Resident Guide to Backyard Composting


Approximately 50% of our residential garbage could potentially be composted, keeping it out of our landfills.

Using compost means that you will be able to rely much less on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This is good news for our precious land and water resources.

Adding compost to your garden helps your flowers and vegetables in two major ways: by supplying needed nutrients and by conditioning the soil.

Spread it on your lawn and watch it create the same wonderful benefits for you that it does for your gardening friends.Imagine turning your garbage into gold. That is exactly what Nova Scotians are doing. Keeping compostable organic material out of disposal sites produces the following benefits:

  • fewer and safer disposal sites
  • leachate reduction (organics decay without oxygen and become corrosive liquids)
  • methane reduction (a global warming gas)
  • job creation
  • a product to enhance soil (for the growth of stronger, healthier plants)
  • compost stimulates healthy root development and improves soil’s water holding capacity in sandy soils
  • improves aeration and drainage in heavy clay soils
  • helps deter fungal diseases
  • makes your garden grow
  • shows environmental responsibility

The Province has legislated various provincial bans on items which can no longer be disposed in our landfills. Compostable organics are one of the banned items.

Backyard composting is the age-old process of living things breaking down and returning nutrients to the soil from where they came. It’s Mother Nature’s way of recycling … and we know that mother knows best. Backyard composting is simply a way of using this natural cycle of life to turn your kitchen and yard waste into a useful soil conditioner called compost. All you have to do is provide a friendly home in your backyard and let Mother Nature go to it!

Composting turns organics, such as food scraps, leaves, grass, and yard wastes into dark nutrient-laden material resembling rich topsoil. Almost anything that is, or was, alive is considered organic. Composting is the process of putting together organics and letting them decay. The resulting mixture is called compost.

Our grandparents’ generation knew the value of composting their yard and kitchen wastes. Giving back some of the nourishment they took from the earth made good common sense…. and it still does!

Composting also helps your community. Suitable material can make up as much as 40% of your household garbage. Turning this waste into compost will save landfill space, while producing, with little effort, a free supply of soil additive and mulching agent. Composting takes very little effort, just a slight change in some of our daily habits. We simply create the opportunity for compost to make itself.

compost layersGreens provide nitrogen. For compost to work properly you must have both nitrogen and carbon in reasonable quantities. You must mix greens and browns together. You do not want to leave kitchen scraps on the top of your compost pile. It is best to keep these materials buried inside the compost heap where they will break down quicker.

Browns provide carbon. Begin your compost with a layer of browns – a base of leaves and woody material will help circulate your pile. You should always finish your pile with a layer of browns. If your composter smells bad it may indicate that you have too much green material – ADD browns. Keep a garbage bag of leaves or old shredded newspaper beside your compost container to have a ready supply of browns.

The key to a trouble-free backyard compost pile is a good mix of foodstuffs (greens), dry yard wastes (browns), moisture and air. You can easily tell the difference between greens and browns by their texture, moisture and smell. Greens are pliable, moist and fragrant while browns are dry and brittle. Sandwich layers of browns and greens by equal volume (2:1) and lightly mix with a garden fork. You may occasionally have to add some water to keep layers moist. In a heap, air is the lifeblood for thousands of different organisms involved in the composting process. The more air you provide the faster the process. You can periodically turn the heap inside out, to make the composting process more efficient and trouble-free. The finished compost will take three months to two years to make. Backyard compost heaps can process a large amount of organic waste. Although waste materials can be added yearlong, the majority of composting takes place during the spring and summer when the resulting compost is needed most. Your finished compost should have the moisture level of a damp, wrung sponge.

Uses for finished compost

Compost is ready to use when it becomes dark and crumbly and the original materials are no longer recognizable. Compost can be used to amend soil for lawns, gardens, ornamental plants, trees, and potted plants.

Compost is essentially a soil conditioner. It enhances the structure of soil by binding soil particles together. This improves aeration and the ability of the soil to retain water and nutrients. Compost also improves drainage in clay soils and water retention in sandy soils.

Use coarse compost as mulch around plants and bushes to prevent weed growth and retain moisture. Compost can also be dug into the top 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of soil to improve its physical, chemical, and biological properties.

Remove coarse material by screening to produce finer compost that can be used as a lawn top dressing.

Create your own potting soil by mixing one part finely strained compost with two parts topsoil and one part sand. Sterilize compost in small amounts in a regular oven at 200°F for 30 minutes.

Compost can be placed in a cloth bag and hung in a container of water to produce compost tea. This liquid fertilizer can be used to stimulate plant growth and rejuvenate trouble spots on lawns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Composting is the natural decomposition of plant and vegetable material by microorganisms. We help the process by supplying the right ingredients of material, temperature, air and moisture. The result is a rich soil like humus that is great for your garden or lawn. Nearly everyone can make compost in their own backyard. The process is simple, easy and produces great benefits if you follow a few basic principles.

Most problems associated with composting are due to the lack of oxygen in the pile. Turning the compost will introduce oxygen, break up clumps, mix the materials, fluff up the materials, and generally improve the environment inside the compost system. Always turn first — the compost may start performing as desired.

Your compost system should smell earthy, like a forest floor. A properly balanced and managed compost bin will not create obnoxious odours. If your compost starts to give off foul odour, the composting process is not operating at peak performance. Most odour problems often result from either too much moisture, which causes the compost to compact and lose oxygen flow or too much green/nitrogen rich material which gives off gas and smelly odours (or both). Adding bulky brown/carbon rich material will help absorb the excess moisture and nitrogen rich gasses. You can just add the browns to the top of the compost bin, but if odours persist, you may have to mix the browns in throughout the pile.

What to do:

Lack of oxygen

  • Option: Turn the pile

Excess (too much) nitrogen

  • Option 1. Add a 2-3 inch layer of dry “brown” material to the top of the pile
  • Option 2. Mix in “brown” materials
  • Excess (too much) moisture
  • Option 1. Turn the pile
  • Option 2. Add dry materials

Pile has compressed

  • Option 1. Turn the pile and break up any clumps that may have formed
  • Option 2. Add bulky materials

Flies and their larvae, which look like white grubs, can be part of the decomposition process. If the flies don’t bother you, you don’t really have to manage your pile to keep out flies. However, most people don’t want to breed flies in their compost piles. Flies are most active in wet kitchen scraps. Keep all kitchen scraps tightly covered so that flies can’t lay their eggs in the compostables. Make sure to bury scraps deeper in the pile, or cover with at least 4-6 inches of brown cover. Also, flies will be less attracted to a very hot pile. Don’t use pesticides, you will kill the good bugs.

<p>If you keep meat, dairy, grease, fish, oils, &amp; etc. out of the pile there is nothing a rodent (or domestic animal) will want. Animals may seek the warmth in cold months — simply turn the pile and add browns to release built up heat.</p>

<p>My pile won’t heat up, but I have the proper volume (approx. 2:1) of material, and a good balance of carbon to nitrogen (approx. 30:1), what can I do?</p>

<p>Moisture can be the limiting factor for the most efficient composting. Try adding water to a compost system that won’t heat up. Your compost should be as wet as a damp sponge. When you grab a handful of compost it will stay in a ball, but not drip with excess moisture. Too much moisture will also slow your composting process and may cause odours.</p>

Fire ants usually avoid places that are disturbed so a compost pile that is turned will be an unattractive home. Also, ants do not like wet feet, so keep your pile moist. Most fire ant activities are the result of abandoning the composting process. Once the ants become established, it may be difficult to remove them. If they persist or are a hazard to you, try pouring boiling water on the nest. As a last resort, you may use fire ant bait killer NEAR but not in the compost pile.

Compost is finished when it appears crumbly & dark, and looks and smells like soil. You won’t be able to recognize most of the materials that you put in at the beginning of the process. You may screen out larger woody pieces to remove materials that have not completely composted yet.

A backyard composting system may yield finished soil-like compost in two to three months. This can be accomplished by using small organic pieces less than 2″, a mixture of organic materials with a carbon to nitrogen ratio of approximately 30:1 (weight) or 2:1 (volume), and an actively managed system (where the pile is turned one to two times per week and monitored for correct moisture content and temperature). More time is needed to produce compost if less attention is paid to material size, C:N ratio, and active management. Compost that will be used as a mulch will be ready for use more quickly than compost that will be incorporated into the soil for immediate planting.

You can compost most items with very little effort. Only large volumes of “green” material will require more intense effort during the initial stages. But as with many activities, the more that you put into it the more you get out of it. So the amount of time it takes to make compost is as variable. Just remember that any effort you make to compost will go a long way to reducing pressure on our landfills, and adding organic matter to our highly depleted sub-tropical soils. You can make a difference.

The composting process generally generates a certain amount of heat. During the winter, the compost is kept cool and the process slows down and then accelerates in the spring. During the winter, shrinkage is limited. Therefore, fall leaves should be composted separately and added to the main heap through the winter, as needed.


  • Baked Goods
  • Bread / Cereal
  • Cakes / Cookies
  • Chips
  • Clam Shells
  • Coffee Grounds / Filters
  • Egg shells
  • Floor Sweepings
  • Fruit Scraps
  • Fresh Grass Clippings
  • Hair
  • Hedge Trimmings
  • Jam
  • Pasta
  • Peanut Shells (and other nuts)
  • Popcorn
  • Rice and other grains
  • Seaweed
  • Table Scraps
  • Tea Bags
  • Vegetable Scraps
  • Weeds (not seeded)


  • Boxboard (cereal, shoe, tissue,
  • detergent, cracker & cookie boxes)
  • Cardboard
  • Egg Cartons
  • Dryer Lint
  • Dried Grass Clippings & Leaves
  • Frozen Food Boxes
  • Kleenex
  • Lint
  • Newspaper
  • Paper
  • Paper Towels
  • Paper Plates & Cups (no styrofoam)Sawdust
  • Soil
  • Soiled Food Napkins
  • Straw / Hay
  • Sugar, Flour, & Potato Bags
  • Toilet Paper & Paper Towel Rolls
  • Vacuum Cleaner Dust
  • Waxed Paper & Freezer Paper
  • Wood
  • Wood Ashes
  • Wrapping Paper
  • Barbecue Coals & Charcoal
  • Bones
  • Butter
  • Candy
  • Dairy Products (including cheese)
  • Diseased Plant Material
  • Eggs (except shells)
  • Fish (including shellfish)
  • Glass
  • Grease,Fat & Oil
  • Kitty Litter
  • Lard & Shortening
  • Meat (including chicken)
  • Mayonnaise & Salad Dressing
  • Peanut Butter
  • Pet Feces (contains bacteria)
  • Pine Needles (too acidic)
  • Rhubarb Stems (natural insecticide)
  • Syrup
  • Toxic Substances
  • Treated & Painted Wood
  • Walnut Shells (natural insecticide)