’m new to composting and I’ve heard of using multiple bins but like you, I would like to keep it simple with 1 bin if possible.
    Thank you again!

    1. Good question. I keep adding to it but then I always top it off with more leaves or straw or wood chips each time. And at some point, the pile (or at least part of the pile) has to sit there for a good while so it becomes compost. That’s why 2 piles are often better, or 1 big pile where you keep adding to 1 end while leaving the original end alone (other than turning once in a while to get the outer materials to the inside).

  25. Hi. I live in South Texas and my compost pile always turns out being a fire ant colony.
    Any suggestions?

    1. My best advice is to turn the pile regularly and keep it nice and moist. I’ve heard of people having some luck with Spinosad bait traps. Also coffee grounds. But when they invade a pile, you often need a bigger solution, which is water and agitation (pile turning). Good luck!

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