Composting

New Compost Ordinance (Sec. 104-266)

LawnClippingsPhos

Composting yard waste and food scraps (fruits and vegetables only) is another way to protect local streams and Lake Superior from nutrient-laden runoff. Plus, it can provide your gardens with homemade, nutrient-rich soil. Learn more about composting below.

Looking for other ways to green your yard while protecting water quality? Native grasses and wildflowers are increasingly used in gardens and landscaping. They are aesthetically pleasing, easy to maintain, and provide great water quality benefits due to the deep root systems and ability to infiltrate stormwater runoff while also providing habitat for pollinators and birds.

Learn more about Native Lawns by following this link.

New compost pile standards:CompostBin

  • Maximum of 64 square feet
  • A residential compost pile should not exceed 6 feet in height and 15 feet in length
  • Compost piles shall be located in the rear yard out of any drainage area and out of any Native Lawn area
  • A compost pile should be located 5 feet or more from any rear or side lot line and 10 feet from the nearest occupied dwelling on an adjacent property
  • Compost piles must be enclosed or placed in such a way as not to allow materials to be windblown
  • Residential compost piles must be free of garbage, pet waste, meat scraps, or other materials that may attract vermin

About Composting

Composting is a fun and rewarding way to turn unwanted yard and kitchen waste into a valuable, nutrient rich material. Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.

Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms. Mature compost, however, includes the production of high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.

Benefits of Composting

  • Suppress plant diseases and pests
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Promote higher yields of agricultural crops
  • Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils
  • Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste
  • Remove solids, oils, grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff
  • Capture and destroy 99.6% of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air
  • Provide cost savings of at least 50% over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable

Local Resources:

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency - Composting In Your Backyard

Wastwater and Solid Waste Facilities in NE MN - Composter Plans

Making Compost SuccessfullyCompost

So you've got the bin, now what? Composting is more than just throwing a bunch of material into a pile and waiting. Of course, you could compost this way, but if you want quicker results, here's what you do:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends that you mix one part green materials with two parts brown material to form your compost pile. For faster composting, chop materials into smaller pieces. Mix in one inch of soil and keep the pile as moist as a wrung out sponge. Make sure to turn the pile once a week to let air in. If you follow these guidelines you will have finished compost in about four weeks. If you do not turn the pile often enough or don't watch the moisture level, it could take up to a year to break down.

What to Compost

  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer & vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair & fur
  • Hay & straw
  • Houseplants
  • Manure (from livestock such as goat, horse, cow)
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings & leaves

What Not to Compost

  • Black walnut tree leaves/twigs- Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash- Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products & eggs- Create odor problems & attract pests
  • Diseased plants- Disease or insects might survive & be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils- Create odor problems & attract pests
  • Meat or fish bones & scraps- Create odor problems & attract pests
  • Pet waste- Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, & viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemicals pesticides- Might kill beneficial composting organisms

Troubleshooting

If your compost smells funny or is not progressing, follow the guidelines below. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also has a problem solving guide.

SymptomsProblemsSolutions
Bad odorNot enough air or too much green materialMix the pile or add in more brown material
Composts too slowlyNot enough waterMoisten and mix the pile
Pile is damp and warm only in the centerPile is too smallCollect more material and mix it into the pile
Pile is damp and sweet smelling, but no heatLack of green materialMix in more green material, such as fresh grass clippings, yard trimmings, and weeds (without seeds)


Using Worms to Compost

Feeling really adventurous or looking for an option to compost year-round in our cold climate? Consider vermicomposting!

Worms are often used to aid in the composting process. They will quickly turn food scraps into usable compost. However, with worms come a whole new set of things to know.

  1. Red Wigglers are commonly used for vermicomposting. Other species, like the ones found on the sidewalk after a storm, do not survive easily in worm compost bins.
  2. Not all compost bins can be used as worm bins. You may need to find, or build, a bin suitable for vermicomposting. Preferably, it should be shallower as these worms tend to feed towards the surface.
  3. If the bin is left outside in the winter, it will need to be insulated to keep the worms alive. In Superior, it's best to keep vermicompost indoors. If properly maintained there will be no odor mess.
  4. For more information on how to start your own vermicomposting bin, check out the WDNR website.

Useful Links

For more information, download or view a Home Composting Handbook or WLSSD's Home Composting tips which include plans to make your own backyard bin.

Visit WLSSD's website to watch a video on their terrific food waste composting project and the Garden Green Compost available to purchase locally.

You can also Listen to a webinar on composting.