- City of Madison: Home Composting Guide (paper copies are available from Madison Public Library branches)
- Wisconsin DNR: The Complete Composter pamphlet
- UW-Extension: Master Composter Home Study Course booklet
- Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Backyard Composting Basics
- Eco-Cycle: Backyard Composting
And there are countless tutorials on YouTube.
General Home Composting Guidelines
- Use a bin. A simple wire enclosure will do. A bin keeps your pile neat and helps retain heat and moisture, two key elements of the compost process. Learn how to build your own compost bin. You may also wish to purchase a ready made bin.
- The key to a good working compost pile is a balance of green & brown materials."Greens" are things like grass clippings or appropriate food waste that is high in nitrogen. "Browns" are things dry leaves, that are high in carbon. A good rule of thumb is that you want to add 2 or 3 "browns" for every 1 "green" by volume - or in other words, you want more leaves in your pile than grass clippings.
- If you are going to compost kitchen waste, bury the material below a layer of greens. This keeps flies away from your pile. Compost only vegetable and fruit waste. Do not compost meat, fats, gravy or pet waste.
- Don't forget water. A compost pile should be damp so be sure to add water to dry material as you build your pile. Don't over do it. Materials should be as damp as a wrung out sponge.
Building a Compost Pile
- 1st layer: 3"-4" of chopped brush or other coarse material on top of the soil surface allows air circulation around the base of the heap.
- 2nd layer: 3"-6" of "green" material, such as grass clippings, food waste, or fresh plant waste.
- 3rd layer: 4"-8" of "brown" material, such as leaves. Add water as needed.
- 4th layer: 1" of soil serves as an inoculate by adding microorganisms to the pile.
- 5th layer: Repeat steps 2-4 until the bin is almost full. Top off the heap with a layer of leaves or straw and scoop out a "basin" at the top to catch rainwater.
Maintaining Your Compost Pile
A properly made compost pile will reach temperatures of 140-160 degrees F in four or five days. At this time you'll notice the pile "settling," a good sign that your pile is composting properly. After 4 or 5 weeks, turn the pile. Turning the pile means digging into it with a shovel or pitchfork, and putting material from the outside of the pile into the center of the new pile. This allows material on the outside that was probably cooler and composting slower a chance to get warm in the center and begin to breakdown faster.
Add water if necessary. You may not need to turn your heap a second time.. Your compost should be ready in 3 to 4 months.
ordinance to know
The City of Madison has an ordinance regarding compost piles.
Be sure to follow these rules so your compost isn't nuisance to your neighbors.