Composting 101: Five tips to get started

Composting can take time to get going. A new compost pile or tumbler may take as much as six months to get active and start to produce good humus for gardening or applying to your lawn.

With these five tips to speed up your compost pile, you can get a head start and begin harvesting the rich, dark soils from what begins as old leftover food and yard waste.

Composting is the method of using natural decomposition to create soil additives rich with beneficial soil microorganisms that add fertility to soil, boost plant growth and enhance the taste of fruits and vegetables. Composting is free, takes a few minutes each day, and helps reduce costs by recycling leftover trash into valuable fertilizers for shrubs, trees, lawns, and gardens.

1. Keep the Compost Moist
All living creatures need water to survive. Microorganisms are no different. Moisture is critical to enabling a compost pile to carry out its processes. If you live in arid regions like the desert southwest, be sure to water your compost pile during long dry spells lasting longer than a few weeks.

2. Mix Brown with Green
'Green' refers to the kitchen scraps, green grass clippings, and other fresh ingredients added to the pile. 'Brown' is the dry materials like old dry leaves, dry grass clippings, hay, paper or cardboard. The brown material is important because it adds carbon. The typical ratio of brown to green is 60 percent brown and 40 percent green. If the compost is all green material, it will start to stink and give off ammonia. The carbon in the brown materials allow the bacteria to get the energy they need to feed on the green material properly.

3. Add Worms!
Nothing breaks down the green material like earth worms. These little creatures can convert compost materials like kitchen scraps into humus incredibly fast. If you have a compost pile sitting on the dirt, and you already have earthworms in your soil, they will find the pile and start living in it! However you can buy a pound of earth worms and add them to the pile. Be sure the pile is a few months old before you add worms. Without an adequate food supply they will wander off to find food and leave the pile.

4. Turn the compost
This is hard work. If your compost pile seems to be working and the green materials are being broken down well enough, you may want to skip this step. But if you are worried about the time needed to get your black gold, or you believe you have too much green material, you may want to turn the pile and mix in some hay or dried leaves. Turning adds oxygen to the center of the pile too. Remember we want decomposition to break down the materials and oxygen will help this to happen.

5. Avoid meat and citrus
Meat attracts animal pests like rats, raccoons, possums, coyote, and dogs. Citrus can add too much acid and start to kill the bacteria and fungi breaking down the compost.

Composting can be a great way to cut costs and increase the fertility of your garden or landscape.

Seattle Composting resources: - Offers tips, local classes, and other resources for novice and experienced composters. - Suggestions and tips for creating healthier landscapes, specifically for building and design professionals. - resources for food and yard waste composting. Seattle residents can buy compost bins and rain barrels at reduced prices.

Komo reporter Jill Russell contributed to this report.