Backyard composting provides an almost constant source of free fertilizer and soil conditioner. Compost improves low quality soils by adding organic matter and nutrients. It is generally dark in color and has a texture like humus.

Benefits of compost

Plants grown in good soil are healthier and have greater resistance to diseases and insects. By greatly reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers you save money. Plants grow healthier and using fewer synthetic pesticides and fertilizers also reduces your risk of contaminating drinking wells, local streams, ponds, and lakes.

Compost use in your yard can:

  • Prevent erosion
  • Improve moisture retention, helping conserve water
  • Reduce the need for fertilizers
  • Suppress soil-borne plant diseases
  • Be less expensive than topsoil
  • Divert valuable organics from the waste stream, putting them to good use in the environment

"Food scraps and yard waste make up 20-30% of the waste stream. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills, where they take up precious space and release methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere." - Compost Council of Canada 

What do I need to make compost?

Bin or pile

Some people start with an easy pile, and then move to a bin when they're ready. You can give your pile some structure with chicken wire, snow fencing, or by nailing scrap wood together to make a four-sided box. A pile works great for just leaves and grass clippings, but when you want to incorporate food waste, it's time to use a bin to prevent rodents.

Closed-top bins include turning units, stacking bins, and bins with flip tops. Bins can also be purchased from retail or mail order businesses. Take the time to consider your options and then select a bin or pile to fit your needs.


Select a dry, shady, or partly shady spot near a water source and preferably out of sight.

Ideally, the compost area should be at least three feet wide by three feet deep by three feet tall (one cubic yard). This size provides enough food and insulation to keep the organisms in the compost warm and happy and working hard. However, piles can be larger or smaller and work just fine if managed well.


Brown material provides carbon. Paper products and dry yard waste will get you started.

  • Shredded paper
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Dry leaves
  • Dry branches and twigs
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Used potting soil
  • Houseplants
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Cotton or wool rags
  • Eggshells
  • Nut shells
  • Fireplace ashes (burned wood only)
  • Wood chips


Green material provides nitrogen. Wet yard waste and food scraps are a great start.

  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Green leaves
  • Soft garden prunings
  • Vegetable and fruit peels
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags (remove staple first)
  • Uncooked or cooked fruits and vegetables
  • Breads and grains
  • Hair and fur
  • Chicken, rabbit, cow, or horse manure (no pet waste)


The organisms that aid in decomposition require air to survive.


Moisture is required to help break down materials and help the natural organisms survive.

Do NOT add:
  • Aluminum, tin or other metal
  • Glass
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) & eggs
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Greasy or oily foods
  • Meat or seafood scraps
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
  • Soiled diapers
  • Plastic
  • Stickers from fruits or vegetables
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
  • Roots of perennial weeds
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Firestarter logs
  • Treated or painted wood

How do I make compost?

  1. Add your brown and green materials (generally three parts browns to one part greens), making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded. The ideal compost pile contains browns and greens (of varying sizes) placed in alternate layers of different-sized particles.
  2. Mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material.
  3. Every time you add to the pile, turnover and fluff it with a pitchfork to provide aeration, unless your bin has a turner.
  4. When material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, with no remnants of your food or yard waste, your compost is ready to use. There may be a few chunks of woody material left; these can be screened out and put back into a new pile. Apply the resulting compost to lawns and gardens to help condition the soil and replenish nutrients. Compost should not be used as potting soil for houseplants because it may still contain vegetable and grass seeds.

As materials breakdown, the pile will get warm and on cold days you may even see some steam

If producing your own compost isn't for you, we've got you covered

The City of Medicine Hat produces SureGrow compost through a controlled biological decomposition of organic materials like leaves, brush, tree trimmings, shrubs and garden waste. SureGrow can be purchased at the Waste Management Facility.