Do it Yourself (DIY) Composting

...If you don't have a yard

Composting can be done indoors using an earthworm farm. Not only can you recycle your food scraps, you can also have a steady supply of fishing bait! For more information visit DEP's Home Composting and Green Landscaping page. You can also sign up for an organics waste service. By collecting your organic waste and subscribing for a drop off / pick up service you are saving hundreds of pounds of organics from the waste stream. 

...If you have a yard
How to Make a Compost Pile

There are as many different ways to make compost as there are people who do it and products available to do it with. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

Step 1: Build or Purchase a Compost Bin

The City of Lowell carries one model of Compost bin, available for sale to the public for $25.The Earth Machine (pictured below). We also sell compost pails and rain barrels. Earth Machines are back in stock as of 11/20. Download the order form.
earth machine
The Earth Machine is circular and comes in one size only, suitable for normal capacity. It has an added feature of a sliding door on the bottom, which makes it easier to remove soil. 

City-offered Compost bins are purchasable via mail or in person. To purchase via mail, please print and complete the order form along with a check for the total amount due to the address on the form. As soon as we receive the check, DPW will drop off the items ordered at the resident's home. To purchase one in person, please call the Solid Waste and Recycling Office at 978-674-4309 to let them know you'll be stopping by at least 24 hours in advance. 

If you would prefer, compost bins can also be constructed using wire, wood, pallets, concrete blocks, even garbage cans with drainage holes drilled in them. Enclosed, or covered compost piles keep out pests, hold heat and moisture in, and have a neat appearance.
In urban areas, rodent-resistant compost bins - having a secure cover and floor and openings no wider than one-half inch - must be used.

Step 2: Set Up the Bin in a Convenient, Shady Area With Good Drainage

A pile that is about 3' square and 3' high will help maintain the heat generated by the composting organisms throughout the winter. A smaller pile will compost, however it will have a longer decomposition period as it will not maintain as much heat as a larger compost pile.

Step 3: Start the Pile With a Layer of Course Material Such as Corn Stalks to Build Air Passages

Add alternating layers of "brown" and "green" materials and mix them together. Sprinkle with soil every 12". Be sure to bury food scraps in the center of the pile. Shred leaves or run over them with a lawn mower to shorten the composting time. Save several bags of leaves to add in the spring and summer when "browns" are scarce.

Step 4: Maintain 40-60% Moisture Content in the Compost Pile

Moisture level is an important factor of proper composting. If the contents are too dry, it will take overly long to compost; and if too wet, the contents may begin to smell. If contents are too dry, add water and mix thoroughly. If contents are too wet, add dry browns (dead leaves, shredded newspaper or cardboard, etc.) and mix thoroughly to allow for more air circulation in the pile. Try to maintain an equal amount of browns and greens in alternating levels to keep your pile at an ideal moisture level. 

Step 5: as Time Goes on, Keep Oxygen Available

Fluff the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile, so the top becomes the bottom, in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time. 

How to Use the Finished Compost

When the composted materials look like rich, brown soil, it is ready to use. Apply 1/2 - 3" of finished compost and mix it in with the top 4" of soil about 1 month before planting. Compost can be applied as a top dressing in the garden throughout the summer. Compost is excellent for reseeding lawns, and it can be spread 1/4" deep over the entire lawn to rejuvenate the turf. To make potting soil, mix equal parts compost, sand and loam. You may put the compost through a screen to remove large particles - these can go back into the pile.

​Additional Education Resources

Interested in learning more about the benefits of composting at home and how to do it? View MassDEP's composting workshop video and/or slide presentation linked below!
Video: Turn Garbage into Gold - Composting at Home
Slide Presentation: Turn Garbage into Gold - Composting at Home