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Dame Nature est une merveille du recyclage ! Lorsque les organismes meurent (plantes, animaux, insectes, humains, etc.), la nature fait appel à des milliers d'organismes différents et conçus spécialement pour décomposer la matière organique et la remettre au service du cycle de la vie. 

Les nutriments, les minéraux et la matière organique sont mangés et digérés par des vers, des coléoptères, des bactéries et autres micro-organismes et ensuite déposés dans l'environnement. Le compostage est la façon dont le jardinier capte tous ces nutriments et toute l'énergie ainsi libérée pour les retourner dans le sol de nos jardins, et éventuellement dans ce que l'on y récolte. 

Cet article répond aux questions, telles : "Le compost, c'est quoi au juste ? Pourquoi se donner la peine de composter ?  Où et quand devrait-on composter ?  Comment est-ce que je commence et que je finis ?" ; il comprend également des conseils en cas de problèmes !




Composting Queries

Andrea Berry
Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator,
Falls Brook Centre
December 2002

ature is a wonderful recycler!  When organisms die (plants, animals, bugs, people, etc.) nature enlists thousands of different organisms specially designed to break down that organic matter and put it back into the cycle of life.  Nutrients, minerals, and organic matter are munched on and digested by worms, beetles, bacteria, and other microorganisms, deposited into the environment, and picked up by other organisms that use them to grow.  Composting is the gardener’s way of capturing all of those nutrients and energy being released, and directing it back into our garden soil, and eventually our harvest.

(photo: Andrea Berry)

What is compost? 

Compost is the finished product of the breaking down of garden and kitchen scraps.  It is a wonderfully earthy-smelling, dark substance that looks like soil but is chock full of nutrients.

Why bother composting? 

When your garden grows, it uses nutrients and minerals from the soil.  When we eat the plants, our bodies are nourished by those nutrients.  In most cases, however, we do not eat the entire plant and some scraps are left for the garbage.  But wait!  These scraps are worth their weight in gold!  By putting them in a composter, scraps are digested by soil organisms and turned into a nutrient-rich substance that you can put back onto your garden, returning those nutrients and minerals, fertilizing it naturally.

When should you compost?

Composting can be done all year round–inside and outside!  Outside in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, inside in the Winter using a vermicomposter (a method using special worms in a container to digest the scraps).  Put the finished compost on your garden in the Spring before planting.

Worm Composter Vermicomposting bin Worm Composter Vermicomposting bin

Where should you make your
composting pile? 

Your compost pile is not something to be hidden or ashamed of!  Be proud of your composting–you are creating a full-circle garden system!  The ideal location is a place that is relatively close to where you will be spreading the finished product (think of moving wheelbarrow loads of soil–how far do you want to haul them?), and relatively close to where your compost ingredients are coming from (our compost is mid-way between the gardens and the kitchen door). Your pile should be in an open area with good air circulation and sun exposure, on a soil base with good drainage.  The ideal size of a pile is about 4’ x 4’.  If you are vermicomposting, however, you will need an enclosed bin for your worms and food scraps, this can be any size that is convenient for you.

How do I start? 

The magic recipe is a balance of nitrogen (“green”), carbon (“brown”), water, air, and heat.  Pick a spot in your yard that is out of the way, sunny, and easy to get to.  You can build a bin to contain your scraps (wood pallets, cedar logs, even plastic snow fence or chicken wire can work), or just make an open pile.  The trick:  layering!  Layer your compost materials like lasagna–6” of brown, 6” of green, 6” of brown, 6” of green, etc.  The organisms that digest the compost materials need air and water  -- just like you and me! – to eat and digest properly.  Make sure that your pile stays moist, like a wrung out sponge; you may need to put the hose to it during those dry August days.  In order to keep those bugs breathing, ensure that there is proper air flow through the centre of your pile–add chunky materials such as sticks with your “brown” layer and/or turn it over with the pitchfork every few days.  The pile will heat up as the soil organisms digest the food, up to 90 - 160°F!  The heat is a sign that your pile is decomposing properly.  Mixing the pile up every once in a while will speed up the process, but even a static pile will produce finished compost in about 6 months.  



Don't even try!

Fresh plant materials (leaves, roots, stems, vegetables, fruits)



Coffee grounds

Grass clippings

Fresh manure from farm animals

Comfrey (good to encourage faster decomposition)



Dried plant materials (straw, corn or sunflower stalks, sticks)


Wood chips

Newspaper or paper towels

Fall leaves

Old clothes made of natural fibres (silk, cotton, wool)

Dryer lint

Human hair  

Really big chunks of wood, bones, cardboard

Feces of dogs, cats, people (too many transferable diseases)

Diseased plants and weeds

Plants that have set seed (okay if your pile gets hot enough to kill them)

Large amounts of fat, oil, grease (gives the bugs indigestion!)

Meat scraps can attract animals (including your dog or cat)

Milk products  

How do I finish?

Once you have been building your pile for a while and it gets to a big size (about 4’ high is good), stop adding goodies to it.  Give it a final layer of “browns” on the top and let the worms do the work.  As the pile is digested by the bugs, its height will decrease rapidly.  The finished product will be about 1/2 - 1/3 the size of the original pile.  The key to determining if the pile is finished: check the heat!  If the pile has cooled down, the bugs have digested all the food and left behind nutrients and minerals good for your garden.  Start shovelling out your pile and put it directly on your garden.  A good 1” layer is ideal; just fork it into the ground.  For your veggie gardens, put an extra scoopful on your lettuce, corn, and squash patches–the “heavy feeders” will appreciate the extra nutrients.  If you are feeding your indoor plants, first sift your compost through a fine mesh screen and put the larger chunks back into your next pile to be further broken down.  

(photo: internet)


So, you have your pile going and have been adding your leftover lunch and garden goodies for a while now.  But for some reason, you are not ending up with your “gardener’s gold”.  Here are some helpful hints from Grace Gershuny’s book “Start with the Soil”:



Wet, foul-smelling pile

Turn pile and add high-carbon (“brown”), absorbent materials such as dry leaves, newspaper, or straw and protect it from the rain.

Centre is dry and materials have not decomposed

Turn pile, thoroughly soaking each layer as it is built; cover with plastic to retain moisture.

Pile is damp and warm only in middle

Increase amount of material in pile; moisten.

Pile is damp and sweet-smelling but does not heat up

Add high-nitrogen materials such as fresh manure or green grass clippings; turn pile.

Matted, un-decomposed layers of leaves or grass clippings

Break up layers with garden fork or put through shredder, then re-layer into pile.

Large, un-decomposed items

Screen out un-decomposed items and use as base for next pile.

Andrea Berry is the Agriculture Coordinator at Falls Brook Centre (FBC) in
Knowlesville, NB. FBC is a non-profit, environmentally-focused community development situated on 400 acres of farm and forest land, demonstrating the practical application and implementation of sustainable development.  Appropriate technology application of solar and wind energy, organic agriculture, community gardening, composting, and recycling models, as well as 7 km of fully marked forest trails and a strawbale forest museum bring visitors on a regular basis.  To contact Andrea call 374-4310 or e-mail her at