Students with chickens at organic garden. Website

Contact the Compost Coordinator Anna Gilliam at



Compost is nature’s way of recycling! Gardeners (and students!) can turn fruit, vegetable and yard waste into dark, sweet-smelling nutrient-rich soil amendment.


Insects, worms, fungi and microorganisms play a critical role in helping compost piles break down quickly. They digest organic materials thus adding nutrients to your compost and ultimately back to the soil and foods that are grown; they also help create tunnels that aerate your pile and create more complex soil matrix’s. Although compost piles may not appear to be active, most of the activity is occurring inside the center while the outer layers act as insulation.  

Compost 101:

A balance of BROWN and GREEN materials (usually 50/50 by volume), AIR and WATER is needed to make compost. You can think of your compost pile as a living entity, which requires the right fuel, nutrients, and conditions to work properly.


Brown, dry yard and garden materials provide the carbon needed for your pile. The smaller the pieces, the faster the compost.

Examples- brown paper bags, newspaper and other shredded paper (no shiny coatings!), dried leaves and grass clippings, flowers and/or shrub pruning’s, twigs, hay, sawdust, pine needles and weeds that have not gone to seed.


Green materials provide the nitrogen for your pile. When adding food scraps, always remember to cover with brown material to avoid potential odors or pest problems.

Examples- vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds w/filter, tea bags, bread products, plain pasta and grains, eggs shells, hair, fresh grass clippings, chicken/horse/cow manures.

          *If there is a weed that you do not want in your yard DO NOT add it to your compost pile. 

Do not compost:

Meat, bones, dairy products, greasy foods, diseased plants, treated lumber, leaves and grass, weeds spread by runners (i.e. morning glory), weeds gone to seed, and never add car or dog waste!

AIR: Your compost pile needs air for material to break down. Many of the microorganisms, fungi and insects that are vital to the process are aerobic creatures (meaning they need oxygen to live and work!). Plus, sufficient oxygen keeps your pile sweet smelling. Aerating can be done using a garden fork or shovel to turn or poke holes in the pile.

WATER: Your pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Remember, in addition to water, you can add moisture by tossing in old juice, tea, coffee (w/o) dairy, flat soda, and other beverages. The water also helps keep the living organisms thriving.


Compost may be finished if it looks dark and crumbly and smells earthy instead of moldy/rotten. Depending on the method you use and how much maintenance you put into it, you could have compost in as little as 3 months or as long as a year.

*The more you work and turn the pile, the faster your compost will happen.

There are many methods of composting and there is no perfect equation to make beautiful compost because ultimately your bins will do just great with whatever leftovers you eat and from what’s growing in your garden.

The system we have on campus uses the pile method which can generally be done with or without support like fencing. Currently, the organic garden has 9 possible spaces for compost piles. This is a very inexpensive and easily accessible way of composting however generally it takes longer to decompose and requires a bit more space than other bin methods.

This fall was also our first time sheet composting, or lasagna mulching. Sheet composting is where you layer grass/straw and leaves, and old compost and let sit for the winter. Organic material will break down and add nutrients back into your soil. This method was used as a mulching technique for the winter. 


Strong Odors: These are generally caused by not having enough air or carbon (BROWN) material. Easy solutions include aerating the compost weekly and/or adding in more browns.

Wet and not composting: This usually happens because there's not enough nitrogen-rich (GREEN) material and not the absence of not enough water. A simple solution would be to add fresh GREEN material and aerate the compost weekly.  

Dry and not composting: This can generally happen becuase there's not enough water/liquid or green material. Try simply adding those ingredients, give the bin a whirl, and see some beautiful compost product at the end!


1.     Recycles vital nutrients back into the soil and ultimately into the plants creating healthier food!

2.     Saves water by helping the soil hold moisture and reducing water runoff.

3.     Benefits the environment by reducing waste management and extending the life of our landfills.

4.     Has been shown to decreases pest infestations.

5.     Saves you money by replacing need for commercial fertilizers and compost and possibly lowering garbage bills.


For additional information/resources contact:

* Stop in at the Environmental Center and talk to one the lovely staff! Anna Gilliam would love to help with any questions you may have

* Salt Lake City Division of Sustainability and the Environment


 * USU Extension Office


* Wasatch Community Gardens



The information presented on this page was synthesized from this resource.