Home Composting

What Is compost?

Compost is a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling form of decomposing organic matter. Decomposition and recycling of organic wastes are an essential part of soil building and healthy plant growth in forest, meadows and in your home garden.

Why should I make compost?

Composting is the most practical and convenient way to handle your yard wastes. It can be easier and cheaper than bagging these wastes or taking them to the Composting Facility. Compost also improves your soil and the plants growing in it. If you have a garden, a lawn, trees, shrubs, or even planter boxes, you have a use for compost.

By using compost, you return organic matter to the soil in a usable form. Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping to break heavy clay soils into a better texture, by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrients to any soil. Improving your soil is the first step toward improving the health of your plants. Healthy plants help clean our air and conserve our soil, making Harford a healthier place to live.

What can I compost?

You can compost anything that was once alive. However, you should not put some organic wastes into home composting systems.

Do compost

  • Annual weeds
  • Grass clippings
  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Old plants
  • Old potting soil
  • Twigs

Don't compost

  • Diseased plants
  • Food scraps of any sort
  • Invasive weeds (e.g. morning glory, buttercup, quack grass)
  • Weeds with seeds

Bury or worm compost these food wastes

  • Breads and grains
  • Coffee filters/tea bags
  • Vegetable scraps

Do not bury or compost these food wastes

  • Cheese, butter, milk, etc
  • Cooking oil or oily foods
  • Meat or fish parts

How can I use compost?

Compost can be used to enrich the flower and vegetable garden, to improve the soil around trees and shrubs, as a soil amendment for houseplants and planter boxes and, when screened, as part of a seed-starting mix or lawn top-dressing. Before they decompose, chipped woody wastes make excellent mulch or path material. After they decompose, these same woody wastes will add texture to garden soils.

The following troubleshooting chart is a guide to more efficient composting using a turning unit.

Troubleshooting Chart

Symptoms Problems Solution
The compost has a bad odor
Not enough air; pile too wet
Turn it; add coarse dry materials such as straw, corn stalk, etc.
The center of the pile is dry
Not enough water; too much woody, coarse material
Turn and add moisten materials; add fresh green wastes, chop or shred coarse wastes
The compost is damp and warm in the middle, but nowhere else
Too small
Collect more material and mix the old ingredients into a new pile
The heap is damp and sweet-smelling but still will not heat up
Lack of nitrogen
Mix in a nitrogen source like fresh grass clipping, fresh manure, blood meal or ammonium sulfate.
Harford County Office of Recycling offers backyard-composting workshops in the spring. Class size is limited. Call for reservations, 410-638-3417.

Backyard Composting brochures are available through the Office of Recycling. For a free brochure, call 410-638-3417. For your convenience, we have included a copy of the "Home Composting" brochure (PDF) for download.