The truth about backyard composting |

The truth about backyard composting

Jen Schenk
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
HL Composting 1 DT 5-12-11

While backyard composting in the Eagle Valley is becoming increasingly popular, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability still encounters many misconceptions from residents about the process. Through composting, residents can supply their garden with a slow-releasing, nutrient-rich supplement for their soil, reducing the need for commercial fertilizers and mulches. Other benefits of composting include the ability to battle climate change, increase landfill space, control erosion, and remediate contaminated soil.

Composting is as simple as adding green stuff, brown stuff and a little moisture into a pile or bin. Green stuff is nitrogen-rich and includes fruit and vegetables, coffee, egg shells and grass clippings. Brown stuff is carbon-rich and includes dead leaves, wood chips, paper towels and straw. Once composters learn how to maintain their bins, there is only a small amount of effort required. And the end result is both rewarding and beneficial for your garden.

To get started composting or improve your high-altitude composting skills, consider participating in an upcoming workshop. The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability is hosting a backyard composting workshop May 24 and May 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The class will cost $40 for both nights, $30 for Alliance members, or $25 per individual class. For more information, contact the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability at 970-827-9999 or

Here are just a few of the questions we get asked regularly.

Why do I need to compost when everything is going to decompose in the landfill anyway?

Composting promotes organic waste decomposition through an aerobic process that requires both air (oxygen) and moisture. In the landfill, waste decomposes anaerobically because air is not present. The decomposition of organics, including food waste, in landfills produces significant amounts of methane. Methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. In a compost bin, oxygen-dependent bacteria break down the organic material, leaving water and carbon – not methane.

Won’t my backyard compost attract bears?

Bears and other wildlife are attracted by the smell of rotting food, either in your compost bin or garbage can. A properly maintained compost bin should not attract bears. People should never add meat, fish, dairy or cooked food to their bins. And during high bear activity periods, berries and melon rinds should not be added to compost bins.

Doesn’t compost smell bad?

Properly-maintained compost bins should not smell. We admit that our compost bin occasionally emits some less-than-pleasant odors (no different than our garbage), but it takes only a small amount of troubleshooting to fix the problem. For instance, ammonia smells usually indicate that there is too much green stuff, like food waste or grass clippings. The smell can easily be fixed by simply adding some brown stuff, such as sawdust or dead leaves.

Is compost the same thing as soil?

No. Soil is a mixture of minerals, natural chemicals and organic materials. Compost, on the other hand, is completely organic and composed of organic matter, microbes and nutrients. Compost is a soil amendment used to fertilize flowerbeds and vegetable gardens through enriching the soil by slowly releasing nutrients, improving moisture retention and slowing erosion.

Jen Schenk is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and can be reached at

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