Compost Making Instructions and Where to Get Free Compost in Ferndale

By, Crystal A. Proxmire


Lillian Dean of SOCRRA chuckled as she gave her composting presentation.  “People actually tell me, ‘my composter didn’t work,’” she said.  “That’s the silliest thing.  The problem isn’t that their composter didn’t work, it’s that they didn’t follow the recipe.  Usually they left something out of the mix.”


Dean came to the Kulick Center on May 11, 2010 to give a class on composting as part of the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Commission’s Green Tuesdays Program.  She said that the biggest problem is that people presume that you throw in a bunch of organic matter and leave it to rot into compost.  But really it is a simple, but important, combination of elements that makes the process work. 


Here are the essentials of composting that Dean shared with the class…


1.  You need a good balance of materials.  It doesn’t have to be exact, but aim for:

                        50% brown leaves, shredded if possible.  (pine needles are okay, but take longer to break down into compost)

                        25% green waste, shredded if possible.

                        25% soil or compost (to add essential microorganisms)


2.  Air is essential for the microbes in your compost to breathe.  Turn the pile every few weeks, or at least once a month.


3.  Water is also essential.  When you start your compost pile make sure everything is nice and wet, then keep it about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.  It’s best to keep the pile covered, or in a plastic bin to retain moisture.


4.  Make clippings small so that there are many surfaces for the munching microbes.


5.  Be careful with fruit and veggie peelings.  These may attract unwanted animals.  If you do use them, bury them deep in the pile and stir frequently.


Compost typically takes 5-6 months from start to finish. 


Dean also provided a list of what items are okay for the compost pile and ones that aren’t.  Acceptable items include:  grass clippings, leaves, hedge trimmings, spent flowers, roots with soil, straw, young weeds (no seeds), coffee grounds, plant waste from garden, wood ash from fireplace, clean ground eggshells, fertilizer (if lacking in greens), soil from the yard, compost, and small pieces of fruit and veggie peelings.


Items that should not go in compost include: dairy products, oils and fats, cooked food, dog and cat waste, soiled paper, meat, bones, fish, diseased plants, black walnut leaves, charcoal briquettes/ashes, bread, pastries, weeds with seeds or cat litter.


A local resident named Bill shared his composting experience with the group.  “When I first started I just had a pile and it kept drying out.  I didn’t know it needed water until I took a class.  Taking the time to do it right made a huge difference,” Bill said.


One of the common misconceptions is that compost needs sunlight to work, but that ultimately just dries it out.  “Keep it in the shade,” Dean said.  “What it needs to work is water and air, not light.”


Dean also recommends that people take the time to cut up items they are putting in the compost, and be picky about what they use.  “Don’t put in sticks or chunky plant parts that take a long time to decompose,” she said.  “The compost bin is not a garbage can.  You can put in paper, but why?  Why not just recycle it?  My goal is to get a good compost that is easier to use.  I don’t compost orange peels because they take longer and you have to pick it out later.”


Materials left in yard waste bags at the curb come to SOCRRA to get made into compost, which is returned to the cities and distributed free to residents. Compost is available every Saturday in May, 8:00am to 12:00pm at the Southwest Storage Yard located off Central and West Marshall behind Ferndale High School.  Residents need only bring their own bucket, wheelbarrow or truck.


According to the City of Ferndale website, “Compost retains water, encourages root growth, aerates soil, releases nutrients slowly, supports beneficial microorganisms and earthworms, and suppresses some soil-borne diseases.”  To encourage the practice of composting, the Ferndale Department of Public Works (DPW) offers a $15 compost bin that comes with an instruction guide.  Those can be picked up during normal business hours at the DPW Yard, 521 E. Cambourne.


Dean tours Ferndale and the surrounding Oakland County cities educating people about recycling, composting, water quality and more.  The presentation Tuesday night focused on starting a good compost mix, but there are resources on  many other topics also at the SOCRRA website:


Green Tuesdays Classes take place on the second Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm at the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois.  On June 8 the FESC presents a class on native plants, and on July 13th it will be “Greening your Barbeque.”  On August 10 there will be a bike workshop.