Easy Compost

Compost provides important plant nutrients; offers habitat for beneficial fungi, earthworms, and other creatures; and helps improve soil structure. Composting can be done in urban community and school gardens, pocket backyards and courtyards, and even indoors. This all-new edition of BBG's bestselling Easy Compost guide is completely updated with a focus on urban composting.

  • Introduction, by Niall Dunne
  • Why Compost?, by Grace Gershuny
  • Compost and the Soil Food Web, by Benjamin Grant
  • Basic Ingredients and Techniques, by Joseph Keyser
  • Compostable Plastic in Your Bin?, by Niall Dunne
  • Composting in Practice, by Elizabeth Peters
  • Establishing and Maintaining a System, by Patricia Jasaitis
  • Debunking Composting Myths, by Joseph Keyser
  • Bins and Other Equipment, by Beth Hanson
  • Build Your Own Composter, by Jon Pope
  • Indoor Vermicomposting, by Mary Appelhof
  • Worms Running Wild, by Niall Dunne
  • Worms in the Classroom, by Ashley Gamell
  • Using Compost in the Garden, by Miranda Smith
  • Shopping Tips, by Rod Tyler
  • Compost Tea for the Home Gardener, by Joshua Cohen
  • Two Compost Tea Recipes, by Christopher Roddick
  • Composting in the City, by Jennifer Blackwell
  • Sheet Composting in Raised Beds
  • Glossary, by Niall Dunne

  • For More Information
  • Contributors
  • Index


Niall Dunne

Farmers and gardeners have long understood the benefits of compost to their soil and plants. An annual application of compost enhances soil’s structure and its ability to hold water. It also creates habitat for beneficial soil organisms, provides a source of slow-release nutrients for plants, and protects plants from soil-borne pathogens. Though the process of making compost hasn’t changed much over time, more and more people are becoming interested in the key role composting plays in soil conservation, sustainable plant care, and the reduction of organic waste. No longer confined to rural and agricultural areas, composting is now regularly practiced in the heart of our cities, too, by green thumbs in high-rise apartments, community gardens, and schoolyard horticulture programs.

Easy Compost was first published in 1997, and this revised edition remains an essential guide to the science and art of composting. It explains how composting benefits your garden as well as the larger environment and describes the role of earthworms and other tiny creatures that turn your kitchen scraps and garden clippings into “black gold.” At the heart of the book are the basics of what you need to know to make good compost: which materials to include, where to locate your pile, what type of bin to use, troubleshooting tips, and instructions for composting indoors. You’ll also find brand-new chapters on compost tea; vermicomposting in schools; urban composting, including profiles of five innovative community composting sites in Brooklyn; and an expanded guide for building your own composter.

In an age of anxiety over climate change, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, and the increasing threat of ecosystem collapse, composting is more crucial than it has ever been before. By enabling homeowners and gardeners to recycle their own waste, cut down on irrigation needs, and reduce their dependence on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides, composting offers people a way to significantly lessen their environmental impact and grow plants more sustainably. Composting is also easy and fun, so that everyone—from kids to grown-ups—can get involved and live more in harmony with nature.

Jenny Blackwell is project manager for the NYC Compost Project hosted by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. An advocate of community-based composting, she is passionate about strengthening local resources for New Yorkers and developing soil remediation programs for urban areas.

Joshua Cohen is a former project manager for the NYC Compost Project hosted by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He currently specializes in environmental philanthropy and has worked on advocacy campaigns and research projects for universities, government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector. He lives in Brooklyn.

Niall Dunne is a former staff editor at BBG and the editor of the BBG handbooks A Native Plants Reader (2012), Great Natives for Tough Places (2009), and Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens (2009). He lives in Seattle, where he manages publications for Washington Park Arboretum and happily contributes his food and yard waste to the city’s curbside collection and composting program.

Ashley Gamell manages BBG’s Discovery Garden, a hands-on learning garden where children explore the plant world and dig enthusiastically for red wigglers around a giant outdoor worm bin. A plant educator and horticulturist at BBG since 2006, she is also a plant-inspired poet.

Elizabeth Peters is the director of Digital and Print Media at BBG, where she oversees the Guides for a Greener Planet imprint, bbg.org, and other digital initiatives. She composts at a community garden in Brooklyn.

Jon Pope is a Brooklyn-based builder, LEED-accredited professional, and certified master composter who has designed and built compost systems for community gardens. He was awarded the GreenBridge Green Neighbor Award in 2009.

Christopher Roddick is an ISA-certified arborist at BBG, where he uses compost tea and other sustainable practices. He wrote (with Beth Hanson) the BBG handbook The Tree Care Primer (2007) and contributed to Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens (2009).

Contributors to the Previous Edition

Mary Appelhof wrote Worms Eat My Garbage as well as numerous articles on solid-waste topics. A biologist and educator from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Appelhof founded Flowerfield Enterprises, a vermicomposting supply company.

Grace Gershuny is the author of several books and articles on soil management and composting, including Start with the Soil, published in 1997 by Rodale. She serves on the board of the Highfields Center for Composting in Hardwick, Vermont.

Benjamin Grant is a former instructor at BBG, where he taught courses in composting and environmental issues to children, adults, and landscape professionals.

Beth Hanson is a former managing editor of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s handbook series and served as lead editor for the 1997 edition of Easy Compost. She writes about gardening, science, and health for various publications, including Organic Gardening magazine. She lives outside New York City, where she is a master gardener volunteer.

Patricia Jasaitis is a former coordinator of BBG’s Urban Composting Project. She has also worked in community gardening with the Green Guerrillas in Manhattan and in urban forestry at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.

Joseph Keyser is president of GreenMan Communications, host of the GreenMan Show, and the first winner of the Composting Council’s H. Clark Gregory Award.

Miranda Smith wrote many books on gardening, including Your Backyard Herb Garden (1997) and Backyard Fruits and Berries (1994), both published by Rodale. She taught organic horticulture and farming at the New England Small Farm Institute.

Rod Tyler, a former vice president of the Composting Council and member of the council’s marketing committee, has written dozens of articles about compost.


November 4, 2013
Elaine Beach

Our neighbor is composting by throwing eggshells, coffee grounds, etc., on the ground, then our dogs get to be garbage dogs, which we don’t want. What can we do?

February 4, 2014
Jenny Blackwell, NY Compost Project in Brooklyn

The best way to recycle nutrients in an urban environment is to compost them in a container. However, some gardeners prefer using coffee grounds and eggs as a mulch or don’t have the space or knowledge to start their own compost pile. Most dogs aren’t really attracted to eggshells and coffee grounds as much as they are attracted to other food garbage, but you can kindly suggest that the nutrients are better recycled in a compost pile. Feel free to give them some literature about composting in the city. Or, you can let them know that we sell composting bins here at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for a very affordable price.

April 15, 2014
Sergio Vasquez

A container with a lid and an open bottom is helpful.

August 25, 2014
lebron james 2014

I liked this. It was helpful.

September 21, 2014

I have tried a couple of compost bins. To be honest, I have gotten the best results just making a pile and leaving it, turning it every couple of weeks. Two drawbacks in my opinion of bins is air circulation and creating a barrier for insects to enter. I had a black compost bin that was a popular model. The contents never got hot.

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