View from the Garden: Tips for Making Quality Compost

hands dumping food garbage into a composter
Quality compost should not have animal products, Photo:

The absolute best fertilizer for your gardens is compost. At one time, I had the facility to make a lot of compost for a private garden I took care of full-time. I could make enough for the flower and vegetable gardens. It was all I added to them and they flourished. The compost also acted as mulch, decreasing weed growth to almost none and there was even minimal black spot on the roses.

To make the compost, I used leaves from the property, which I shredded, green plant debris and the bedding from the chickens I raised for the family that employed me. I knew the chickens were fed no antibiotics or hormones so their bedding was perfect for the compost pile.

Oh, to have a similar situation for composting! In the spring, when I’m cleaning flower gardens and prepping vegetable gardens for clients, I would love to have that compost. It was rich and yummy and I knew exactly what was in it.

I do make compost at my house. I have a home composter. It’s a plastic container with the appropriate doors and lids and holes for air. I have plenty of shredded leaves that I keep on hand to mix with vegetable scraps, eggshells and coffee grounds from my kitchen. I get enough compost for two large beds each year. And, I just bought a tool to easily mix the “pile” so it will degrade more quickly.

Using this composter is very easy and lets me utilize my plant waste to feed some of my garden. I keep a container in the bottom of my fridge for scraps and take it outside when it’s full; throw it in and add some leaves.

Some basic rules for making compost: mix greens (grass clippings, household plant waste, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags) and browns (leaves which can be shredded or not, hay, shredded paper (no colored ink), and shredded cardboard) in layers with a ratio of 3 browns to 1 green. The optimal size for a pile is one cubic yard. Keep it as moist as a damp sponge. Turn or stir once a month to keep it aerated. Doing these things will cause the materials to break down and keep the pile sweet smelling!

Do not add animal products like meat or fish scraps, dairy products, or bones. They do not break down well, they also rot and draw animals.

You will know when your compost is ready—it will smell like sweet soil. It might still have some chunks in it, but that’s all right.

Many recipes for compost recommend adding manure. I never do that. In fact, I don’t put manure, or any other animal products, on any gardens I work in, if at all possible. I have not found any information that assures me that the antibiotics or hormones in manure from animals raised for consumption are not absorbed by plants—some sources say they are. Manure from a farm that does not use these additives would be pure gold.

In the absence of my own compost, I use bagged compost, choosing the ones with the ingredients that I can live with.

I have only hit the high spots in the world of composting—I encourage you to set up a composting situation at your house. If nothing else, it lets you dispose of your kitchen scraps in a productive way. There are many types of composters available and various video demos and information online.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. See some of her work at

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