When your lawn is struck with dead, brown spots or grass that won’t quickly grow, what do you think of first? Probably lawn fertilizers, aeration, sprinkler systems and grass seed come to mind.

While those options are effective, there’s one route that’s one of the most natural ways to treat your yard, and you can do it yourself: food composting.

What Is Food Composting?

Food composting is a natural, controlled process of the decomposition of organic material. Once the material is recycled or decomposed, it turns into rich soil called compost.

Usually, gardeners and farmers use compost to supplement and improve their soil’s physical properties, or as a substitute for soil for plants.

But, you don’t have to be a gardener or farmer to use food composting. Food composting can simply (and quickly) be used as lawn fertilizer to take care of trouble spots and turn your lawn into the lush, green yard it deserves to be.

What Are the Benefits of Food Compost?

Food composting benefits your lawn, your life and the environment.

It enriches your lawn’s soil by adding much-needed nutrients, improving soil structure to allow for better root growth, and increases the moisture and nutrient retention in your lawn. This is especially helpful during the hotter months of summer, so your grass can stay greener longer.

And when spread correctly, compost will help your lawn stay lush and weed-free. It even increases microbial activity in your soil, benefiting your lawn even more — perfect for treating spots in your lawn that are thin, brown and unhealthy.

When it comes to your personal life, food composting is convenient and inexpensive. By having a food compost pile at your home, you can cut costs on trash bags, fertilizer and soil. Plus, using food compost on your lawn is safer for your kids and pets when playing outside than harmful pesticides and herbicides.

But let’s get to the most important benefit of food composting, and why it’s gained so much attention over the years: the environment.

When food waste ends up in a landfill, it turns into methane gas due to the waste not having access to oxygen. The problem? Methane gas is more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas that has a continuously increasing presence on Earth and is noted as one of the main contributors to climate change.

So when you use food compost, you’re helping to save landfill space, reduce methane gas, enrich the local soil and — if you are in Boulder — move one step closer to zero waste.

What Will I Need for My Food Compost?

Before you start food composting, it’s important to know what you can and can’t use for your compost.

What you can compost:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds (and the filters)
  • Tea bags
  • Dried grass clippings
  • Eggshells
  • Stale bread
  • Grains
  • Spices
  • Almost anything made from flour

You should also add dry leaves, shredded paper, hair and animal fur, woodchips, sawdust and straw. This eliminates any foul odor and helps with nitrogen control, ensuring everything composes as it should.

What you cannot compost:

  • Any animal products (that includes meat, bones, cheese and grease)
  • Oils
  • Dog and cat waste
  • Dead plants
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Nothing that was previously treated with pesticides

Next, you’ll need decomposers like bacteria fungi, mold, earthworms, insects and other soil organisms to help process the nutrients so your grass and plants can use it.

It’s also important to mix in those brown materials, like dead leaves, straw, hay or paper towels, with the green materials and maintain a 3 brown to 1 green ratio, because the green materials typically weigh more. This will help you achieve a 50/50 weight balance between the two materials that help with odor and nitrogen control.

Lastly, incorporating the right amount of water is essential for a compost pile as it helps to provide the moisture necessary for breaking down the organic matter — enough so that it is damp, but not so much that it is soaking wet.

Where Should I Keep My Food Compost?

Your food compost pile should be in a dry and shaded spot outside, near an accessible water source.

Per Boulder’s safety guidelines, it’s important to ensure it’s secure from bears — check your local city’s guidelines to see what else you might have to consider. You can also have an indoor compost pile with a specific type of bin, available at hardware and gardening stores, or make your own.

And if you go the outdoors route, you aren’t just limited to a pile. You can also purchase compost bins for $55 each, with a limit to two per person.

How Do I Maintain My Food Compost?

Begin your compost pile with a layer of thick materials like corn stalks — this will create air passages.

Then, alternate between layers of brown and green materials, keeping the 50/50 weight balance in mind. You’ll also want to add water as the materials begin to dry, and continuously fluff and mix the pile — with a hoe, turning tool or pole — so oxygen remains available.

Scraps will also take up less space, if chopped or sliced before adding to the compost. You can also keep scraps in a plastic container or compost pail in or outside of your home. Use a kitchen compost pail near or below your sink, or simply purchase a five-gallon bucket to store near backdoor, or wherever is most convenient.

Don’t forget about potential bad smells, though. Line the lip of your container with newspaper so odors don’t easily seep out.

Can I Use My Food Compost Year-Round?

The only time your food compost may come to a halt is during the winter, as the colder weather slows down the materials’ composting processes. But there are some simple steps to take to keep your compost active during the colder months.

For example, keeping some bags of leaves from the fall in a dry place is vital for maintaining the balance between green and brown materials when leaves aren’t as abundant.

You’ll also want to keep the compost in the sun so it stays warm, and ensure the pile isn’t absorbing excessive amounts of moisture.

As temperatures rise in spring, your compost will begin to break down naturally — it’s the perfect time to start anew. And when summer rolls around, the warmer temperatures will break down the materials more quickly and (a great way to use grass clippings from mowing your yard).

However, you’ll need to ensure the pile (or bin) is moist during the drier parts of the season. Fall is the perfect time for composting, as the leaves start to accumulate in your yard. So instead of throwing away bags of leaves this fall, collect them for your compost pile instead (and remember to save some for the winter!)

How Do I Use My Food Compost as Fertilizer?

When your food compost pile is ready, using it as lawn fertilizer is quite simple. But before you get started, consider the size of your yard. You may need to invest in tools like a wheelbarrow and shovel, or a compost wheel or peat spreader depending on the yard size.

To begin, add a 1- to 3-inch layer of compost to your yard, then rake it in evenly and ensure it’s not deeper than a half-inch in any areas. However, the depth may vary depending on the length of your lawn’s grass, as the blades will still need access to sunlight and oxygen.

Keeping a thin layer over your grass will also allow the compost to quickly release the nutrients into your lawn’s soil as the grass grows. Then, water the compost layer using a sprinkler for up to 20 minutes, and wait to mow again for one week.

The compost might look like dirt at first, but it will quickly settle. And, you won’t need to follow this process frequently throughout the year.

Usually, lawns benefit from just one application of compost, but you can use compost in your yard up to three times a year. Plus, you’ll have a lush, green yard, potentially without having to use store-bought fertilizer ever again.

Do you have bigger issues with your lawn? Learn about five problems that might require the help of a professional >