Fall, which officially begins this Sunday, can be a tough time for gardeners: the flowers have lost their bloom and most vegetables and fruits are long harvested. Luckily, composting is a good transition from spring and summer gardening – and something you can do year round. It’s the natural recycling of decomposed organic materials – such as food scraps, plants, flowers, and leaves – into a rich soil. Of the trash that Americans throw away each year, about 20 to 30 percent is made up of those food scraps and yard waste. According to a study released yesterday by Harvard University Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away 40 percent of the food they buy. Of the food that is wasted, only 3 percent is composted while 78 percent ends up in landfills. Composting keeps these materials out of landfills where they not only take up space, but also release methane, a strong greenhouse gas. So, whether in their kitchens or backyards, many Americans are deciding to compost as a way to make their lives even greener.

Helping to reduce landfill waste isn’t the only benefit of composting. Gardeners will especially appreciate that it enriches soil by helping to both retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that help create the compost. With the fall here, there are more leaves on the ground than we sometimes know what to do with, providing the perfect base for the compost. So, if you’re just getting started, here are a few tips to make it a success:

  • Avoid meat and dairy. This is a cardinal rule of composting no matter what time of year. Be selective with the food scraps you add to your backyard compost pile. Any meat or dairy is a no-no because they attract animals and do not compost well at all.  
  • Use the right kind of leaves. Of course leaves are plentiful this time of year, but some are better than others. In fact, the leaves of one large shade tree can provide as much as $50 of plant food and humus, the organic substance that is created during composting. Use leaves from trees such as maple, birch, ash, beech, and fruit trees. Make sure to only rake dry leaves because they provide a better base. And most important: shred those leaves with a shredder; it will help them compost faster.
  • Find a good balance of moisture. Too much water can slow down the composting process and in some cases can also produce a bad odor. If you have too much water, add some leaves, shredded newspapers, or sawdust to the pile. Not having enough water is also a problem as it can hinder the composting process. A good way to know if you have the right amount of water is to squeeze out the pile – it should feel like a squeezed out sponge.
  • Let it breathe. The microorganisms involved in composting need oxygen to help the process along. Turning or mixing the pile at least twice a month will add more air and speed up the breakdown. But during the winter months only turn it on occasion, as you think it needs it.
  • Choose the right bin. Starting with the right bin begins in the kitchen with a decorative counter top compost crock, which provides a convenient method of saving food scraps (including eggshells). You’ll also need an outdoor compost bin to place those kitchen scraps along with yard trimmings. Look for a bin that is at least 24 inches deep, preferably deeper, and allows for enough oxygen to enter. Your compost bin should be located in place where it will receive enough sunlight to keep the compost warm, as heat is another important component. 
Once you have enough organic material, all you need to do it turn it once a month and keep adding additional material. Before you know it, you’ll have rich compost ready for spring gardening.

Are you planning to start composting this fall? What more would you like to know?

Upcoming special edition of #WinItWednesday

Whether you’re just getting started with your first compost heap or have one that has seen several seasons, we want to see how you’ve incorporated composting in your everyday eco-friendly routine! Next Wednesday, Oct. 2, we’ll be hosting a special edition #WinItWednesday contest on Twitter. Tweet us a picture of your compost pile, and we’ll pick the top three photo submissions who will each receive a $100 Walmart gift card.

Here are the rules to get ready for this special edition of #WinItWednesday:

1. Follow @WalmartGreen on Twitter

2. On Wednesday, Oct. 2, tweet a picture of your compost pile to @WalmartGreen, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST

3. Be sure to include the #WinItWednesday hash tag in your tweet

See complete rules and guidelines here.

Those winners will also have the chance to be featured on The Green Room and on The Leaderboard, an editorial destination on Mother Nature Network that celebrates innovators and visionaries who are improving the world.

A version of this page also appears on Walmart’s blog, “The Green Room.”