Composting at home is a fantastic way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Here are 25 tips to help you get started and succeed with composting journey.
Composting is a process that transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, these tips will help you create a successful composting system.
This is your chance to make your own rich soil out of garbage and make your gardening more sustainable. It’s a money saver and a green practice.
And you’ll have the comfort of knowing where your garden soil came from. You can choose to avoid non-organic elements, or customize it in any way you like.
You can also read our guides on how to get started with composting and apartment composting.
Before You Begin
1. Choose the Right Location:
Pick a well-drained area in your yard for your compost pile or bin. It should be convenient to access but not too close to your house.
Ensure that the location will give the compost bin or pile proper drainage and good airflow to prevent excessive moisture buildup or foul odors. Partial shade can help regulate temperature fluctuations, especially in hot climates.
2. Pick Your Composting Method
There are several composting methods available, ranging from traditional backyard bins to more advanced techniques like vermiculture (worm composting) or Bokashi fermentation. Consider factors such as available space, time commitment, and what you want to compost.
For beginners, a basic backyard compost bin is an excellent starting point. It provides a controlled environment for decomposition and requires minimal maintenance.
If you have limited space or live in an urban area, consider options like vermicomposting or indoor composting systems. Vermicomposting utilizes special composting worms, such as red wigglers, to break down organic waste quickly. Worm bins can be kept indoors or in small outdoor spaces, making them ideal for urban dwellers.
If you want to compost meat, dairy and citrus waste, Bokashi is the best method. These food items don’t work well with the other methods.
3. Balance Greens and Browns
Aim for a balanced ratio of roughly 2 parts browns to 1 part greens by volume. This helps create the ideal conditions for decomposition.
Use a compost calculator or reference guide to adjust your green and brown inputs accordingly.
4. Chop and Shred:
Breaking down larger materials into smaller pieces accelerates the decomposition process by creating more surface area for microorganisms to work on. Shredding or chopping materials like branches, cardboard, or stalks before adding them to your compost pile can significantly speed up the breakdown.
Consider using a chipper shredder or a sharp garden tool to make the shredding process easier and more efficient.
Composting Dos and Don’ts
5. Do Add:
Fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, yard waste, paper, cardboard, and small amounts of non-greasy food scraps.
6. Don’t Add
Meat, dairy, oily foods, cooked foods, pet waste, diseased plants, and weeds that have gone to seed. These can attract pests and slow down decomposition. Exception: if you use the Bokashi method, it can handle meat and dairy.
7. Turn or Mix:
Regularly turn or mix your compost pile to aerate it. This introduces oxygen and helps speed up decomposition.
That’s because turning or aerating your compost pile allows oxygen to reach the microorganisms responsible for decomposition. Regularly mixing the materials inside your compost bin helps it break things down faster and prevents it from stinking.
Use a shovel, pitchfork, or compost turning tool to turn your pile every few weeks. This process also helps distribute heat evenly throughout the pile, further aiding decomposition.
8. Monitor Moisture:
Keep your compost pile as damp as a wrung-out sponge. If it’s too dry, decomposition slows down. If it’s too wet, it can become smelly.
Regularly monitor moisture levels and add water or dry materials (such as straw) as needed to achieve the right consistency. The right amount of moisture ensures that microorganisms can thrive and break down the organic matter effectively.
Tips for Success:
9. Monitor and Adjust Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio
Regularly check the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio in your compost pile to ensure the conditions are good for decomposition. If your pile becomes too smelly or slimy, it may be indicate excess nitrogen (green materials).
On the other hand, if the pile is not decomposing efficiently, it may lack nitrogen. Adjust your compost’s C:N ratio by adding more green or brown materials accordingly until you find the right balance.
10. Use a Compost Bin:
Using a bin helps contain your compost pile and can help regulate temperature and moisture.
11. Cover Your Pile:
Covering your compost pile with a tarp or a breathable compost cover helps retain heat and moisture levels. This cover prevents excessive moisture loss due to evaporation and protects the pile from heavy rain, which can lead to waterlogged compost.
Make sure the cover is secure but allows for proper airflow to avoid anaerobic conditions.
12. Layer Materials:
Alternate layers of greens and browns in your compost pile. This helps with aeration and prevents clumping.
Layering your compost materials helps create a well-balanced pile. Start with a layer of brown materials as the base, followed by a layer of green materials.
Repeat this process until you have used all your compostable materials, ensuring each layer is about 3-4 inches thick. This layering technique promotes good airflow and provides the right conditions for decomposition.
13. Add Air:
Aerating your compost pile by turning or mixing it introduces oxygen, which is essential for the decomposition process.
14. Avoid Chemicals and Synthetic Materials
To maintain an organic and sustainable composting system, avoid adding chemical-laden materials or synthetic products to your pile.
These can disrupt the natural decomposition process and introduce harmful elements into your finished compost. Stick to natural, organic materials for the best results.
15. Avoid Compaction:
Don’t pack down the materials too tightly; this can reduce airflow and slow down decomposition.
16. Keep It Warm:
Composting works best in warmer temperatures. If you’re in a cold climate, consider insulating your compost pile with straw or leaves.
17. Compost Smells Bad:
If your compost smells bad, it might be too wet or lack enough oxygen. Turn it and add dry materials. Proper compost management should keep control and minimize nasty odors.
Make sure your compost pile is well-aerated by turning it regularly. Avoid adding large amounts of smelly or pungent materials all at once.
If odors become an issue, add more brown materials or turn the pile more frequently to promote better airflow.
18. You’ve Got Pests and Rodents:
Avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily foods to prevent attracting pests. Bury kitchen scraps deep within the pile.
19. Slow Decomposition:
If your compost isn’t breaking down, check the balance of greens and browns, moisture levels, and aeration.
Harvesting and Using Compost
20. Patience Pays Off:
Composting takes time. Depending on conditions, it can take several months to a year to get usable compost.
21. Harvest Finished Compost:
Once your compost has fully decomposed into dark, crumbly material with an earthy smell, it’s ready to be harvested and used in your garden.
22. Sift if Desired:
Sift out any remaining larger materials or use them as “starter” material for your next batch of compost. Apply the finished compost as a top dressing or incorporate it into the soil to improve its fertility and structure.
23. Compost Tea:
Collect the nutrient-rich liquid that drains from your compost and dilute it with water to make a compost tea for your plants.
Compost tea is a liquid fertilizer made by steeping finished compost in water. This nutrient-rich solution can be applied directly to plants’ foliage or drenched around their roots to provide an instant nutrient boost.
Compost tea enhances plant growth, improves disease resistance, and supports overall plant health.
24. Mulch with Compost:
Compost makes an excellent mulch for gardens and landscape beds. Apply a layer of finished compost around plants to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide a slow-release source of nutrients.
As the mulch breaks down, it will enrich the soil and enhance its overall health.
25. Compost in Batches:
Consider having multiple compost piles or bins in different stages of decomposition for a continuous supply of compost.
26. Share Excess Compost with Friends and Neighbors
If you find yourself with more compost than you need, consider sharing it with friends, neighbors, or local community gardens. Not only will you contribute to sustainable gardening practices in your community, but you may also receive valuable feedback and exchange gardening tips.
27. Experiment with Composting Techniques
Composting is an ongoing learning process, and there is always room for experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try different techniques or variations in your composting routine.
Test different ratios of green to brown materials, explore new composting methods, or introduce innovative additives like biochar or rock dust to see what works best for you and your garden.
28. Incorporating Compost in Indoor Plant Care
Indoor plants can also benefit from the use of compost. Mix finished compost into your potting mix to improve its nutrient content and water retention capabilities.
You can also use a diluted compost tea as a natural plant fertilizer for your indoor plants.
29. Explore Advanced Composting Methods
Once you’ve mastered traditional composting techniques, you may want to explore more advanced methods like hot composting, lasagna gardening, or Korean natural farming.
These methods offer unique approaches to composting and may provide additional benefits such as faster decomposition or reduced labor.
30. Educating Others about the Benefits of Composting
Spread the word about the benefits of composting by educating others in your community. Share your experiences, host workshops or demonstrations, or contribute to local initiatives promoting sustainable practices.
By inspiring others to start composting, you can make a significant impact on reducing waste and creating healthier soils.