An old hand of active senior with white gloves composting twigs

The “Dirt” On Compost

By Cynthia Coates, BSc (Environmental Science)

How to get started, tend the growing pile,
and use the finished compost.

Did you know you have a wide variety of nutrient-rich ingredients in your home and around your yard, that when blended together can provide you with nature’s best soil amendment for lush lawns, robust flowers, and plentiful veggies? Composting your organics right in your own backyard is an easy way to reduce waste going to the landfill and it also produces a wonderful product for your landscape and garden.
Composting isn’t difficult once you understand some of the basic steps and you can even speed things up a bit with a few of these tips to get you started.

  1. Get yourself a bin of some sort. You can build your own out of aclose up hand holding soil peat moss number of materials, pallets, wire, cinder blocks, or you can purchase a plastic one. Keep in mind that a bin will help to keep pests out of the compost pile as opposed to just composting in an open pile.
  2. Place your bin in a convenient location, on soil or grass and in apartly sunny location. You want to have it easily accessible during the winter for all your kitchen scraps, and having it on soil will encourage worms to come up into the pile to help things along. A partly sunny location will help to keep the pile from drying up too fast in the hot Okanagan sun.
  3. Start adding materials. You can begin with a woody layer firstto create air flow and then start adding layers of brown drier material, with wet green materials. Greens, such as fresh grass and plant trimmings and raw fruit and vegetable peelings, are quick to rot and provide important nitrogen and moisture to the pile. Drier browns, such as leaves, shredded newspaper, wood chips and cardboard, provide fibre and carbon to the pile,allowing important air pockets to form. You want to have equal amounts of both. One of the easiest ways to get started is to fill your composter with dried leaves, then just keep adding your food waste, plant trimmings, and fresh grass all season long.
  4. Use the compost! Compost can be made in as little as three months but usually if you start the composter in the spring, expect to have some finished product by the following spring. You can even get two bins going and let one finish up while filling the other one. Finished compost is a dark brown, almost black, soil-like layer, usually found at the bottom of the bin or in the middle.You can screen the compost materials with a homemade wire mesh screen and add the unfinished materials back into the pile. Or in very early spring you can dig it into your garden and let the composting process finish up for several weeks before planting.


Compost will happen no matter what, but there are certain steps you should take to ensure it’s successful. Here is a list of items you should not compost to avoid attracting pests or introducing pathogens and plant disease into your garden:

Don’t Compost:

  • Grains, meat, bones, dairy, fats and oils
  • Table scraps
  • Pet waste
  • Diseased plants
  • Pesticide-treated grass clippings

A well-tended compost pile that is stirred often will reduce odours and pests over the long run. If you are concerned about pests you can place strong wire mesh under the compost bin to prevent rodents from burrowing underneath. Sixteen to 18 gauge (that’s the thickness of the wire) with ¼ inch squares is recommended. Remember to also manage other attractants in your yard to discourage pests and other animals. These attractants can include dog food, dirty barbecues, bird feeders, and fallen fruit.

Finished compost can be used as a mulch around shrubs and trees, dug into your vegetable of flower beds, mixed with soil in planter boxes, or used for top dressing your lawn. It provides slow release nutrients to your garden and also holds moisture so it will reduce your water use as well. For more information on composting, visit

Cynthia Coates, BSc (Environmental Science), is a waste reduction facilitator for the Regional District of Central Okanagan. She has been involved in the waste industry for over 15 years and took a little break to start a family. Cynthia and her husband have two young, active boys. If not at some kind of child’s sporting event or activity, she can be found skiing in the winter, doing artwork, gardening, or on a weekend camping trip. Contact Cynthia at the Regional Waste Reduction Office at 250-469-6250 or

*Reprint from our Spring 2016 Issue

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