Knowledge is power! Get smart with these favorite websites, articles, books, and other composting resources.
#1 Selling Book
Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting, 3rd edition, by Stu Campbell. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 1998.
First published in 1975, this resource provides comprehensive, straightforward information about composting for gardeners. Though hundreds of other books have been written since, this remains a great place to start. Relaxed but knowledgeable, it covers an extraordinary range of practical material including step-by-step directions for how to build several different bins.
Worms Eat My Garbage, 2nd edition, by Mary Appelhof. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Flowerfield Enterprises, 1997.
Appelhof is the acknowledged queen of worm composting and when you read this book, it will become clear why. It covers just about every aspect of vermicomposting including the sex life of worms, how to manage a bin so that the population increases, and dozens of other topics you wouldn’t think of until it was too late.
The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 2008.
This book goes into so much detail about so many aspects of composting — cover crops, layered trench composting, sheet composting that contains the seeds you want to plant, how to weather hay so as to eliminate seeds — that it makes Let it Rot! look like a comic book. Far from being slaves to the hot pile, Pleasant and Martin focus on the many alternatives to that tradition. Though their penchant for cute names no one else uses (Banner Batches, Comfort Compost and Hospital Heap) can be a bit off-putting, the names are not merely show. A Hospital Heap, for example, is a pile kept hot enough to kill seeds and pathogens. This full sized, 300 page book contains many helpful illustrations, tables and sidebars as well as sections on vermicomposting and compost tea.
Basic Composting: All the Skills and Tools You need to Get Started, edited by Eric Ebeling. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.
The enormous advantage this book offers over almost any other is its plethora of photographs. The section on compost aerators, for example, has photographs of not one, but three aerators, each with a full length and a close-up view, plus a photograph of one being used. The section on building a compost bin from pallets is so well illustrated that the text is almost superfluous.
Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, revised edition, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2010.
There’s a whole lot more going on in garden soil than you could ever imagine. This entertaining read gives you a close-up look at all of the organisms that work together to build a soil structure and dense nutritional composition that naturally feeds plants and fends off pests.
A well-organized, thorough site that includes both a series of pdf files on key topics and an online tutorial.
Compost Fundamentals Washington State University Extension
Divided into four main sections — Biology and chemistry of compost, Compost needs, Composter’s needs, and Compost benefits and uses — this site offers an easy-to-navigate introduction to composting. Unfortunately, it has no illustrations.
Science and Technology of Compost Cornell University
Offers one of the most thorough explanations of the inner workings of a compost pile for the intelligent layman — as well as some far more technical pages for agricultural composters. Covers the science of the pile, but not what compost does once it’s in the soil.
Compost Blog Planet Natural
We’ve scoured the web, sifted through the rubbish, and hand-picked the best tips, articles and information on how to compost we could find. Also, you can share tips and ask questions over on our Composting Forum page.
Florida’s Online Compost Center sponsored by the University of Florida
This site offers all the usual, plus several unusual items including a virtual composting page where you can build a pile by selecting ingredients from those on a list and then find out what the carbon/nitrogen ratio would be for such a pile. It also describes several simple ways to test whether your compost is mature or not.
This is the website for Worm Digest, a non-profit magazine also available on-line. The site is a great resource that collects enormous amounts of information and trivia about worms, including scientific articles, plus information about environment, education, and agriculture relating to worms. The Latest News link may not seem to work, since it looks exactly like the home page. Scroll down, though, and all relevant categories will appear. Also includes a number of forums where you can ask your questions or share your expertise.
Home Composting (PDF) Montana State University
An 8-page brochure that covers more than many brief extension documents, even mentioning compost techniques other than the hot pile. An excellent starting point for someone who needs a brief but thorough introduction.
Compostings “Dirty Talk About Backyard Gardens” May 19, 2008
Great blog post describing how to turn a garbage can into a hot compost bin.
“Persistence and Degradation of Pesticides in Composting” (PDF) by Andrew Singer and David Crohn, Lecturer, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of California, Riverside. Published by The California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), 2002.
A clear, not overly technical overview of the several different ways that compost degrades pesticides — and other pollutants.
What products to compost
You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:
Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
Cardboard (free of dyes)
Stems & twigs
Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
Kitchen food waste
Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)
Things to Avoid
Diseased plant material
Manures from carnivorous animals
As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!
Learn how to make banner batches of compost with this popular reference.
Soul of Soil
Provides essential information on the creation and care of our most precious resource.
Worms Eat My Garbage
This easy to read guide has everything you need to know about vermicomposting.
New Organic Grower
The simplest and most sustainable ways of growing top-quality vegetables.
Let It Rot!
The best-selling, go-to guide for turning household and yard waste into black gold.
Teaming with Microbes
The author's oh-so-thorough investigation has resulted in one heck of a good read.
Learn how to save water, feed the soil and suppress weeds with this practical guide.