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Composting is a simple yet effective way to recycle organic waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. As a beginner, you may be unsure of where to start, but don’t worry, this guide will help you understand the basics and feel confident in beginning your composting journey.

To begin, composting involves the decomposition of organic materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, into a rich, soil-like substance that can be used to fertilize plants. By composting at home, you not only reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills but also create a valuable resource for your garden, contributing to a healthier environment.

In this guide, we’ll cover various composting methods, the essential ingredients needed for a successful compost pile, and tips on how to maintain it.

By the end of this article, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to start your own compost pile and reap the benefits of this sustainable practice!

Why Compost at Home

Waste Management: One of the primary reasons to start composting at home is the positive impact it has on waste management. With composting, you can recycle your kitchen scraps and other biodegradable waste, effectively reducing the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills.

Environmental Benefits: By participating in home composting, you are contributing to a greener and more sustainable environment. Landfills are a significant source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and by diverting waste, you will be helping in the fight against climate change.

Nutrient-Rich: Composting transforms your organic waste into a rich, nutrient-packed material known as compost. This product is a valuable addition to your garden since it helps enrich the soil and enhances plant growth.

Healthy Soil: Adding compost to your garden soil is known to improve the soil’s structure, providing better aeration, water retention, and drainage. When you create compost at home, you’re supplying your garden with a natural and organic soil conditioner that will help you achieve healthy, thriving plants.

Gardeners’ Secret Weapon: Home composting is considered a gardener’s secret weapon for good reason. The nutrient-rich compost not only provides gardens with essential nutrients, but it also benefits the soil in ways that chemical fertilizers cannot. In fact, compost can even help to remediate contaminated soil by filtering out pollutants.

What You Can and Cannot Compost


When starting your compost pile, it’s essential to understand which materials are compostable. These materials are divided into two categories: green and brown materials.

Green materials are rich in nitrogen and help feed the microorganisms responsible for breaking down the compost. Brown materials are high in carbon and necessary for maintaining a healthy compost balance.

Here are some common green compostables:

  • Food scraps: fruits, veggies, coffee grounds, tea bags
  • Grass clippings: fresh, green grass
  • Plants: green leaves and small trimmings

On the other hand, brown compostables include:

  • Yard waste: dry leaves, small branches, straw, and woody material
  • Paper: newspaper, cardboard, and shredded paper
  • Organic matter: eggshells, sawdust, and wood chips

Remember to chop your materials into smaller pieces, as this will speed up the decomposition process.


When creating your compost pile, it’s just as crucial to know what not to add. Some materials can slow down the decomposition process, attract pests, or introduce harmful bacteria to your compost. Keep the following items out of your compost bin:

  • Meat, bones, and dairy products: These items can attract unwanted pests and produce odors.
  • Pet waste: Dog and cat waste can introduce harmful pathogens into your compost.
  • Oils and cooked food: They can create bad smells and attract unwanted visitors.
  • Chemicals: Don’t add anything with synthetic chemicals or treated wood, as these can harm the composting process and your plants.

By understanding which materials are compostable and avoiding non-compostables, you’ll be on your way to creating a healthy and productive compost pile. Make sure to mix your greens and browns regularly to maintain an optimal balance and keep your compost thriving.

Composting Methods

In this section, we will discuss a variety of composting methods that can be adopted based on your preferences and available resources.

Backyard Composting

Backyard composting is a common method involving the use of a compost bin or a simple pile in your outdoor space. To start, gather a mix of browns (such as leaves, twigs, and wood chips) and greens (like vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and weeds). Arrange these materials in alternating layers inside the compost bin or pile.

  1. Choose a bin or designate a space at least 3 feet wide.
  2. Layer your browns and greens, ensuring a ratio of about 3:1 (browns to greens).
  3. Turn the pile every 2 weeks using a shovel to aerate and speed up decomposition.
  4. Ensure the pile remains moist but not wet.

You need to be sure to maintain the right balance of materials and monitor the temperature for successful backyard composting. We will talk more about how to do this a little later on.


Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a practical approach for composting in a limited space. This method utilizes worms—usually red wigglers or European nightcrawlers—to break down organic waste.

To get started, you will need a vermicomposting bin, bedding material (like shredded paper), and worms.

  1. Place the bin in a suitable location with moderate temperatures and low light.
  2. Add moistened bedding material in the bin.
  3. Introduce the worms and add a small amount of kitchen waste.
  4. Bury new food scraps periodically, avoiding overfeeding.
  5. Harvest the vermicompost when ready.

The worms transform organic waste into nutrient-rich vermicompost, suitable for use as a natural fertilizer.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic process that relies on microorganisms to ferment kitchen waste, including cooked food and meat. For this method, you need a Bokashi bin and Bokashi bran containing the necessary microbes.

  1. Layer your kitchen waste and Bokashi bran in the bin.
  2. Compress the layered waste to remove air.
  3. Seal the bin tightly and set it aside to ferment for 2-4 weeks.
  4. Bury the pre-compost in the ground or add it to a traditional compost pile to decompose further.

Bokashi composting has the advantage of processing a wider range of organic materials compared to other methods.

Composting with Tumblers

A compost tumbler is a container designed to facilitate efficient composting through simplified turning and increased aeration. This method is suitable if you wish to minimize labor and produce quick compost.

  1. Fill the tumbler with a combination of green and brown materials.
  2. Ensure the tumbler is not overfilled to allow for adequate aeration.
  3. Rotate the tumbler every few days to mix and aerate the contents.
  4. Monitor the moisture levels, adding water if necessary to maintain optimal conditions.

Tumblers help produce compost faster than traditional methods, but they tend to have less capacity.

Composting Process and Maintenance

The composting process primarily involves decomposition of organic matter with the help of oxygen, water, and microorganisms that break down materials into rich, soil-like substance.

To start composting, ensure your compost pile has a good balance between carbon and nitrogen-rich materials. Carbon sources mostly include brown materials such as dried leaves, twigs, and straw. Nitrogen sources involve green materials like food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds.

A general rule of thumb is to maintain a ratio of 30:1 (carbon to nitrogen).

Keep your compost pile moist by occasionally adding water. It’s important that the compost pile stays damp, similar to the feel of a wrung-out sponge. By maintaining the right amount of moisture, the decomposition process will be more efficient, and it will prevent bad odors and pests.

Proper aeration is essential for the composting process. Microorganisms require oxygen to break down materials effectively. Ensure your compost pile receives enough oxygen by turning it regularly.

As a guideline, turn the pile every one to two weeks. Turning the pile can also help disperse the heat generated during decomposition.

Temperature plays a significant role in the composting process. Monitor the core temperature with a compost thermometer to ensure it’s optimal for decomposition.

Temperatures between 140°F and 160°F (60°C and 71°C) will allow the microbes to work efficiently and, at the same time, kill pathogens and weed seeds.

In summary, follow these key steps to initiate and maintain a healthy compost pile:

  1. Combine carbon and nitrogen-rich materials (30:1 ratio)
  2. Keep the pile moist, similar to a wrung-out sponge
  3. Turn the pile every one to two weeks for proper aeration
  4. Monitor temperature, aiming for 140°F to 160°F (60°C to 71°C)

Following these guidelines will make your composting process efficient, leading to a nutrient-rich amendment for your garden, and contributing to a more sustainable lifestyle.

After setting up your compost pile, you might consider incorporating different types of compost. Mushroom compost, for example, can be highly beneficial if used correctly. Learn more about how to use mushroom compost without causing damage to your plants.

Using the Finished Compost

Once your compost has fully decomposed into a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling material, it’s time to put that nutrient-rich substance to good use. The finished compost can serve as a natural fertilizer, enhancing your garden’s soil, and improving your plants’ health.

Here’s how to effectively use your finished compost in your garden.

In the garden: Gently work the compost into your garden’s soil by mixing it into the top few inches. This is best done before planting or at the beginning of each growing season. Your plants will benefit from the added nutrients and improved soil structure as the compost helps retain moisture and provides essential nutrients for plant growth. Add about 1-2 inches of finished compost to your garden beds.

As a mulch: Applying compost as a mulch around your plants can help suppress weeds, regulate soil temperature, and retain moisture. To create an effective mulch layer, spread 2-3 inches of compost around the base of your plants, leaving a small gap near the stem to prevent any potential rot issues.

For your lawn: Finished compost can aid in improving the overall health and appearance of your lawn. To apply as a top dressing, evenly broadcast 1/4 inch of compost across your lawn, and then water it in to promote nutrient absorption. This can help reduce soil compaction and improve the overall root structure of your grass.

Erosion control: If you have any areas in your landscape where erosion is an issue, you can use finished compost to help stabilize the soil and promote the growth of plants that can further prevent erosion. Apply a 1-3 inch layer of compost to the affected areas, and consider planting grass or other vegetation to provide additional support.

Remember, the finished compost is most beneficial when it’s incorporated into your soil, but it can also provide value when used as a mulch or erosion control. By regularly adding compost to your garden, lawn, and other affected areas, you’ll create a healthier, more sustainable environment for your plants to thrive.

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