Compost Basics

Composting is easy and fun! There are several different styles of composting, making it easily accessible to those on farms and even inside apartments! In this section we are going to focus on outdoor residential composting, but if you are interested in composting inside your apartment or condo please check out our  Vermicomposting page. If you want to compost larger volumes, please visit our  Mid-scale composting page. If you still aren’t sure which style is best for you, please check out our Compost Bin Style Guide.

Compost has 4 basic ingredients: 50% Greens + 50% Browns + Water + Air

  • Greens are high in nitrogen and include fresh yard trimmings, fresh grass clippings, fresh or moldy fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grinds, tea leaves, breads, and certain types of manure.
  • Browns are high in carbon and include woody materials, dead or dried yard debris, chopped branches and twigs, bark, straw, sawdust, coffee filters, paper tea bags, shredded paper, and paper products.
  • Water. Ideally, the pile is kept as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  • Air. Add air to the pile by mixing it up (also referred to as “turning”). Although turning your pile isn’t strictly required, it is recommended to encourage faster decomposition and avoid foul odors.
  • NOTE: never add meats, dairy, or oily foods to your compost pile!


Active compost pile outdoors

Active composting involves “turning” the pile to introduce oxygen. This should maintain the center of the pile at about 140oF, which helps kill weed seeds, insect larvae, and parasites. The outside of the pile should be warm to the touch and you may even see steam emitting from the pile!

Passive composting does not involve turning but the pile will still decompose, just much more slowly.


Soil Saver Compost Bin
Compost bin made from pallets
Compost bin made from wire mesh

Composting can be done in bins that are either built or bought, or in piles. Compost set-ups should always be covered to retain moisture and prevent larger pests from infiltrating the pile. The Solana Center has created a guide to Building Your Own Backyard Bin out of pallets, wire mesh, and other scrap materials. Residents in the unincorporated County can also apply for a discounted bin.