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What Is Composting?

Composting involves taking advantage of the natural decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms. Compost is the partially broken down material that results from this process (fully-broken down material is called humus).1

Compost is a green and sustainable way to dispose of garden and home waste and can be used to improve soil quality. Compost can be mixed into soil or used as mulch.2

Composting requires what are called “green” and “brown” materials. “Greens” are high in nitrogen (N) and “browns” are high in carbon (C).2 Greens are usually, but not necessarily, green and include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds.1 Browns are usually brown or dark colors and include leaves, wood chips, and newspaper.3

For best results, a compost pile should have a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N).1  Not sure if you can compost it? See this handy list of what counts as greens and browns as well as C:N ratios of common compost materials.

Interested in starting a compost pile? Check out these UF/IFAS resources:


  1. “The ‘Compost Happens’ Tutorial,” UF/IFAS Sarasota County Extension, 2011, http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost-info/tutorial/index.shtml
  2. Sydney Park Brown, “Compost Tips for the Home Gardener,” ENH1065, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2014, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep323
  3. “Can I compost it?” UF/IFAS Sarasota County Extension, 2011, http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost-info/tutorial/can-i-compost-it.shtml

Photo credits: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS