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Below is a simple recipe for making compost.

  1. Layer equal parts of brown and green waste in the compost pile.

    Brown Waste

    • Twigs
    • Dry leaves
    • Straw
    • Sawdust
    • Shredded newspaper

    Green Waste

    • Grass clippings
    • Green leaves
    • Vegetable garden scraps
    • Floral clippings

    Don't Include

    • Diseased plants
    • Weeds, such as morning glory or dandelions
    • Thorny plants, such as roses and blackberries
    • Evergreens or waxy, coated plants such as ivy, rhododendrons or laurel
    • Evergreen needles
    • Kitchen scraps
  2. Add water as you build each layer and occasionally check the moisture level. If necessary, add more water to keep the material damp.
  3. After about a week, use a pitch fork or shovel to loosen any compacted materials and let air in. Repeat regularly, adding water as needed.
  4. Check the temperature by hand or with a soil thermometer. Insert the soil thermometer as close to the center of the pile as possible. The temperature should rise to between 120° and 160° F.

The finished compost will be dark and crumbly and have an earthy odor. Twigs and some leaves may remain in the finished compost. Separate out these materials for further decomposition before using the compost. If partly decomposed material is added to the soil, it will continue to decompose but will use soil nitrogen to do this, restricting the amount of nitrogen available to plants growing nearby.

What do I do if my compost smells?

Yard Waste Compost Troubleshooting Chart




Smells like rotten eggs or garbage.

Pile is too wet. Food or pet waste in pile.

Turn pile and add leaves, straw or shredded newspaper.

Pile is dry inside.

Not enough water.
Too much woody material.
Pile is too small.

Turn and moisten pile. Mix in fresh greens. Chop or remove woody materials.

Pile is damp inside but not composting.

Not enough greens.

Mix in fresh greens. Chop or remove excess woody material.

Pile has shrunk but looks uncomposted.

Outside of pile is dry, but most of the pile is probably composted.

Check pile for finished compost. Use uncomposted material in next batch.

Clumps of slimy grass, ammonia smell.

Too much fresh grass.

Mix in brown leaves and straw. Leave grass clippings on lawn (grasscycle).

Contact Us

 Call: 206-477-4466

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King County Solid Waste Division mission: Waste Prevention, Resource Recovery, Waste Disposal