Composting is the process of converting organic waste into a valuable soil amendment called compost. Making your own compost at home is easy, free, and incredibly beneficial for your garden. In this comprehensive guide, I will teach you everything you need to know about composting at home from start to finish.
Why Make Your Own Compost?
There are many great reasons to start composting your food scraps and yard waste rather than sending them to the landfill:
Saves money on fertilizer and soil amendments. Homemade compost contains macronutrients plants need to thrive, so you can use it instead of buying chemical fertilizers.
Reduces waste sent to landfills. Food scraps and yard waste make up a large percentage of household trash. Composting keeps these organic materials out of landfills.
Improves soil structure and nutrients. Adding compost to garden beds, lawns, and potted plants nourishes the soil food web and enhances moisture retention.
It’s free. Since you utilize waste from your home and yard, composting costs nothing.
Easy to do. With a basic understanding of the composting process, anyone can produce quality compost at home.
There are several different methods used for making compost at home. The three main options are:
This fast composting method involves building a large compost pile (at least 1 cubic yard) and monitoring internal temperatures. Decomposition happens rapidly through active aeration and turning the pile frequently. Hot compost can be ready in 4-6 weeks.
With slow, passive composting, you simply add materials to a compost bin as they accumulate. Turning isn’t necessary. The decomposition process takes several months. Cold composting works well for smaller households.
In vermicomposting, red wiggler worms and microorganisms break down organic matter to produce worm castings (worm poop), an extremely rich fertilizer. This odorless method works for small spaces.
Choosing a Compost Bin
There are many types of compost bins available to suit your space and budget:
- Basic backyard bins made of plastic or wood slats
- Tumblers that rotate to aerate and mix contents
- Geobins buried in earth to promote insulation
- Enclosed bins to deter pests
You can also easily build your own compost bin from recycled wood pallets, chicken wire, or even a trash can. The bin should:
- Allow airflow
- Keep contents moist but not soaked
- Deter pests from getting in
What to Compost
Nearly any organic material will decompose eventually. To speed up composting, add a balanced mix of:
Greens – Nitrogen Sources
Greens provide nitrogen and moisture. Use fresh, green plant materials like:
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
- Fresh grass clippings
- Coffee grounds and tea bags
- Green plant prunings
Browns – Carbon Sources
Browns provide carbon. Use dried, brown plant materials such as:
- Dry leaves and twigs
- Shredded cardboard and paper
- Manure from vegetarian animals
- Wood ash
- Garden soil
Some items may harm your compost:
- Meat, bones, grease, and dairy
- Large branches
- Weeds with seeds
- Pet or human waste
Building Your Pile
Follow these steps for hot, fast composting:
Gather compost materials into a mound or bin. Chop and shred large pieces.
Add a 1:2 ratio of green and brown materials. Greens and browns should be intermixed and layered.
Moisten the pile as you build it. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
Once your pile is 3 feet tall and wide, let it sit undisturbed for 3 days. Then turn and mix the entire pile.
Monitor the internal temperature of the pile. It should reach 130-150°F within a few days.
When the temperature starts dropping in a week or so, turn and mix the pile again.
Repeat turning weekly to add oxygen. In 4-6 weeks, you should have finished compost.
Using Finished Compost
Mature compost is dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling, and teeming with life. It’s now ready to add to:
- Garden beds each season before planting
- Potting soil for houseplants and transplants
- Lawn top-dressing to improve grass health
Stir a 1-3 inch layer into the top several inches of soil. Compost improves drainage, nutrient availability, and overall soil fertility. Your plants will thrive with this black gold boost!
Composting is a natural process, but occasionally problems arise. Here are some common issues and solutions:
Pile doesn’t heat up – Turn and mix it up to incorporate more greens. Moisten if dry.
Bad smell – Add browns. Turn pile to aerate. May be too wet.
Pests – Eliminate food scraps, turn pile, and cover with soil.
Pile is damp and won’t heat up – Add more browns like sawdust or cardboard. Turn the pile to dry it out.
Pile is dry and won’t heat up – Add water while turning, and mix in fresh greens.
With proper maintenance, your compost will produce lovely, nutritious compost for your garden. Avoiding diseased plants and using a variety of materials is key. With a little trial and error, you’ll be on your way to composting success!