How to Make Organic Compost

Understand what it takes for compost to be considered suitable for strict organic gardening.

Compost Bin

Compost Bin

omposting is an important part of organic gardening. Depending on the methods used, compost can be a suitable alternative to synthetic chemical fertilizers and other soil amendments. While chemical fertilizers provide a quick boost to spurt plant growth, they tend to be low in micronutrients, minerals and beneficial organisms that plants need for long-term growth. Synthetic fertilizers can also damage soil organisms, like earthworms, upsetting the soil health and ecosystem.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Anna Hoychuk

Shutterstock/Anna Hoychuk

Composting is an important part of organic gardening. Depending on the methods used, compost can be a suitable alternative to synthetic chemical fertilizers and other soil amendments. While chemical fertilizers provide a quick boost to spurt plant growth, they tend to be low in micronutrients, minerals and beneficial organisms that plants need for long-term growth. Synthetic fertilizers can also damage soil organisms, like earthworms, upsetting the soil health and ecosystem.

Although compost is made of organic material, not all composts are technically “organic” – at least not by the strictest definition of the word. The ingredients that go into truly organic compost should be free of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and other non-organic compounds. Below are outlined some common culprits that compromise the organic integrity of compost.

Grass clippings are a popular ingredient in many compost recipes, but lawns might be treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These products may dissipate during the composting process, and the general consensus is that after a few months compost grown from non-organic grass clippings should be safe for vegetable gardens. However, if you want organic compost, go for untreated grass clippings.

Garden waste, like spent annual flowers and vegetables, is a good source of green material for the compost pile. If used as an ingredient in organic compost, use annual garden waste that hasn’t been treated with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Manure and animal products, like blood or bone meal, can be great sources of nutrients – especially nitrogen. Bagged manure that is certified organic can be tricky to find locally. Your best bet may be to find a local organic farm and work out an arrangement if they don’t typically sell manure. Manure from an organic farm is typically free of pesticides or medications.

Plant meals, from crops like alfalfa, canola, cotton or soy, are sometimes used in place of animal products by composters who are conscious of animal rights. Composters who live near high-production areas may use plant meals for convenience. Whatever your reason, if your goal is organic compost, your plant meals should come from crops grown without synthetic chemical inputs.

Synthetic chemical products have no place in an organic compost pile. In fact, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other such products can be detrimental to the goals of traditional composting. Insecticides will harm the beneficial organisms in the pile and should be avoided. Herbicides may remain tied to the organic matter in the finished compost for some time, and will have a detrimental effect on plants grown in that product.

Some composters may try to boost the nutrient level in their compost by adding synthetic fertilizers to the pile. If you think nutrition is an issue, follow these steps. First, incorporate your finished compost into the soil. Allow a couple of weeks to pass, then send a soil sample to your state extension agency. If your soil is lacking any nutrients, apply the recommended fertilizers to the soil – not to the compost pile.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Make Compost Tea

Give your garden the benefits of compost and organic fertilizer with less work by brewing and using compost tea.

What is Bokashi Composting?

Learn the technique of Bokashi composting and how you can try it at home.

How to Add Manure to Compost

Discover why manure makes a good addition to your compost and how to select the right manure for the job.

How to Make Compost Tea

Learn to make your own organic fertilizer by brewing compost tea at home.

How to Build a Wood Compost Bin

Before you build a compost bin, check out these tips and tricks for getting it set up and started.

How Choose Worm Bins For Garden Composting

For successful vermicomposting, you need a good worm bin. Find tips on how to choose the worm bin that will for your garden.

Compost Worms

Learn more about your wiggling workers, including which worms are best for composting and what scraps make the best worm food.

The Benefits of Compost

Often called "black gold," compost is valued for giving plants a boost when added to the soil of garden beds. Learn how to give your compost pile the jumpstart it needs.

Compost Bin Basics

Before you buy or build a compost bin, understand all the options in composters to make an informed decision.

Garden Compost Barrels

Get advice for choosing and using a compost barrel for your garden.

On TV

Lawn & Order

7:30am | 6:30c

Lawn & Order

8:30am | 7:30c

Lawn & Order

9:30am | 8:30c

Yard Crashers

10am | 9c

Yard Crashers

10:30am | 9:30c

Yard Crashers

11am | 10c

Yard Crashers

11:30am | 10:30c

Yard Crashers

12pm | 11c

Yard Crashers

12:30pm | 11:30c

Yard Crashers

1pm | 12c

Yard Crashers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Yard Crashers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Yard Crashers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Yard Crashers

4:30pm | 3:30c

Yard Crashers

5:30pm | 4:30c

Yard Crashers

6:30pm | 5:30c

Yard Crashers

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Salvage Dawgs

8pm | 7c

Salvage Dawgs

8:30pm | 7:30c

Salvage Dawgs

9:30pm | 8:30c

Salvage Dawgs

10pm | 9c

Salvage Dawgs

10:30pm | 9:30c

Salvage Dawgs

11pm | 10c

Salvage Dawgs

11:30pm | 10:30c

Salvage Dawgs

12am | 11c

Salvage Dawgs

12:30am | 11:30c

Salvage Dawgs

1am | 12c

Salvage Dawgs

1:30am | 12:30c

Salvage Dawgs

2:30am | 1:30c

Salvage Dawgs

3:30am | 2:30c

Elbow Room

4:30am | 3:30c

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.