Composting: A Complete Beginner’s Guide
Composting is a process by which organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, breaks down into soil.
It’s a great way to recycle your garden and kitchen waste while also enriching your garden soil, improving water retention and protecting against erosion.
Although it may sound complicated, composting is very easy and makes for a fun and rewarding hobby.
In fact, when I first started composting, I was surprised how easy it was, even from my tiny apartment. Now, I regularly drop off food scraps at my local composting center to help reduce waste and support sustainability.
This simple step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know to start composting.
Compost is a type of organic material that you can add to the soil to help plants grow.
To craft it, you collect natural materials that you would otherwise have thrown away, such as food scraps, leaves, and yard waste, and let them decompose over time.
There are several reasons why you should consider composting at home. They include:
- Waste reduction. Composting allows you to recycle kitchen waste instead of throwing it away, reducing food waste and helping to minimize your environmental impact.
- Soil enrichment. Compost helps the soil retain more moisture and nutrients. It also prevents erosion by breaking up compacted soil.
- Less need for synthetic fertilizers. Unlike many synthetic fertilizers, compost is free of harmful chemicals and adds organic matter to your soil (
Notably, composting is easy and only requires a few simple steps to get started.
Composting involves recycling food scraps and yard waste to create nutrient-rich organic matter that you can add to the soil. This practice decreases both food waste and your environmental impact.
Before you start composting, it’s important to understand which items you can compost and which you should avoid composting.
What to compost
Many organic materials can be composted, including food scraps, grass clippings, and many other items.
Here are some things you can compost:
- peels and leftovers of fruits and vegetables
- rotten fruits and vegetables
- indoor plant fillings
- coffee grounds and paper filters
- tea leaves
- egg shells
- walnut shells (except walnuts)
- hair and fur
- shredded paper, cardboard and newspaper
- unused towels, paper towels and toilet paper
- grass clippings
- wood chips
What not to compost
Not all items in your kitchen or garden need to be composted. In fact, some items can attract pests and rodents, while others contain harmful compounds.
Here are some things you should avoid composting:
- Animal waste, such as droppings or litter: may contain harmful bacteria or parasites
- Bones or remains of meat, fish and poultry: produces odor and attracts pests
- Dairy products: produces an odor and attracts pests
- Black walnut leaves or twigs: releases a compound toxic to plants
- Nuts: releases a compound toxic to plants
- Coal or charcoal ash: contains compounds that can harm plants
- Large pieces of wood: can take a long time to decompose
- Fat, cooking oil and fat: produces odor and attracts pests
- Sizes of lawn treated with pesticides: can kill microorganisms necessary for the composting process
- Coffee pods: most contain plastic and do not break down naturally
- Bakery products: can attract parasites and increase the growth of harmful bacteria
- Plants that are diseased or infested with insects: can spread disease
You can compost many organic materials, including food scraps, yard waste, and some paper products. However, some items contain harmful compounds or attract pests and therefore should not be composted.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started with composting at home.
1. Create your compost pile
The first step in composting is figuring out where you want your compost pile or bin.
Try to choose an outdoor location with partial shade and lots of drainage. It is also important to choose an area that is easily accessible but away from animals, including pets and wildlife.
Your pile should be at least three feet in width and height, which is a manageable size for most gardeners and ensures it can retain heat. Heat is produced during the composting process when bacteria break down organic material (
Alternatively, you can use a compost cup, which is a container designed to make it easier to rotate and mix your composting materials.
2. Start adding materials
Once you have chosen a location for your compost pile, you are ready to begin adding materials.
It is generally recommended to alternate green and brown materials in layers. The term “green materials” refers to items like food and yard waste, while “brown materials” include carbon-rich items like branches, paper, straw, and wood chips.
While layering isn’t necessary, it helps ensure you’re maintaining the right balance of green and brown materials to optimize the decomposition process.
Start by creating a 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inch) layer of bulky brown material, such as twigs, at the bottom of your pile to provide aeration and drainage. Then, alternate layers of green and brown materials until your bin is full. Make sure to add a little water to each layer to keep it moist.
3. Turn the battery over regularly
You must turn your pile regularly to ensure effective composting. To do this, use a shovel or a fork to turn and rotate the materials, which helps to evenly distribute the air and moisture.
How often you need to turn your compost depends on many factors, including the size of the pile, the amount of moisture, and the ratio of brown to green material.
As a general rule, you should start by turning your battery over every 4-7 days. As your compost begins to mature, you may need to turn it less often.
While most of the moisture in your compost pile comes from the rain, you may need to water it every now and then to keep it moist. If the pile becomes soggy, you can add additional brown material or turn it over more frequently to remove excess moisture.
4. Use your compost
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year for your materials to fully decompose, depending on a variety of factors, such as the size of your pile, the type of materials used, humidity levels and the climate.
Turning the pile regularly, keeping it moist, and shredding the waste into small pieces can speed up the process.
When ready to use, your compost should appear dark brown and crumbly, similar to soil. It should also have a rich, earthy smell and be free from large chunks of material.
You can use compost by mixing it with potting soil, sprinkling it over the surface of your garden, or replacing the mulch with it.
You can also make your own compost tea by soaking a small amount of compost in water for 24 to 48 hours. Then strain the mixture and spray it on the plants to provide beneficial nutrients and improve the growth of your garden.
You can start composting by making a compost pile, adding food scraps and garden debris, and turning your compost regularly to create a rich, dark, plant-friendly material.
If you don’t have a garden or access to an outdoor space, you can always try home composting.
In fact, there are plenty of apartment-suitable compost bins available online, which you can use to create a mini indoor compost heap under your sink or in your refrigerator.
Once your food scraps are piled up, you can drop them off in a composting center. You can also contact local farms or community gardens, which may accept the compost.
Alternatively, kitchen appliance composting can turn leftover food into a nutrient-rich fertilizer in just a few hours.
Some cities also offer composting programs, which allow you to drop off or recycle organic materials at the curb.
You can compost indoors using a compost bin or kitchen compost appliance. Some communities also offer curbside or depot composting programs.
Composting is a simple and effective way to fight food waste and reduce your environmental impact.
It also promotes plant growth by enriching the soil, preventing erosion, and reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers in your garden.
Best of all, it’s easy to do at home whether or not you have access to an outdoor space.