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Episode 921 - Homegrown: Composting 101 

Homegrown: Composting 101
Homegrown: Composting 101

Master Gardener, Kristine Hanson welcomes fellow Master Gardener, Nicolai Laquaglia and learns tips on composting. See how compost is made and learn exactly how you can put it to good use in your own backyard!


Each fall, every gardener faces the onslaught of leaves in the yard! Why are leaves valuable to the compost pile?

  • Leaves are perfect for the compost pile whether they’re soggy and wet or dried to a crisp. They are high in carbon, which you need in your pile and they’ll break down into humus.
  • You can use just about every type of leaf out there. Some leaves are thicker than others like magnolia leaves but the way around that is to shred them.

What else goes into the fall compost pile besides leaves?

  • Other “browns” for example -the remains of your summer garden (like tomato plants past their prime), perennials you have pruned, even twigs and branches but it’s better to shred those first! Make sure the plants are disease-free, don’t contain mature weed seeds or have been treated with pesticides
  • You’ll also need some “greens”-- things that contain nitrogen – since your grass has slowed its growth you probably don’t have a lot of clippings so you need to find other ways to add nitrogen. You can add your kitchen scraps or chemical nitrogen (ammonium sulfate) but Peggy doesn’t do this because she’s an organic gardener. Instead she uses manure. You can usually find steer and chicken manure at nurseries.
  • Water
  • Coffee grounds – add nitrogen. In the fall and winter coffee is great way to warm up yourself AND your compost pile!


With winter weather approaching what should you do to protect your pile and keep it productive through the seasons?

  • This time of year you’re headed for rain, snow and cold temperatures.
  • Rain – you only want your pile to be as wet as a wrung out sponge so you’ll have to cover it so the rain won’t drench it.
  • Snow – this is more difficult. You could surround your pile with straw to insulate it and also cover it to keep the snow out. If you have a covered area, that’s best.
  • Cold Temperatures – the minimum size for a bin is 3ft.x3ft.x3ft. Size is important b/c it determines how hot it will get. For your fall and winter pile you should go larger to produce more heat. A compost thermometer will help you to see if you’re in the right range.


Composting takes time but are there some tips and tricks for speeding up the process?

  • Shredding is the number one thing! Smaller pieces will break down faster so if you do have twigs, branches and bigger leaves, shred them up beforehand.
  • Also, if you want your pile to work hard – you’ll have to put in a bit of work yourself and turn it about once a week.
  • If you put in the right ingredients, shred them up and keep turning it – you’ll have compost that’s ready to go into your garden the following Spring!

This is a great idea for the gardener who’s gets a little restless in the fall and winter months – especially since you’ll see results in Spring!


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