Composting 101 For Beginners

May 2020

Composting 101 For Beginners


As a follow-up to last month’s gardening for beginners’ article, we thought we would offer a lesson on composting in May, for those who would like to help the environment and explore the benefits of beginning their own backyard compost pile. Many of us find we have more time to spend outside tending to our yards and gardens, so why not cut down on the chemical fertilizers we are using and reduce our household waste at the same time?

Tom Matulewicz, Master Gardener for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County, shares tips for starting our own backyard composting unit and educates us about the current state of the Monmouth County landfill.


How do we start?

Composting is the way nature breaks down organic matter. By composting our food waste, we are helping the natural world turn unwanted food scraps into a valuable resource. Compost can be used in gardens, potted plants, as a mulch, and as a compost tea (a liquid gold fertilizer for all of your plantings). Think of all the money you can save by not having to purchase fertilizers, topsoil and mulch.

Start composting and reducing the amount of waste going into the landfill to make an immediate impact on waste reduction.


The 5 essentials of composting

  1. Unit Volume- 3ft x 3ft x 3ft is the ideal size for backyard composting
    • First, let’s determine what volume, or compost unit is best for you. On the internet, you will find many different shapes and styles that can be purchased at different prices. I would stay away from tumblers and roller units since they become difficult to turn and to remove your finished compost. You can also build your own compost unit using wood pallets, snow fencing, or wire mesh and find a website with DIY instructions.
    • Alternatively, Monmouth County is selling the “Earth Machine” composting unit for $35.00. It normally sells for well over $100.00. Why such a discount? The county wants all of us to start composting in order to slow down the disposal of food waste. I have had mine for 20 years, and it looks like it can go for another 20. Call 732-683-8686 ext. 8967 for information on how to purchase.
  2. Green- (nitrogen) food waste from your kitchen
    • The second step is the addition of green (nitrogen) material. This is the material that comes from your kitchen, including all fruits and vegetables, tea bags with strings and labels attached, coffee grounds, and filters, eggshells, bread, peels, scraps, and rinds. It can all go into your compost unit. What cannot go into the unit is dairy products, meat, bones, oil, grease, dog or cat manure, and any other material that may attract unwanted animals.
  3. Brown- (carbon) shredded leaves, hay, wood chips and other brown matter.
    • The third step is the addition of brown (carbon) material. This includes shredded leaves, saw dust, straw, wood chips, and small amounts of wood ash. The ratio of brown material to green is two parts brown to one-part green. Too much green material may cause a strong unpleasant odor, and too much brown material will slow down the process.
  4. Water-water source and container in a convenient location
    • The fourth step is the addition of water. Without water the composting process will just about come to a halt. I recommend the purchase of a small compost bucket or pail with a lid that can sit in a convenient location in your kitchen to collect your scraps. These can be found online or at a garden supply center. When the bucket is empty, fill 1/3 of the bucket with water, then continue to add your kitchen material until the bucket is full. Bring to your compost unit, and pour the entire contents in. Then fill the bucket twice with brown material and pour into the unit.
  5. Aeration-through hand turning or use of aeration tool
    • The fifth and final step is aeration, which can be done about once a week. The more you aerate, the quicker the food waste will break down into compost. The county is also selling an aeration tool called the “Wingdigger” for about one half of retail cost. This high-quality tool is easy to use and will last a long time.


What are the benefits of reducing waste and recycling? Waste disposal costs money. Your local community pays about $75 per ton of general trash to dispose of waste at a landfill or in an incinerator. You are paying for this disposal through your local taxes or through trash haulage fees.

How many of you reading this article recycle paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles? I know the answer, and it should be all of you, unless you are breaking the New Jersey recycling law. In New Jersey, all residents and businesses are required by law to recycle certain materials. The mandatory recyclable items are determined by each county legislation as well as some statewide laws.

By reducing the amount of waste you generate, and by sending materials out for recycling, you are not only reducing the waste disposal costs for your community, but your local town may profit from the sale of these materials to recycling companies. The more you recycle the more money a community may possibly save or even earn from the collection of recyclables.

Recycling helps conserve valuable resources and energy. Recycling helps to protect the environment. So, the question is, “Why don’t all NJ residents recycle their food waste?” Approximately 30% of the trash that goes to the landfill is food waste. Recycling food waste is called composting, and it is easy to do, as I will explain below.

First a brief history of the Monmouth County landfill which takes in trash from all of the 53 towns in Monmouth County. The landfill is called the Monmouth County Reclamation Center and is located at 1600 Asbury Ave., Tinton Falls. It is in its third- phase of a four-phase plan. The question is where will all this trash go when the landfill reaches full capacity? At this point no one seems to have a plan, but the bottom line is that all tax paying residents of Monmouth County will be charged more for trash removal.

The operation is currently divided into four phases, or four sections of the landfill which move from active to filled and closed.
Phase 1: Filled and closed
Phase 2: Partly closed
Phase 3: Operational
Phase 4: Under review

A few facility facts:

  • The overall size of the center is approximately 900 acres
  • Tinton Falls, the host municipality, was paid $21.2 million between 2010 & 2018
  • In the past 10 years, the facility has operated at a $22 million loss
  • It is the only disposal site for all 53 municipalities in Monmouth County
  • It operates 310 days a year
  • 2,600,000 pounds of trash are handled every day
  • The average person generates approximately four pounds of waste every day
  • There are approximately 20 years left until complete closure of the facility


What can we do between now and then? Let’s all start composting and save our planet one banana peel at a time!

Note: Monmouth County offers backyard composting demonstrations four times a year but be sure to check their website as scheduling has changed due to the pandemic. Normally, you can preorder your compost unit and pick it up at the time of the demonstration. A composting flyer and registration form can be found on the Monmouth County website: Composting Flyer and Registration. For current information on demonstration dates and times call 732-683-8686 ext. 8967.

If you have any composting or gardening questions, please contact Thomas Matulewicz, Rutgers Master Gardener ‘99 at

General questions regarding gardening and composting:
Rutgers Master Gardener Helpline
Rutgers Home Composting Tips

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