No, this is not a story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer trying to keep his family fed.  Although, it could be up, to a point.  Instead of shooting for some food and up from the ground comes a bubbling crude, I am talking about the black gold that is virtually necessary for any and all successful gardens…from vegetables to flowers…compost.

Any master gardener will tell you how important it is to have the proper soil mix/medium for any gardening activity, especially if you are looking for an enjoyable gardening experience.  The feeling you will get letting your hands slip through loose, easily worked, earthy-smelling soil is not hard to describe.  It is emotional at the highest level and down right satisfying at the most basic.  Ask your earthworms, they love it.  And when you have happy, smiling (if they could smile) worms burrowing through your garden plot; well you will be smiling too.  Your garden will be more productive because the soil will be able to provide more nutrients because it will be a greater source for minerals and essential trace elements that plants need.

Compost is absolutely the best material in which to grow your plants.  According to Mel Bartholomew, author of “All New Square Foot Gardening”, the best kind of compost is homemade (made in your own backyard) and the worst is a “single ingredient byproduct some company has produced, bagged and sold commercially.  So how do you turn your garden into a compost factory?  The process begins with using the right materials.

What to Use

Any plant material is perfect for adding to your compost pile as long as it is not hosting a plant disease or pest. When the ingredients are all piled together and if they have enough bulk, they will decompose organically by an aerobic process all by themselves.  This takes time and depending on what you are trying to accomplish, it may take a lot of time.  Using the right ingredients and mixing, mashing and moving them will help speed the process, but you will also need another element to make the environment most effective…mass.  The more bulk you have in your pile (up to a certain point), according to Bartholomew, the faster it will compost.  If your pile is taller than 4 feet, you will have a hard time adding new ingredients.  If the area is larger than 4 x 4, the air will have trouble getting into the center where all the action is where the “good” microbes will turn into “bad” microbes and the pile will start to decompose anaerobically (without air) and start to smell.  If you don’t have enough bulk—smaller than 3 x 3, your pile will just sit there and do nothing except cry out, “I’m going to wait for Mother Nature.”  The compost pile can be contained within a homemade or store-bought container called a composter (see below).  Depending on where you live, the store-bought container may be more suitable for your purposes.  The stench of composting materials may be a bit of a nuisance for your neighbors or even yourself if you happen to be overly sensitive to odor of decaying materials.

Homemade Compost Tumbler Video

So what do you need to have a successful compost pile?  Let’s make a list!


What to include…


  • Once growing plants
  • Materials made from plants (leaves, grass clippings, straw, old sod, reject or spoiled garden produce, vegetable or fruit peels, shredded newspaper, tea bags, coffee grounds, shredded twigs and bark, pine needles, hedge trimmings, wood shavings, sawdust and peanut shells)

Necessary Size

  • Between 3 x 3 x 3 to 4 x 4 x 4 feet


  • Keep it moist


  • As often as you can

What not to include…


  • Animal parts (meat or bones)
  • Manmade synthetic parts

Necessary Size

  • Under 3 x 3 x3 or larger than 4 x 4 x 4 feet


  • Too dry or to wet conditions


  • Never

What is important to remember about the ingredients is that animal byproducts are not good for your compost.  Eggshells are okay, just crumble and sprinkle around.  Manure is okay from plant-eating animals but no manure from meat-eating animals.  You should also not include: grease, whole eggs, cheese, seeds and fruit pits, bakery products, dairy products and supper plate scrapings or kitchen scraps.

Mel’s Mix


If you don’t want to go through all the work of mixing and turning a compost pile, you can follow the recommendation of Mel Bartholomew.  He recommends a simple blend of the following ingredients:

Mix equal parts of each, measured by volume, not by weight.

Community Resources


Many cities/towns have compost piles that any citizen can access.  It may be as easy as calling your local or county parks and recreation department to find out where they keep it/them.  You must bring your own tools and bins (boxes or plastic bags) to haul it away, but it is free and you can’t beat that price with a stick…lol!

Where you can buy composters…


Urban Garden Center (

Gardening With Kids ( (

  • Back Porch Compost Tumbler $254.98 (also available at
  • Dura-Trel 179 Gallon Compost Bin $184.98
  • Exaco 123 Gallon Aerobin 400 Insulated Compost Bin $349.98
  • Good Ideas Compost Wizard 90 Gallon Compost Bin $99.98

  • Snow Joe Tumbleweed Composter $129.99

Gardener’s Supply Company (

  • Dual-Batch Compost Tumbler $169.00
  • Deluxe Compost Tumbler $249.00

Northern Tool (

  • Northern Tool Compost Bin – 58 Gallon Capacity $99.99

Prices subject  to change at the sellers discretion.

Source Material: All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew