Composting in Washtenaw County

Composting Basics: The What & Why

Composting is nature's own recycling system. Leaves, grass, and other organic matter provide a home and food supply for nature's recyclers--bacteria, worms, and other microorganisms. These organisms feed on the plant material, breaking them down, and turning them into a dark, nutrient-rich organic product called compost.  

Compost bin and shovel

As with recycling, composting is about reducing waste through closing loops.  While materials such as paper and aluminum can be reprocessed into 'new' items available for re-use, composting is a natural process that allows for the reprocessing of organic waste.  Whether or not you grow your own food, what you eat is the product of a number of inputs including fertilizer (either organic or conventional), sunlight, and water. Food that is consumed, however, is only a portion of the product of those inputs. Waste products, including leftover food scraps as well as unharvested parts of plants and other yard waste, contain valuable nutrients that, through composting, can be turned into  fertilizer and close the loop! Compost is a high-quality form of organic fertilizer.

Composting is simple once you learn the basics and anyone can do it.  If you do garden, you will find composting to be a valuable source of quality fertilizer for your plants and lawn. If you don't garden, give your compost to a friend who does, or try to find an individual or local community group who may be able to use it in community gardens.  Either way, composting provides a fairly simple opportunity to turn potential landfill waste into an environmentally friendly and useful product.


Set Up: Piles, Bins, Tumblers & More

There are a variety of composting options which all accomplish the same task of breaking down organic material into a rich, soil amendment.  Composting can be done in bins, piles, tumblers, pits, trenches or through the use of worms, cover crops or sheet composting. Bins and/or tumblers come in a variety of different shapes and forms, and are made from numerous materials including pallets, chicken wire, snow fences, plastics, garbage cans, rain barrels, PVC, old lumber and/or any other material one has access to.  Bins are often preferred in urban settings, because they keep compost neat and tucked away while providing heat and moisture retention, but piles are generally easier to access and maintain. Compost tumblers are also available, and these overcome the potential maintenance challenges of bins, but are generally expensive and don't have the benefit of keeping your compost in contact with the ground, which is a source of useful organisms vital in the role or decomposition.

Compost bin types


Getting Started: Adding Organic Material

Compost materials are often categorized as either 'greens' which provide Nitrogen or 'browns' which provide Carbon. They are also known as wet and dry materials, respectively. Food scraps, green (as opposed to woody) plants, lawn clippings, and tea bags are all examples of 'greens'; while leaves, straw, and twigs are examples of 'browns'.   Manure from herbivorous animals, such as rabbits and chickens makes a great, nitrogenous addition to your pile, especially in winter when it can be used to jump start the process and heat up the pile during the cold months.  However, be sure to keep the standard ratios of 1:2, green:brown for best results and the quickest decomposition.  

Materials to Add: coffee grounds, corncobs and stalks, eggshells, grass clippings, hair, leaves, peanut shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, sawdust and wood chips, as well as straw and hay.  

Materials to Avoid: animal products, oils, invasive or diseased plants, coal and wood ash.


Washtenaw County Master Composter ClassProject Grow.png

This Master Composter class is offered by Project Grow through the Ann Arbor Public Schools Rec & Ed program. Class registration is available online at, click on enroll today, then search “Master Composter” and the class will appear in the results.  This is a once a year class to be held in the fall.  The AAPS Rec & Ed courses will be posted online starting late August.

If you missed the 2014 class check back in August, there will an updated 2015 class schedule!

7 weeks – Tuesdays, Sept. 30 to Nov. 11, 2014 (FEE: $49) 

6:00 PM – 8:30 PM at Pioneer High School, Room E107. Provides seven 2.5-hour classes. Michigan Master Composter course manual is provided online. Two classes will be held off-site: one at Project Grow’s Compost Education Center, atLeslie Science & Nature Center; and another class at the City of Ann Arbor’s Municipal Compost Center.

Discover the basics of home composting in this fun class taught by Master Composters and local landscape and composting professionals eager to share their experience with you. After attending this course, passing the open book exam, and clocking 10 hours of hands-on community volunteer experience, you will become a certified Washtenaw County Master Composter. Fee includes online access to the Michigan Master Composter manual and handouts. This program is coordinated by Project Grow and is designed for the general public, for Master Gardeners to continue their organic gardening education, and as a follow-up to the Project Grow’s Organic Gardener Certificate series.

9/30 - Class overview, Composting basics, types of bins (Nancy Stone & Lisa Perschke, Master Composters)

10/7 - Yard Waste Reduction Instructor – (Chris Simmons, Master Composter, City of Ypsilanti)

10/14 - Tour of municipal composting operations, home soil testing, hot composting, 4150 Platt Road, Ann Arbor. Will meet outside the Compost Center access road and carpool through the site operated by WeCare Organics, followed by a classroom segment in the city’s recycling plant MRF Education Center. Distribute/discuss open book exam. (Chris Simmons, Nancy Stone, Joet Reoma, Master Composters)

10/21 - Vermiculture, worm bins, special composting, compost teas (Jesse Raudenbush of Starr Valley Farms)

10/28 - Soils (Erica Kempter of Nature and Nurture)

11/4 - Worm bin workshop and site tour (held at Project Grow's Compost Education Center at the Leslie Science and Nature Center, 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor. Note: interested students may purchase a worm bin take-home kit for $30 with 1000 red worms, 12-gallon container and worm bedding. (Jesse Raudenbush and Joet Reoma of Compost Educational Center)

11/11 - Guest presenters with community composting opportunities, Take-Home Exam corrected in-class; share ideas for volunteer projects, set date and topic/speaker for spring graduation pizza dinner (Lisa Perschke, Advanced Master Composter & Advanced Master Gardener with guest presenters)


Links & Other Resources

  • Compost Education Center - The Compost Education Center (CEC) of Project Grow is charged with managing two composting-related activities, that of producing compost, and using this process for educational purposes - learning how to compost. This mission is based on the appreciation that composting is essential to community gardening.
  • - This site provides references on all aspects of home composting including building and maintaining compost piles, worm composting and other composting methods, equipment, compost ingredients, carbon to nitrogen ratio, and more.  
  • collecting - digesting - composting organic material; learn from best practices & join the tribe!
  • Environmental Protection Agency's Composting Site - Provides composting and compost application information for compost facilities, businesses, industry and local governments.
  • - From beginners to experts this web site is designed to be a hub for all composting information. 
  • US Composting Council - A national non-profit trade and professional organization promoting the recycling or organic materials through composting.  
  • A List of DEQ Registered Composting Facilities - Michigan facilities that collect material to produce compost.  May be openly available for drop-off or purchase by the public.


  • "Backyard Composting"
    by Harmonious Technologies.
    An easy to read how-to guide to composting.
  • "Rodale Book of Composting"
    by Deborah L. Martin and Grace Gershuny.
    A more in-depth approach to composting with the emphasis on the science behind composting.
  • "Worms Eat My Garbage"
    by Mary Appelhof
    How to set up and maintain a worm composting system.

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