City of St. Paul Park 

on the Mississippi

Make Quality Compost at Home

Composting is an easy way to reduce waste while improving your yard and garden soils. By composting leaves (browns) with kitchen scraps (greens), you can create a dark, crumbly mixture that can be used to improve the soil and reduce your use of fertilizer and water. 

Composting how-to:

  • Start small.  Follow the simple recipe below to get best results
  • The remaining yard waste (grass and leaves) can be taken to the City's compost site.
  • Keep 1-2 bags of dry leaves to use during the season  (Store these bags in a dry location)

Equipment needed:

  • Kitchen Compost Bucket
  • Compost Bin

 Recipe (Yard and Kitchen Waste): 

  • 3 parts dry leaves
  • 1 part fresh grass clippings
  • 1 part food scraps

Fill, water, stir.  Compost ready in 4 to 6 months (or sooner)

Since compost is generally used for a soil amendment, you want to keep it free of plant diseases and unhealthy bacteria.   Just say no to the following:

  • Food with meat, dairy, or oils
  • Pet feces (dog, cat or bird)
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds gone to seed
  • Ash from charcoal or coal

Begin with the bin

Location, location, location.  Pick a spot in your yard that's:

  • Convenient for you to add materials
  • Access to water
  • Good drainage

A compost bin helps compost piles retain heat and moisture and keep them neat.  As materials are added and mixed together, the  finished compost settles to the bottom of the bin.  A typical bin is 1 cubic yard (3 feet high, 3 feet wide, 3 feet long ) is small enough to be easily turned, but big enough to retain heat through most of the year.  In the coldest part of the winter the compost process may stop, but will start again as soon as it warms up. 

Selecting a bucket

Compost buckets offer a "green" way to deal with the odor of food scraps.  Selecting a bucket with a carbon filter on the lid keeps the smells in but still allow oxygen to enter so decomposition can occur, cutting down on the trips to the compost bin.  Select a bucket that is small enough to fit on the counter or in a cabinet under the sink. 


1.  Add the first materials

You can measure out greens and browns to create a good mix of materials--don't worry about getting the mix exactly right, as it's very easy to add material to adjust the pile's performance.

  • Lay a baseStart with a layer of browns, laying down 4-6 inches of twigs on the bottom of the pile for good air circulation.
  • Alternate greens and browns.  Make layers about 4-6 inches thick.  Once you turn the pile the first time, these materials will get mixed together and compost more efficiently.
  • Size matters.  Most materials will decompose faster if they are broken or chopped into small pieces, as it makes more surface area available to your composters and water. 
  • Water as you go.  Your compost pile should be moist, kind of a wrung-out sponge.  Squeeze a handful of compost; if small beads of water appear between your fingers, you have enough water.  If the pile gets too wet, you can turn it more frequently to dry it, or add more dry brown materials to soak up excess moisture. 

2.  Mix up the pile.  As the compost turns

Turning your pile each week with a spade or pitchfork will provide air to aid decomposition and control odors. 

3.  Repeat until its complete

The composting process can be pretty quick in the summer months.  Your compost pile may no longer heat up after a just a few weeks.  Look in your pile for finished compost--material that is dark and crumbly, fresh-smelling, and no longer looks like what your originally put into your bin. 

 Common problems and solutions

Home composting isn't very complicated, but the typical composter will likely run into some common challenges.  The document below prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will help diagnose common backyard composting problems.

Winterizing your compost

Most compost bins are not large enough to keep the compost pile "cooking" in the winter.  It is recommended to remove all the "done" compost and leave your compost bin about 1/2 empty.  This will give you enough room to store the food waste generated over the winter in your bin.  The food will freeze which further softens it for composting in the spring when it warms up.  In the spring you add leaves to the bin, mix it with the food scraps and it will start composting again all by itself. 

City of St. Paul Park, 600 Portland Avenue, St. Paul Park MN 55071