Americans produce hundreds of millions of tons of solid waste every year, with the majority of it going straight to landfills. Even though a mere 27 percent is recycled every year, you can make a difference by composting your own organic materials. Instead of throwing your grass clippings, banana peels, newspaper, sawdust and yard trimmings away, compost them into your own premium grade, au naturale fertilizer.

What is Composting?

Essentially, compost is decaying organic matter that can be used as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. Humus is the best quality of compost you can get because it is stable and thoroughly decomposed. It’s dark brown or black like soil and usually smells like how soil smells. Composting has been going on since the Earth began when the first tree branches fell to the ground and started decomposing. The minerals and nutrients are then recycled back into the soil from which the tree branch came.

Why Should I Compost?

Composting is popular because it is a natural option for fertilizing your lawn- it replicates the processes already in place throughout nature. More advantages of composting are:

  • Reduces the demand for water, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

  • Is a low-cost option for lawn fertilization methods

  • Can rehabilitate contaminated soil

  • Leads to higher agricultural yields

  • Reduces amount of waste and disposal costs

How Long Does it Take?

If you are composting effectively, it can take as little as two to three weeks. If you don’t dote on your compost pile, it can take months.

How Do I Compost Effectively?

Composting is easy once you get the hang of it. Before you get started, though, you need to consider the following processes:

  • Compost needs a balance between “green” and “brown” organic materials. Green materials, like grass clippings, contain lots of nitrogen. Brown materials, like tree branches, produce large amounts of carbon.

  • Microorganisms can eat up the organic materials faster if there’s more surface area. This means chipping and shredding will help your compost become more homogenous, which is very good. It also helps control the temperature of the compost.

  • Speaking of temperature, microorganisms also need a nice temperature to work their magic. If the temperature of your compost is rising, that means the microorganisms are doing their jobs. If it is remaining stagnant, your compost may just be rotting.

  • Keep your compost relatively moist. This will help the microorganisms do their job as well. You can water it yourself or let the rain take care of it.

  • Oxygen needs to be able to flow through your pile of compost. If it becomes to compact, that can be bad news for your microorganisms. It can be a good idea to turn your compost with a rake or add bulking agents like wood chips or shredded newspaper that will help air filter throughout the compost.

  • You’ll need to designate a spot to put your compost bin. Too close to your house, and you’ll have to smell it. Too far away, and your neighbors will. It could also help to think about it like a plant. A compost pile needs proper drainage, some light and some shade.

Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. Emily is an avid composter.