What is Composting?

Hands holding compostComposting is a natural process that breaks down organic materials into a biological soil amendment (sometimes referred to as humus). You can place compost in the garden or around your home's landscaping.


Why Compost?Compost bin contents

The average single family home in Hillsborough County generates 1,700 pounds per year of yard waste, which amounts to over 40% of the total household generation of solid waste. The Department of Solid Waste & Environmental Management (SW & EPM) receives more than 14,000 tons of yard waste per year, and the amount keeps growing. 

Backyard composting is important because:

  • It is an environmentally sound and cost effective way to reduce solid waste.

  • It creates a useful soil amendment that really makes your garden and landscape grow.
  • Composting reduces the amount of yard waste generated. 
  • Compost can be reused in your yard or garden. The nutrients in compost are recycled back into the soil and plant life.

Here's How to Get Started

Select a compost bin. Compost bins are available at most major home centers.

Types of Compost Bins

By attending a Compost Happens Workshop, (hosted by the Hillsborough County Extension Office), you will receive one free compost bin and thermometer per household. If you are interested in other compost bin options, there are several types you can make or purchase.

Composting bin type 1 Composting bin type 2 Compsoting bin type 3 Composting bin type 4 Composting bin type 5

If you choose to purchase a compost bin, many models are available, ranging in price from $65 to more than$300. Some are tumblers with a hand crank for ease in turning. Others resemble a dog house with a removable lid for ease in adding to and turning your compost. Another brand looks cube-like and can be rolled around in the yard.

You can create your own compost bin from wooden pallets, a metal garbage can, chicken wire or food grade barrels. By using an internet search engine, plans are readily available. You can also receive a plan by attending a free Compost Happens Workshop

Regardless of the bin style you select, the rules remain the same:

  • Bin volume:  3' x 3' x 3'
  • Particle size:  less than 2-3 inches
  • Food:  carbon and nitrogen (browns and greens)
  • Water:  moist, not soggy
  • Air:  oxygen

Select an area in your yard to place the compost bin. The area you select should receive equal amounts of sunshine and shade.

Make up a recipe of 4 parts greens to 2 parts browns and place it inside your compost bin. Keeping a balance of moist green materials and dry brown materials will help the compost pile break down faster. To enhance the composting process of a new pile, sprinkle garden soil on the material or leave some finished compost underneath.


(high in nitrogen) 


(high in carbon)

Do Not Use

Grass clippings



Pruning clippings


Dog/cat feces

Fruits & Vegetables






Manure: ex., cow, horse, pig, chicken, rabbit



Kitchen scraps: ex. stale bread, egg shells, coffee grounds (filters too), tea bags, citrus rinds, fruit & vegetable peels

Newspaper (shredded)

Wood ash




Brush (chopped)

Meat/fish scraps

Corn stalks

Dairy products


Weed seeds

Diseased plants

Periodically mix the materials with a shovel or pitchfork and let nature take its course. On average, it takes six to eight weeks before you will see black organic matter developing at the bottom. Once this has occurred, feel free to start using your compost for:

  • soil conditioning

  • lawn dressing

  • potting soil component

  • landscape mulch

Having Problems?

Consult the following Trouble Shooting Guide.



 Possible Cause


Foul Odor

Excessive moisture


Turn pile or add dry material, such as straw.

Turn pile or decrease its size.

Ammonia Odor

Too much nitrogen

Add high-carbon (brown) items.

Low Temperature

Pile too small

Low moisture

Poor aeration

Cold weather

Enlarge pile.

Add water & turn.

Turn pile.

Increase pile size or insulate pile with a layer of material, such as straw.

High Temperature

Pile too large

Too much nitrogen

Reduce pile size or turn more frequently.

Add high-carbon (brown) items.

Pests, such as rats, raccoons and insects

Presence of meat scraps or fatty food wastes

Remove meat and fatty foods from pile and cover with a layer of soil or sawdust; or, switch to an animal-proof compost bin.




WormsVermicomposting is the process of using worms and micro-organisms to produce rich compost from kitchen wastes. One pound of worms will turn 65 pounds of garbage into garden compost in 110 days.

Just any worms, like those in your backyard, won't do. The worms you need are English redworms also called "red wigglers." These worms are commonly raised for fish bait and can be purchased locally. You'll need approximately 2 pounds of worms for each pound of garbage your household produces daily.

Food scraps of plant origin are the best diet for your worms. These include vegetable and fruit trimmings, coffee grounds, pasta, bread, cereal, tea bags and paper products.

Your finished product, compost, can be used as a nutrient rich soil amendment or mulch. A good potting mix can be made with 1/4 part compost, 1/4 part perlite, 1/4 part peat and 1/4 part builder's sand.


 To learn more about how to build and prepare your worm bin, where to purchase your worms, how to care for them, how to harvest compost and  worms and the biology of your worms, attend a Compost Happens workshop. Pre-registration is required.


 Remember that composting is just one way to reduce the amount of yard waste you throw away. For more information on composting, visit the Hillsborough County Extension Office / UF IFAS Extension, call (813) 744-5519.