Make Your Own Alchemy: Turn Garden Waste Into Black Gold

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Make Your Own Alchemy: Turn Garden Waste Into Black Gold

Does “black gold” make you think of “Texas Tea,” or that three-letter-word, oil?

If you’re a gardener, they don’t. For us, black gold can only mean one thing: compost. A good compost pile is your soil’s dearest friend.

You may think compost building is complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. Mother Nature composts all the time. Skeptical? Next time you walk in the woods, take a gander at the forest floor. That spongy texture you’re walking upon is pure compost in its natural element. Organic matter like leaves, twigs and dying foliage are left to the elements to decompose creating new energy for plants.

Although bagged compost is sold at most garden centers, it’s easy and almost free to make your own. Let’s get started with some simple, compost tips:

In a new pile, layer brown matter: shredded fallen leaves, old foliage without disease, and brown grasses (if they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals like herbicides or pesticides). The emphasis is on dead and brown. Then, add green matter: veggy food scraps, weeds without the seed heads if possible, and garden clippings without disease or chemical residue. Don’t place rose leaves with blackspot, or diseased tomato leaves in your pile. Layer brown, green, brown, green and end with brown. The smaller the items in the pile, the faster they will decompose so chop up any twigs or matter. Water the resulting pile and cover it.


Garden bins make keeping the pile in one place easy. I like this new, seventy-five gallon capacity, Eco Bin™ Composter because it is collapsible, lightweight and crafted from mesh for good air circulation. It also has an open bottom so worms can crawl up from the soil and into the pile.

I think a three-bin system works best. That way, one can be percolating while another is finished and ready-to-use, and the last one can be the one in which you continue to add veggie scraps. You simply rotate the process. Pick one pile and keep adding matter.

If you live in a very dry climate like mine normally is, water the pile every week in the summer to keep it moist. Good micro-organisms need oxygen to replicate, so don’t make the pile too wet.

When you add green matter, top it with a layer of shredded leaves or dirt. It keeps the pile from becoming mal-odorous.

Don’t add dairy or meat products. This is a hard and fast rule. Otherwise, animals are attracted to your pile. Plus, they smell bad.

If you want to speed up the process by turning your pile, use a good garden fork to shift the contents, but be careful not to damage your bin or other container. You can also leave the pile as is, and it will eventually decompose by itself.


Creating your own compost is another way you can recycle and keep organic matter out of landfills. Shredded leaves, untreated grass clippings and kitchen waste all break down into humus with a lovely earthy smell reminiscent of the forest. Put compost in your garden, and you’ll be rewarded with stronger, healthier plants with improved disease resistance. It will make clay soil more friable and sandy soils hold together better. That’s why gardeners call it black gold.