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Composting at home

Woman's hand adding food scraps to compost pile

Start recycling your food scraps and yard waste into compost. From waste sorts, we know that 20% of our trash is food. This means that preventing food waste and composting food scraps is the biggest opportunity to reduce waste. Additionally, food scraps decomposing in landfills create methane emissions — a potent greenhouse gas.

Backyard composting is something you can do at home to reduce waste and prevent emissions.

Hennepin County offers online webinars and compost-bin kits for sale to help you get started. Learn more.

Composting basics

Here are the basic steps to composting in your backyard:

Man adding food scraps to compost bin full of leaves

Pick out a bin

Hennepin County offers compost bin kits for sale. Compost bins are also available at many local hardware and gardening supply stores.

Set up the bin

Place your bin in a convenient location for easy access. An ideal spot gets some sun, has good drainage and is easily accessible.

Start with a layer of coarse yard waste, such as twigs, on the bottom of the pile. This allows for good air circulation.

Add materials

The four basic ingredients for your compost bin mix are:

  • Greens: fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and plant trimmings
  • Browns: dry leaves and grasses, straw, and twigs
  • Water
  • Air

You want to add a proportion of three parts brown materials, which add carbon, to one part green materials, which provide nitrogen.

Maintain your pile

Person with wheelbarrow and shovel adding compost to garden

Turn your pile with a pitchfork or spade once a week to provide air to help break down the compost and control odors.

Use your compost

When the compost is ready, scoop it out and put it on your garden to add nutrients to your soil and keep weeds down.

For more detailed instructions on composting in your backyard, see the how to compost in your backyard flyer (PDF).

Frequently asked composting questions

Below are frequently asked questions we’ve received from residents about backyard composting in Minnesota.

Should the compost bin be in the sun? Or is the shade okay?

It doesn’t really matter if you put your bin in the sun or the shade. It's most important to put your bin in a spot that's convenient for you. Most of the heat comes from the organisms within the pile. If you have a black plastic bin, it may get a little warmer in the sun.

Woman with pitchfork turning compost pile

How often should you turn your compost?

Compost will break down more quickly if you turn it, but the materials will still break down eventually if you don’t turn them. You should aim to stir the compost at least once in the spring and once in the fall. To get finished compost sooner, turn your pile weekly or monthly. Mixing the compost will also help to add air to the pile.

Why is my pile not breaking down?

It’s probably too dry. There are a few options to get the compost to break down:

  • Stir the pile
  • Water the pile
  • Add more food scraps
Man kneeling by open compost bin harvesting compost

When will the compost be ready?

In Minnesota, you can expect to have finished compost in about six months to one year.

Can you compost in the winter?

Yes, you can continue to add materials over the winter. A backyard compost pile in Minnesota will freeze over the winter, but it will thaw and start breaking down again in the spring. Remember to shovel a path to your compost bin so it’s still accessible when there’s snow.

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