Getting Started with Composting & Sustainable Gardening

Composting is a simple, effective way to reduce your waste while making your own organic garden soil. It’s easy to learn how to get started with composting.

This is such a great thing to do, whether you have a sprawling backyard or a small balcony with some plants, composting can easily become part of your gardening routine.

Wooden composting bin full of soil and food scraps in yard

Why Compost?

Composting has many benefits, both for the environment and your garden. Here are a few reasons to consider it:

Waste Reduction

Instead of putting your food waste down the garbage disposal or into the trash, you can put it in compost. The same goes for much of the waste paper and paper packaging you need to dispose of.

This significantly reduces your carbon footprint. But that’s not all it does!

Soil Enrichment

Compost is loaded with nutrients. Added to garden soil, it improves soil structure, fertility, and drainage. It makes it easier for your plants to absorb nutrients and water.

And that gives you healthier and more productive gardens.

Cost Savings

By producing your own compost, you can save money on commercial fertilizers and soil amendments. Composting is a cost-effective way to create high-quality organic matter for your garden.

Getting Started with Composting

Choose a Composting Method

There are several ways to go about composting. Which ones you should choose depends on your available space, time commitment, and personal preferences.

Backyard Composting

Backyard composting is ideal if you have a garden or outdoor space. You can use a compost bin, tumbler, or simply create a compost pile directly on the ground.

This method requires regular turning and monitoring of the compost pile’s moisture levels.


Vermicomposting utilizes worms to break down organic waste into nutrient-rich castings. This method is perfect for those with limited outdoor space or who are composting in apartments.

A worm bin or vermicompost system is used to house the worms and decompose the organic matter.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic fermentation process that utilizes beneficial microorganisms to break down organic waste.

It’s a great option if you want to compost cooked food scraps, meat, dairy, and other traditionally compostable items that may not work well with other methods.

Compost Green & Brown Materials

To create a compost pile, you’ll need a good mix of “green” and “brown” materials.

“Green” materials include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and plant trimmings.

“Brown” materials consist of dry leaves, straw, shredded paper, cardboard, and wood chips.

Aim for a ratio of roughly 3 parts brown to 1 part green materials.

Avoid adding meat, dairy products, oily substances, pet waste, and diseased plants to your compost pile, as they can attract pests or introduce pathogens.

Build Your Backyard Compost Pile

Now you can fill your compost bin/tumbler, if that’s your chosen method. Layer your green and brown materials.

Spray some water into the pile as you add layers. The ideal moisture content should feel like a damp sponge.

Remember to turn your compost pile regularly to aerate it and speed up decomposition. This will help maintain an optimal balance between air circulation and decomposition activity.

Monitor and Maintain Your Compost

Check the temperature of your compost pile regularly; it should reach temperatures between 130-150°F (55-65°C). These high temperatures help break down organic matter and kill weed seeds and pathogens.

To check the temperature of a compost pile, you can follow these steps:

  1. Insert a long-stemmed thermometer into the center of the compost pile. Make sure the thermometer is clean before inserting it.
  2. Leave the thermometer in the pile for a few minutes to allow it to adjust to the temperature.
  3. Slowly pull out the thermometer and check the temperature reading.
  4. Take multiple temperature readings at different locations within the compost pile to get an accurate average temperature.
  5. Record the temperature readings and monitor them over time to track the progress of the composting process.

A properly functioning compost pile will generate heat due to microbial activity. If the temperature is below the ideal range, it may mean the compost isn’t decomposing like it should.

If the temperature is too high, it may indicate too much decomposition or the need to turn the pile to give it more aeration.

Water or cover your pile during dry periods to maintain its moisture level. If the pile becomes too wet or starts to stink, that may mean it’s not getting enough oxygen or there’s an imbalance in the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.

Adjust accordingly by adding dry brown materials or turning the pile more frequently.

Harvest and Use Your Finished Compost

Depending on the composting method and environmental conditions, your compost will be ready in about 2-6 months. The finished product should resemble dark, crumbly soil with an earthy smell.

To harvest your compost from a pile or bin, simply remove the top layer and collect the dark, nutrient-rich material underneath. You can use the compost as a top dressing for your plants, mix it into potting soil for container gardening, or spread it in your garden beds to improve soil fertility.

Vermicomposting Method

To compost with a worm bin, also known as vermicomposting, follow these steps:

Choose a good worm bin: You want a container that is dark, well-ventilated, and has a lid. It can be a plastic or wooden bin with drainage holes at the bottom. You can buy worm bins online.

Prepare bedding: Make a bedding material for the worms using shredded newspaper, cardboard, or coconut coir. Moisten the bedding until it feels like a damp sponge.

Get your worms: Get some red worms (Eisenia fetida or Lumbricus rubellus) from a reputable source. Start with about 1 pound (approximately 500 worms) for a small bin or adjust the quantity based on the size of your bin.

Introduce the worms: Place the worms on top of the bedding in the bin. They will naturally burrow into the bedding and start composting.

Feed the worms: Add organic kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells to the worm bin. Avoid adding meat, dairy, oily food, and citrus fruits.

Maintain moisture levels: Ensure that the bedding remains moist but not overly wet. If it becomes too dry, mist it with water. If it becomes too wet, add dry bedding materials to absorb excess moisture.

Cover the bin: Place a lid or cover on the worm bin to keep it dark and prevent pests from entering.

Monitor and maintain: Check the bin regularly to ensure proper moisture and temperature levels. Avoid overfeeding the worms and adjust the amount of food based on their consumption rate.

Harvest compost: As the worms break down the organic matter, they will make nutrient-rich castings (worm compost). Harvest the compost by either separating it manually from the bedding or by using a process called “worm migration” to move the worms to one side of the bin and collect the compost from the other side.

Use the compost: The finished worm compost can be used to enrich garden soil, potting mixes, or as a top dressing for plants.

Bokashi Composting Method

Bokashi composting lets you compost a wider range of organic materials. This is the one to choose if you want to compost meat, dairy, and citrus fruits, compared to traditional composting methods which don’t do well with those items.

It’s an effective way to reduce food waste and produce nutrient-rich soil amendments for your plants. To compost using the Bokashi composting method, follow these steps:

Buy or Make a Bokashi composting system: These systems typically consists of a container with an airtight lid, a drainage tray, and a spigot.

Prepare the Bokashi bran: Bokashi bran is a mixture of microorganisms that will ferment the organic waste. You can buy it or make your own by fermenting wheat bran or rice bran with effective microorganisms (EM) solution.

Collect organic waste: Collect kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, leftover food, coffee grounds, tea bags, and small amounts of meat and dairy. Cut or chop the waste into small pieces to aid in the fermentation process.

Layer organic waste and Bokashi bran: In the Bokashi container, start by adding a layer of organic waste. Sprinkle a generous amount of Bokashi bran over the waste. Keep layering the waste and bran until the container is filled, making sure to compact it lightly after each layer.

Press out air and seal the container: Press down on the waste to remove any air pockets and ensure good contact with the Bokashi bran. Close the lid tightly to create an airtight environment.

Drain excess liquid: Place the Bokashi container on the drainage tray to collect any liquid that is produced during fermentation. This liquid is known as “Bokashi tea” and can be diluted and used as a liquid fertilizer.

Ferment the waste: Store the Bokashi container in a cool, dark place for about 2 weeks. During this time, the organic waste will ferment and break down, but it will not decompose fully like traditional composting.

Repeat the process: While one batch is fermenting, you can start another batch in a separate container to continue composting.

Burial or composting completion: After fermentation is complete, bury the fermented waste in a garden bed or mix it with soil in a planter or garden pot. Or you can transfer it to a traditional compost pile to complete the decomposition process.

Wait for final decomposition: Depending on the conditions, it may take several weeks for the fermented waste to fully decompose into nutrient-rich compost.