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Backyard Composting

Composting is another kind of recycling you can do to help save space in our landfill and benefit your plants and garden at the same time.

Did you know...?

Over 20% of what goes to Albuquerque's landfill is grass, leaves, tree and shrub clippings, and other yard waste.

Composting turns organic (natural) materials such as grass, leaves and shrub clippings into dark brown, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil conditioner. Compost added to the soil of potted plants makes them healthier and greener. Compost holds moisture and nutrients for the garden so flowers and vegetables are more beautiful and abundant. Compost also saves money by decreasing the need for fertilizers and water while conserving natural resources.

If you would like to attend a composting class, schedule a composting class for your organization or become a master composter, resources are available.

Learn about the Bernalillo County Extension Master Composters.


What to Compost

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves and twigs
  • Shrub prunings
  • Dead plants
  • Weeds and sod
  • Sawdust and lint
  • Hair
  • Vegetable and fruit wastes (bury these in the middle of your compost pile and cover them up)

Do Not Compost

  • Meat and fish
  • Cheese and dairy products
  • Grease or fat
  • Oil or salad dressings
  • Bones
  • Pet wastes
  • Wood ashes
  • Logs or wood branches
  • Diseased plants

Using Compost

Compost is ready to use when it is reduced to a sweet smelling, crumbly, dark brown humus. It has many uses and can make gardening easier and more successful. Soil Amending is the natural thing to do with compost. Dig compost into flower beds and vegetable gardens each year to renew the soil. Compost can be added to soil at any time. It keeps plants healthy, improves soil structure, holds moisture in the soil, suppresses plant pathogens and adds nutrients, minerals, and beneficial soil organisms to help plants grow.

Mulching is a great way to use compost. Spread compost several inches thick on top of the soil around plants, trees and shrubs. It will deter weeds and conserve water. Potting Soil for house plants can be made by mixing equal parts of compost with sand or soil.

How to Compost

Composting is easy! It is nature's way of recycling organic materials. Composting happens if leaves, grass and shrub clippings build up in layers and stay moist. But you can speed up the process, and if you do it in a convenient location, you reap the benefits as well as reducing yard waste.

Step 1 - Find a Suitable Place
Choose a sheltered shady spot that is handy for you. Put your bin near a water source but not where water stands.

Step 2 - Build a Compost Bin
There are many types of bins you can buy, but if you want to build your own, here are several ideas for simple bins using free or inexpensive materials:

  • From wire fencing, make a round bin at least three feet in diameter. Ten feet of fencing will make a convenient sized bin.
  • Make a square bin from snow fencing. Use 4-inch posts or a two by four at each corner for stability. Build a bin with four sides out of four foot square frames covered with wire mesh using one-by-four, or two-by-four lumber. Hinges and hooks on one side make it easy to open and close. If you have room, build a three-section bin. Turn the compost from one section into another from incoming, to working, to finished.
  • Build a bin from cement blocks or old bricks, turn blocks on their sides to allow air to enter, or leave some spaces between the bricks. You can also compost without a bin, just by piling up your organic materials. However, your compost will "cook" faster if you enclose it in a structure.

Step 3 - Start Your Compost Pile
Layering the materials helps keep proportions right for efficient composting. Start with:

  • 6- to 8-inch layer of coarse materials like weeds, shrub clippings, or wood chips.
  • 1-inch layer of animal manure, if you have it.
  • 6- to 8-inch layer of mixed leaves, grass, and other yard waste. Mix grass clippings with dry woody materials. (A layer of grass alone should be less than 2 inches thick.) Materials that are less than 3/4 inch in size decompose the fastest. Shredding helps.

Water each layer as you add it, and be sure not to compact it because oxygen is important for composting. Repeat the layers as many times as necessary but for convenience do not make the heap more than 4 feet high.

Step 4 - Keep it Damp
Water the pile enough to keep it as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Turn or "churn" the pile once a week using a spading fork. This allows air to get inside the pile and helps the compost "cook" faster. Your compost should be ready in two to three months. Remember that composting doesn't happen overnight, and the heap will need regular tending to keep it working.

For more information on composting, stop in at Solid Waste Management's offices at 4600 Edith NE (Edith and Griegos) for a free "get started" brochure on backyard composting, or call the Solid Waste Management Department at (505) 761-8100 or you may also contact these resources: