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Composting Workshop
Composting Workshop
By Tracy Thrower Conyers
Posted: 2023-01-14T14:00:00Z

After a brief discussion of upcoming City of Los Angeles and the Smart Gardening Los Angeles County Composting programs (, Michael focused on different ways to compost, starting with worm composting and moving on to discuss pit composting and larger bin-type compost systems. Composting Systems, a handout, served as an outline. We were encouraged to compost both at home and in the garden. The pros and cons of each system were briefly discussed and several questions were asked, some of which I’ve included here. We were given a tour of the compost areas, both the wooden bins and the cold compost zone where green and brown waste, including some large branches, were buried. Three eager plot holders dug holes to find the soil was loose and dark, and the buried wood was mostly decomposed.  


How do we make compost?

Compost needs carbon material (browns), nitrogen (greens), oxygen, and water. 30:1 Carbon/Nitrogen is best, but think 50:50.

What materials can we put into backyard compost? 

Add Greens (nitrogen) and Browns (carbon), and water to keep moist. NOTE: Please refer to compost area signage at the garden for a list of acceptable compost materials at Emerson Avenue Community Garden; for example, we are not permitted to bring in food waste from outside the garden.

The list below is for general backyard composting. 

GREENS | Nitrogen

  • Do put in grass clippings (but not bermuda grass), raw fruits and vegetables, peels, cleaned egg shells, coffee grounds, bread, rice.
  • Don’t put in soil, ashes, diseased plants, animal manure, seed bearing weeds, meat, dairy, oils, seasoned foods, such as salad with dressing or salty foods. Avoid citrus waste as well, they are too acidic. Most cooked foods are not acceptable.

BROWNS | Carbon

  • Do put in dry leaves, straw, twigs, wood chips and shavings/sawdust, newspaper and cardboard, (small pieces).
  • Avoid bleached paper (copy paper)

What is the best way to maintain a compost pile?

  • Cut or chop materials into small pieces to increase surface area for quicker breakdown
  • Alternate browns and greens 50:50
  • Ideal bin or collection area = 1 cubic yard (3’ x 3’)
  • Manage heat to 145-160 degrees (soil thermometer is helpful).
  • Cover to retain moisture and block pests (burlap or cardboard on top, if no lid).
  • Turning is critical to keep heat by incorporating oxygen and allows better distribution of materials and biology.
  • Monitor moisture and add water as needed (this also helps deter vermin)
  • Close the pile when complete by covering with mulch or woodchips (and allow compost to mature).
  • Store carbon dry--fall leaves, wood shavings, shredded newspaper

How has Emerson Avenue Community Garden managed its composting program?

In the past, the north side bins were used for storage of materials and the south side bins were used for active hot composting. Materials were cut up into small pieces, layered in the bins, moistened, and turned on a regular basis.

As we reopen our composting system, plot holders will be advised (as in the past) to bring their acceptable green and brown waste to the composting area rather than placing it in the city green bins. Green waste, such as leaves, stems, and even roots, from spent plants and tree prunings is a valuable resource, and can be stored for hot composting in the wooden storage bin. Tree limbs and twigs can also be stored for either hot or cold composting (buried underground for long term decomposition). Sunflower stems and flowers are great compost material, for example.

Brown and green materials can be alternatively layered in one bin to a height of about 3 feet, moistened, and covered. After a few days or a week, all the decomposing materials can be moved to the adjacent bin--to the right--thereby incorporating oxygen and mixing the browns and green. Water will be added as needed, and the materials will be covered. A new compost pile can be started in the bin just emptied. As the material moves to the right, the size of the material will shrink significantly as it breaks down. The shrinkage can free up space so that two bins of decomposed material can be combined, keeping the size as close to 3’ x 3’ x 3’ as possible, maintaining the decomposition process through the temperature. This process of adding material and moving it along, is the responsibility of the plot holders who complete the various tasks required as scheduled.  

Currently, a new chair for our compost committee has yet to step forward. Everyone in the garden will benefit from re-activating our much needed compost program. The garden is fortunate to have roomy and well-constructed bins for this purpose, and it will be great to fulfill that purpose once again.    

Benefits of Compost: Compost is a wonderful soil amendment, and definitely a foundation for gardening. Organic materials which have decomposed--compost--support the garden and our families in numerous ways. It saves us money as it decreases the need to buy soil amendments. Compost helps plants resist insects and disease. Compost adds nutrients to the soil and thereby improves the nutrition of the community. Vegetables and fruits grown in soil rich with composted materials taste better, too. Compost can be spread as mulch or turned into the soil. And finally, compost increases moisture retention (the carrying capacity of soil), so we will need to water less and create less run-off. Water conservation is critical in this time of severe drought!