Backyard Composting

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Makenzie Read
Waste and Resources Manager
[email protected]

greens Make Your Own
Backyard Compost

Compost follows a loose recipe of approximately 50-75% “brown”, carbon materials and 25-50% being “green”, nitrogen materials.

Carbon or "Brown" Material

Carbon, or brown material, consists of items such as: leaves, bark, brush material, wood-chips, twigs, cardboard and paper.

Nitrogen or "Green" Material
Nitrogen, or green material, consists of items such as: fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings, cut flowers, coffee grounds, and eggshells.


The compost pile should be kept damp, not saturated and have the feel of a well wrung sponge. A handful of compost should yield one or two drops of liquid when tightly squeezed. A tarp can be used to conserve moisture and errant weed seeds. If the pile becomes too dry, simply add water or let a modest rain bypass the tarp.

Creating the Pile

compost bin1. Pick a location for your pile that is out of the way, yet convenient for you to be able to easily dispose of kitchen food scraps. The pile should be a minimum of 3'x 3' x 3' (length by width by height) and a maximum of 5’ x 5' in any dimension for ease of maintenance. Using a commercially available compost bin can help easily manage materials, moisture, and temperature. Check your local Knoxville garden supply stores to see various models and sizes.  

2. Using a digging fork, "turn over" the soil that will be beneath the pile. This will help expose a healthy supply of decomposing microorganisms to your pile. If creating the pile on compacted soil, scratch or rake as much dirt for exposure as possible. Adding some soil from your garden can also encourage microorganisms to colonize. 

3. Start your pile with a layer of carbon, or brown material. Next add a layer of green material. Continue alternating layers. Aim for a loose three parts brown to one part green layering every few inches.

4. Keep a garden hose handy as you build the pile and spray after every few layers to ensure the pile is uniformly moist.

5. Turning the pile is not necessary, but it will speed up the composting process.

compost pile 6. At some point you’ll want to stop adding new materials to let it decompose fully. This is why many people opt to have a few piles - one for new materials, one decomposing/aging, and another that is ready to be used. The time it takes between each stage is as unique as your compost pile - materials, heat and moisture all affect the speed. The hotter and more aerated a pile is the sooner compost can be ready within a handful of months. Slower, cooler, reduced material diversity can still provide excellent results, but may take years.

7. Finished compost has many benefits. As a mulch it conserves moisture, reduces erosion, buffers the surface from temperature extremes, adds nutrients, and suppresses weeds. Adding compost to soil as a soil enricher improves soil structure, increases its water holding capacity, and makes nutrients more available.

If you have any further questions about backyard composting, you may call the compost hotline at (865) 215-3554 or (865) 215-2340.