Composting Basics

The natural process of the decomposition of organic material into a soil amendment is known as composting.

Yard trimmings make up over 15 percent of the waste stream in Texas. Another 20 percent is food scraps, clean wood material, unrecyclable paper, and other easily composted materials. These materials can be saved from the landfill and converted to compost either individually or at centralized facilities.

Benefits of Composting:

  • Reduces the amount of yard and kitchen wastes going to the landfill
  • Diminishes the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • Improves the soil to allow for healthier plants
  • Conserves water by retaining soil moisture



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In the natural world, composting happens as leaves and other organic materials pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the soil reclaims the material, which provides nutrients to the living plants nearby. Backyard composting is simply a method for speeding up the natural process.

The critical ingredients in a compost pile are air, water, browns and greens. Browns are the source of carbon. Browns are dry materials such as dried leaves, wood chips, evergreen leaves, paper and straw. Greens are the source of nitrogen. Greens are moist, fresh materials such as grass clippings, manure, blood or cottonseed meal, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps.

A Basic Approach to Backyard Hot Composting (Quick Method)
  1. Find a suitable location for your compost pile. As bugs will assist in the composting process, place the pile at least two feet away from any type of structure. A bin can be used to keep the pile tidy and protect the pile from wind and rain. Either build or buy a bin. A bin can be as simple as a cylinder of chicken wire. There are numerous sources for compost bins on the Internet.
    To retain heat and moisture, the pile should be at least 1 cubic yard. The bin should not have an area larger than 5 feet by 5 feet as aerating a pile that large would be too difficult.
  2. Find carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to add to your compost pile. The optimal environment for bacterial growth is a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1 by weight. Overcompensate had provided some rules of thumb to help achieve this optimal ratio. If you are composting leaves and grass, gather about 60% leaves and 40% fresh grass. If you have some fresh materials and some dry materials, gather equal amounts of each. If you have both vegetative and animal matter, gather 20% vegetative and 80% animal.
  3. Add the browns and greens to the pile in alternating layers, adding water as you go. Make sure that the browns and greens are in contact with each other by either having very thin layers (about 4 inches) or by mixing the brown and green layers with a pitchfork or other garden tool as you add them.
    The pile should be approximately 45 to 50 percent water or as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
  4. Cover the pile with a tarp, plastic bag, or other impermeable surface to keep in moisture and prevent over-watering from rain.
  5. In two to four days, check the temperature of your compost pile. Either use a compost thermometer or simply stick your hand into the pile. The pile can reach temperatures of 140 degrees F so please be careful.
    If the pile is not hot, add more nitrogen (greens). If the pile smells, add more carbon (browns). Be sure to mix the new emergency additions into the existing pile and add moisture if necessary.
  6. Monitor the moisture of your pile. There should be enough water that it almost drips from your hand when you squeeze a handful. Add water as necessary.
  7. Aerate the pile by either rebuilding the pile or turning with a pitchfork. To minimize the amount of time it takes to compost, aerate the pile when the temperature in the pile begins to drop. If you aerate about once a week, the pile should be ready for use in the yard in about one month.
    Compost is ready when the heat of decomposition has dissipated and most of the original ingredients are unrecognizable.

backyard composting

A Basic Approach to Backyard Cold Composting (Easy Method)

Some people may opt for the cold composting method. Simply add organic materials to a pile or bin as they are generated. Add water from time to time to achieve the moisture content of a wrung out sponge and in six months to a year, the bottom portion of the pile will be a rich compost.

Materials to Avoid in the Compost Pile

  • Meats, dairy products, oily foods, and grains
  • Droppings from meat-eating animals
  • Weeds with seeds or runners
  • Diseased and insect-infested plants
  • Shavings and sawdust from treated wood, and other materials containing strong preservatives or other toxins
  • Ashes
Ways to Use Compost

To maintain a lawn or garden, sprinkle a half-inch layer of sifted compost once each year and water it in.

Mix 3 inches of compost into the top 8 to 10 inches of soil for intensive gardening

Use compost as about one-third of a potting soil mix to add nutrients and to control fungus.


A fast, easy way to compost ALL of your food scraps.

Bokashi is an anaerobic (no air) decomposition process. It is fermentation - think "pickles," "wine," or "yogurt." It is simple to do, provides fast results, puts off little to no smell, and can be convenient for all homes. You can compost all of your food scraps right in your own kitchen, garage, or patio. Bokashi means "Fermented matter" in Japanese and has been practiced by farmers in Japan for centuries. Only recently has Bokashi made its way to the U.S.

Bokashi vs Bio-Digester

While the end result is similar, there are several key differences between the Bokashi method and the Digester method. The main difference is that Bokashi uses beneficial microbes, or living microscopic cellar organisms, while traditional composting uses heat and soil microbes to break down plant matter. The Bokashi method allows you to compost all of your food scraps, and not just the plant based food waste. This results in higher quality compost that has more nutrients and beneficial microbes for your soil.

Bio-Digestort (traditional composting) Bokashi
  • Heat oxidation
  • Aerobic (requires oxygen)
  • 8-12 weeks to break down food
  • Processes only plant-based food waste
  • Pathogens killed by heat
  • Outside only
  • One-step method
  • Your garden’s worms and soil microbes process your plant based food waste
  • Fermentation
  • Anaerobic (no oxygen)
  • 4-6 weeks to break down food
  • Process plant/animal based food waste
  • Pathogens killed by acidity
  • Inside and outside
  • Two-Step Method
  • EM®-inoculated bran “pickles” all of your food waste first, soil microbes finish the decomposition

What You Need

  • Container
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Bokashi mix (see below)
  • Bokashi bucket system
How to make your Bokashi bucket system

You can purchase commercially produced Bokashi systems or you can easily create your own for a fraction of the cost.

To create your own, you will need:

  • 2 buckets – two of the same bucket so they can stack inside each other and leave a gap at the bottom. You can get these at your local home improvement store or you can go to a sandwich shop/ deli that serves pickles and ask for any empty pickle buckets they have.
  • 1 lid – You can use the lid that comes with the buckets you got or purchase a screw on lid system to make it easier to open.
  • 1 plate – This will be your “mid lid.” It should fit nicely inside the bucket. A nicely weighted ceramic dinner plate works extremely well. Your local thrift store is a good source for this.
  • 1 handle/knob – Attach this to the plate so it is easy to pick up out of the bucket without getting your hands dirty.

Drill several small holes in the bottom of one of the buckets. This will be the top bucket that sits inside the other. The holes allow any liquids to separate from the food scraps and collect in the space between the buckets. This liquid has many uses in the garden and around the home.

Bokashi Bran

Bokashi starter, often called "Bokashi mix" or "Bokashi Bran" is simply just oat bran or rice, molasses, salt, and ceramic powder, with EM-1® microbes growing on it. You can purchase the starter mix commercially or make it on your own. Here are some Texas based vendors that will ship to anywhere in the Continental U.S. to get you started

Teraganix (Based in Alto, TX)
Bokashi Bran Recipe

Jan's Bran Bokashi Bran (Based in Plano, TX)

Microbial Earth Farms Bokashi Bran (Based in Austin, TX)

Step By Step


1. Sprinkle a layer of bokashi bran in the bottom of the bucket.

2. Empty out your refrigerator. Add in up to 2” of food scraps.

Foods ok to use for bokashi Vegetables, fruits, grains, cooked or uncooked meat including bones, eggs and egg shells, cheese, coffee grounds, tea leaves and bags, last week’s spaghetti, etc…

Items NOT ok to use for bokashi Do not put in aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic plates, plastic silverware, etc… Only food waste should go in the bucket.

Foods are OK to use for bokashi If you can eat it, it can go in the bucket.

Tip: It works best to break the larger items into smaller pieces. Also, smaller whole items such as grapes or small tomatoes should at least be punctured to provide the microbes a way to get inside and get to work.

3. Cover with the bokashi bran. Please note that you cannot add too much bokashi bran, but you can add too little. Your nose will be your guide here; if it smells bad, add more bran. If it has no smell, or a slight sweet or vinegar smell, you are doing fine.

4. Use your plate or "mid lid" to press down and remove the air. Leave your mid lid on top until you are ready to add more. This helps keep a little bit of pressure on the food and the air in the bucket off of the top layer.

5. Close the bucket lid tightly.

6. Repeat steps 2 – 5 until the bucket is full. It may take a few days to a few weeks to fill your bucket, depending on your family size and bucket size.

Depending on the type of food you put in the bucket and the amount of Bokashi mix you use, the reservoir at the bottom (the second bucket) will fill with liquid. This liquid or leachate is often referred to as "bokashi tea" or "bokashi juice." If the reservoir gets full, you will need to empty it. You don’t want your food scraps sitting in the liquid, this will slow the process. You can pour the bokashi tea down your drain to prevent your drain from smelling or cloging. You can also dilute it and use it as an extremely potent fertilizer for your plants. 1 cup of Bokashi tea to 5-6 gallons of water. You must use it within 24 hours of removing it from your bucket.

7. Regardless of how long it takes you to fill your bucket, when it is full, seal the bucket tightly and wait at least 2 weeks for the fermentation process to complete. During this two weeks, do not open the bucket. If you can't get to it after the two weeks, no worries, it can sit for another week or so. Two weeks is just the approximate time it takes to break down the food.

It is a good idea to have two or more bokashi buckets, this way you can fill one up while the other is in its two week fermentation period.

Decomposition Option 1

Once fermentation is complete, you will need to finish the process outdoors.

8. Drill large holes in the bottom of an outdoor bucket. The holes should be big enough for worms to pass through.

9.Dig the bucket part way into the ground.

10. Place the contents of the Bokashi bucket with alternating layers of soil in the outdoor bucket. The top layer should be at least two inches of soil.

11. Place the lid on tightly so animals don’t get into it. Wait 3-6 weeks.

12. It is done when it looks like compost. Harvest the finished product for use in your garden, or plant your plants in that location. You will have the fastest growing, greenest garden or flowerbed in the neighborhood.

13. Rinse the Bokashi bucket and start the whole process over again.

Decomposition Option 2

Once fermentation is complete, you will need to finish the process outdoors.

8. Dig a hole about 12-18 inches deep in your garden or back yard away from any structures, and pour the contents of your Bokashi bucket into it.

9. Cover the hole with dirt. It typically takes about 8 inches of dirt on top to prevent animals from digging it up.

10. Wait 2-4 weeks

11. Harvest the finished product for use in your garden, or plant your plants in that location. You will have the fastest growing, greenest garden or flowerbed in the neighborhood.

12. Rinse the Bokashi bucket and start the whole process over again.

*Note: The decomposition step may take longer the first time around, depending on the current quality of your soil. For example, the North Texas clay may take up to 8 weeks for the food to fully decompose. As your soil improves around the decomposition site, it will take less time as there are more beneficial microbes in the soil. Option two will always be faster, but more difficult to harvest.

Burying Bokashi Compost in the garden will supply the plants with a nourishing food source and condition your soil with enriching microbes. The Bokashi Bucket composting system significantly accelerates the composting process of organic waste. Bokashi Compost is acidic when first dug in, but neutralizes after 7-10 days. Be sure plant roots do not come directly into contact with the compost as it may burn the roots, particularly if the plants are very young. Fresh compost can be stressful to new plants so it is best to wait at least two weeks before planting your favorite veggies, flowers etc.

Visit Texas SmartScape for tips and info on using native Texas plants to conserve water. SmartScape plants and organic compost from your bokashi will yield incredible results.

Tips and Troubleshooting

Air is the enemy, compact the waste to remove the air and leave the mid lid in place.

Keep liquids to a minimum, excessive fluids slow the process. Drain the Bokashi juice (leachate) if possible, the two bucket system works well for this purpose.

You will probably want to wear long rubber gloves when burying the bokashi after the fermentation is complete. It will smell like really strong pickles or vinegar and you don’t want that getting on your skin. Once buried and the buckets are rinsed, the smell will dissipate quickly.

Rinse the buckets well with just water after each use and let it air dry outside.

Symptoms Solution
Bokashi has a strong smell

Add more Bokashi bran.

Ensure bucket is closed tightly after each use.

Drain leachate more frequently.

Keep bucket away from prolonged exposure to sunlight or extreme tempratures.

Bokashi has black or blue-green fungus Same as above.
No bokashi juice (lechate) Moist foods produce juice. leachate is not essential.
Bokashi juice (lechate) is a different or odd color The amount and color of the leachate depends on the type of foods fermented and can vary.

A great addition to you bokashi bucket is a screw on lid. You can usually pick up one of these at your local home improvement depot in the paint section.

*Some images and information courtesy the City of Plano.
*The mention of specific products or businesses is for informational purposes only and does not represent an endorsement or promotion by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
*EM-1 is a registered trademark of EM Research Organization, Inc.


Redworms (commonly called red wigglers) and brown-nose worms can be used to compost food scraps. The worms live in paper or cardboard bedding into which kitchen scraps are placed. They eat both the bedding and the kitchen scraps and excrete worm castings

Worm castings are often referred to as "black gold". OVermicomposting makes an excellent organic fertilizer.

Worm bins do not smell because the worms eat the rotting or smelly portion of the food in their bin. As long as the bins are not overfed, there is no rotting food left to make an odor.

A Basic Approach to Vermicomposting

1. Either buy or build a wood or plastic container. When choosing a home for your worms, remember that worms hate light and require a temperature between 40 to 80 degrees F to survive. The bin will need aeration so the worms can breath. Plan on one square foot of surface for each pound of garbage per week. A 10-gallon plastic tub with a lid that snaps shut would be a good choice. Punch 1/8" holes about 1" apart around the sides of the bin to provide air for the worms.

There are numerous vendors of vermicomposting systems, such as the Can-O-Worms™ system shown below. The best option would be to recycle something like an old dresser drawer, trunk, or discarded barrel.

2. Add bedding to the worm bin until the bin is 1/3 full. Suitable bedding materials include shredded newspaper and cardboard, shredded fall leaves, dead plants, sawdust, peat moss, compost and aged manure. If convenient, vary the bedding in the bin as much as possible, to provide more nutrients for the worms, thus creating richer compost. Moisten the dry bedding materials before putting them in the bin, so that the overall moisture level is like a wrung-out sponge.

3. Add a couple of handfuls of sand or soil to provide necessary grit for the worm's digestion of food.

4. Add approximately a pound of worms for each pound of food scraps you plan to compost each week. The two types of earthworms best suited to worm composting are redworms: Eisenia foetida (commonly known as red wiggler, branding, or manure worm) and Lumbricus rubellus (also called the dung worm).

Consider purchasing your worms regionally. One local vendor is listed below.

Grand Prairie's Worm Farm
1005 SW 2nd Street
Grand Prairie, TX 75051
(972) 642-0979

The following vendor is located outside the North Texas region, but can ship worms year round.

Hall's Wormery
660 Lake Dam Road
Blackwell, TX 79506
(325) 743-2355


Mulch is used to protect precious topsoil and inhibit weed growth by covering the areas in landscapes where the soil is exposed. As the organic matter in the mulch decays, the released nutrients feed the plants and beneficial microbes in the soil.

Mulch is typically a loose, fibrous material. The mulch must allow rain and irrigation water to reach the plant roots.

Different Types of Mulches
  • Wood chips
  • Fallen leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Compost
Benefits of Mulching
  • Prevents erosion
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Retains soil moisture
  • Cools the soil in the summer and warms the soil in the winter
  • Reduces fertilizer demand as the mulch adds soil nutrients as it breaks down
  • Saves diminishing landfill space

To use mulch, apply a 3 to 6 inch layer around trees, shrubs, and within garden beds. It is not recommended to pile the mulch up against tree trunks.

Centralized Mulch

Don't Bag it! Participating in a "Don’t Bag It" program or "Grasscycling" means leaving the grass clippings on your lawn after each mowing. These grass clippings enrich your lawn with important nutrients and reduces the demand on diminishing landfill space.

Mowing Grass

How to Grasscycle
  • Leave clippings on your lawn after mowing
  • Mow weekly or about every 5-6 days
  • Cut only the top 1/3 of your grass at each mowing
  • Keep your mower blade sharp