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Would you like to save $$$ on your gardening expenses? Homegrown compost can be used to solve various garden challenges while saving you money from buying other product solutions in-store.

Mary Barnridge, Master Gardener Intern


Consider composting to reduce costs of fertilizer and mulch for your garden, improve the quality of sandy or compacted soil, and save time and money with fewer trips to the store.  Composting is an environmentally friendly alternative.

?   Do your plants start to yellow as summer wanes?  This could be an indication of a nitrogen deficiency in the soil (e.g. fertilizer).  Compost provides nourishment to plants throughout the growing season. 

?   Do you struggle with keeping soil from drying out extensively during hot and dry periods?  Compost can be used to retain moisture and encourage plant growth – in both garden plots and patio pots. 

?   Do you have plants that are struggling to thrive because the soil is too compacted from excessive moisture, or foot traffic, or perhaps it is sandy and drains too quickly?  Compost can be used as a soil amendment to enrich the soil and address compaction and drainage issues.

Making Your Own Compost - The Basic How-Tos

Build the Compost Structure
  • Locate he compost structure taway from your home but close enough to the garden to which it will be applied.  Keep it away from drying winds and ensure it has at least partial sunshine each day.

  • There are several materials that can be used to create the compost site:

    • Wire fencing, brick/cinder block, a metal cylinder or wood/wire structure. 

Layer in the Initial Materials to Begin the Compost Process
  • Build your compost pile in layers. Begin with eight to ten inches of leaves, grass or plant trimmings.

  • Water it to the point of being moist, but not soggy.

  • Sprinkle the pile with one-third to one-half cup of nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 25 square feet of surface area (a 5' x 5' bin).

  • You may choose to add a one-inch layer of soil or completed compost over the fertilizer to increase the number of decomposing microbes in the pile.

  • Repeat these layers until the pile reaches a height of five feet, watering each time you add new layers.

  • If your pile contains large amounts of acidic materials such as pine needles or fruit wastes, you might add lime, but no more than one cup per 25 cubic feet of material.

Feed the Compost Site

Many organic materials can be used as compost:

  • Coffee grounds

  • Eggshells

  • Faded flowers

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Lake plants

  • Leftover plants at the end of the gardening season

  • Non-woody shrub trimmings or twigs less than one-fourth inch in diameter

  • Shredded newspaper (black and white print)

  • Small amounts of wood ash and sawdust

  • Straw

  • Weeds

What you shouldn’t include:

  • Do not compost diseased or insect-infested plants and weeds.

  • Do not compost meat, bones, grease, whole eggs and dairy products

However, Dakota County accepts many of these items in their food scrap/organics drop off sites.  For more information, including sign up and collection locations visit the Dakota County drop off site webpage.

Pet litter should not be used in your home compost and is not accepted through the Dakota County program.

Dakota County Food Scrap Drop Off Site.

Dakota County Food Scrap Bins.
  • Turn the pile once or twice a month to help speed decomposition.

  • Water your compost pile periodically to keep it moist but not soggy.

  • You may add a small amount of new material to be composted but if you have a lot of new material, it is better to start a second batch.

  • Your compost pile will be ready in two to four months in the warm season, provided you have watered and turned it regularly.  Unmaintained piles may take over a year to decompose sufficiently. 

  • When it’s ready to use, your compost pile will be about half its original height, and will have a pleasant, earthy smell.

Use it or Lose it

Use it as mulch in annual or perennial garden or patio pots

  • Apply a 2-4 inch layer around the base of plants. 

  • Add more layers over the initial layer throughout growing season.

  • The mulch can also be worked into the soil at the end of the growing season for annual gardens.

Use it as a soil amendment

  • For sandy soil, add and incorporate 1 inch of compost in the top 6 inches of soil.

  • For compacted, clay soil, add 2 inches of compost to the top 8 inches of soil. 

  • Repeat annually

Use it in potting soil

  • One-quarter to one-third of potting mix may be compost.

For more information about composting visit this University of Minnesota Extension site.

References:  University of MN Extension

Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1), Mary Barnidge (2 and 3)

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