Getting Started with Compost

Compost. It’s a beautiful thing. Not only does composting keep food scraps and other organic materials out of the landfill (thereby decreasing methane emissions), compost also reduces the need for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, decreases nutrient runoff, restores soils, promotes healthy plants, and more! It’s a pretty big dill.

Egg-cited about composting but don’t know where to start? Lettuce help! We’ve compiled this basic how-to guide to help you turn your un-a-peel-ing food scraps into black gold!



  • Compost with a community garden. If you want to make your own compost, try connecting with a local community garden – chances are the garden already has a compost pile started that you can utilize and help manage. Contact Garden City Harvest to find a community garden near you.
  • Compost with worms. Vermicomposting is a form of composting that can be done indoors. Don’t worry, when done properly, it won’t smell at all. And worms make nice, quiet, neat roommates! All you need is a plastic storage tub (which you can find at Home ReSource!), shredded newspaper, fruit and vegetable scraps, some soil, and red wiggler worms. Learn how to build your own with this tutorial or this vermicomposting guide.
  • Subscribe to a compost collection service. Soil Cycle, Missoula Compost Collection, and Recycling Works are local compost haulers in Missoula. Alternatively, you can drop off food and other organic wastes at Garden City Compost. You can also purchase finished compost from Soil Cycle and Garden City Compost.




  • Step 1: Find a location. If you are building a pile in your backyard, find a level spot with good drainage that is easily accessible. Put it close enough to your house that you won’t need to go out of your way to access it, but not so close that it could invite critters inside. The space should be at least 2 cubic yards (at least one cubic yard for the pile, and another cubic yard’s worth of space for when you turn the pile).
  • Step 2: Get a container. There are lots of options to choose from – a homemade pallet bin, tomato stakes and chicken wire, a storebought bin or tumbler, or a good old-fashioned free standing pile.
  • Step 3: Source and start gathering your ingredients. A compost pile has two main ingredients: greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon). Greens include things like food scraps (EXCEPT meat, dairy, and grease), coffee grounds and tea leaves, fresh grass clippings, and manure. Browns include dried leaves, straw and hay, wood chips and sawdust, small sticks, and shredded paper. By volume, you should have about 3 times as many browns as greens (about a 1:1 ratio by weight).
  • Step 4: Layer. Once you have the container set up, start with a layer of sticks and twigs to allow for aeration throughout the pile. Then, alternate between layers of greens and browns. You can build the pile over time, layer by layer, but every time you add a layer of greens make sure to top it off with a layer of browns.
  • Step 5: Turn the pile (or don’t). Turning the pile helps the process go a little quicker, but is not absolutely necessary. Keep in mind that you can turn the pile too much – don’t turn it any more than once every two weeks (tumbler-users: this is especially important for you!).
  • Step 6: Keep the pile moist. If you’re composting with food scraps (which already contain a lot of moisture), chances are you don’t need to water your pile. Check it every once in a while to make sure it is about as moist as a wrung out sponge. If it is not moist enough, add more wet food scraps or give it a little water. If it is too moist, add more browns.
  • Step 7: Harvest. In about 9-12 months, the bottom third of your pile will be ready to harvest and add to your garden! Shovel it out and screen it or leave it chunky.

For more information, check out this Backyard Composting Guide, or watch this virtual Backyard Composting Workshop.

Gouda luck!


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