Backyard Composting

Reap a Heap of Benefits

Composting is a lot easier than you may think. Organic material breaks down around us in nature all the time. Composting is just a method of speeding up the process.

Most compost bin designs are so simple they can be built in a few hours. Once you gather your yard waste and form it into a pile, the only time you'll spend is for occasional maintenance. Then sit back and let nature do the rest.

For more information, visit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Composting Equipment


All you need are some basic gardening tools, like a pitchfork, a rake, and a shovel.


Compost bins can be built with inexpensive materials like snow fencing, woven wire, or used cinder blocks and lumber.


You don't need store-bought "soil activators" or potting soil to compost. One inch of soil from your yard or garden has all the ingredients needed to start the composting process.

Compost is ready to harvest when it is reduced to a crumbly, sweet smelling material called humus. If some pieces are not decomposed, you can sift those out and use them to start a new batch.

Compost improves soil structure, holds in moisture and plant nutrients, and promotes strong, healthy root systems for plant growth.

What You Can Compost

Do Compost

  • Clean wood ash
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Sawdust and wood chips
  • Small brush, twigs
  • Weeds and garden debris

Do Not Compost

  • Charcoal briquette ash
  • Pet or human waste
  • Sawdust from treated wood
  • Whole branches, logs

Composting with Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds can provide a valuable source of nutrition for your garden if used properly. The proper amount to be used depends on the condition of the soil and, more specifically, what you are growing in your garden. Check with your local gardening expert to see what is best for your situation.

Coffee grounds can be applied directly in the garden along with other materials as a side dressing for vegetables, roses, or other plants.

Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, but are also acidic. Adding brown material such as leaves and dried grass to the mulch will help keep a balanced soil pH.

Coffee grounds act as green material with a carbon-nitrogen (C-N) ratio of 20-1, when mixed in with your compost. Combined with browns such as leaves and straw, coffee grounds generate heat and will speed up the composting process.

What's In Coffee Grounds?

"ND" indicates a sample is below detection limit. Ug/g = microgram per gram.
Type of Nutrient
Proportion of Nutrient
Primary Phosphorous ND ug/g
Primary Potassium
1204 ug/g
Secondary Calcium 389 ug/g
Secondary Magnesium 448 ug/g
Secondary Sulfur high
ND ug/g