Compost is an organic soil amendment that you can create using vegetative waste from your kitchen, garden, and yard to help improve the health of your soil. Composting is the process of breaking down organic materials into nutrient-rich soil. With some planning and research, you can begin composting at home to reduce waste and improve your garden’s health.
What are the benefits of composting at home?
Composting reduces landfill waste and provides your garden with rich, organic soil. Garden composting helps improve soil structure and fertility, leading to healthier plant growth. Composting can also help reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as adding compost to your garden can provide the nutrients your plants need.
Composting for beginners: How to compost at home
By following three simple garden composting tips for beginnings, you can set up your system quickly and add compost to your garden.
1. Choose your receptacle and location
You can purchase compost bins made from plastic or metal at most garden centers. Or you can set up a compost pile using wood or other materials. If you’re new to composting, starting with a compost bin with large holes for airflow might be easier to maintain. Either way, make sure you’ll be able to turn your compost easily, either by rotating your bin or by using a pitchfork.
When setting up a compost bin or pile, place the bin in a sunny spot. A compost pile can be as simple as a small circular or rectangular area enclosed by chicken wire. For best results, place it in a well-drained spot. Too much moisture can cause the compost to become soggy and slow the decomposition process. Remember to check your local ordinances for rules about composting where you live.
2. Add the right materials
Once you’ve set up your bin or pile, you’re ready to add organic materials. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website has a chart showing what you can compost, which includes:
- Dry leaves
- Shredded brown paper bags and cardboard
- Untreated wood chips
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds and paper filters
- Paper tea bags (no staples)
- Raw vegetable and fruit waste
- Crushed eggshells
Make sure there are ample amounts of “greens” (like grass or dehydrated grass chips from a feed store) and “browns” (leaves or most other plant material).
Why is the green-to-brown ratio important when composting at home? It gets a little scientific. According to Cornell University, the basis of compost chemistry is the C/N ratio (carbon/nitrogen), which ideally should be 30:1 (30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen). Green materials are high in nitrogen, and brown, dry materials are high in carbon.
So be sure to add lots of browns like autumn leaves, straw, bark, newspaper, or sawdust in greater proportions than greens like vegetable scraps and grass clippings.
3. Maintain your compost bin or pile
Oxygen is another essential ingredient in the composting process. Aerating (turning) the pile or bin helps maintain an aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment, and speed up the decomposition process. To give your new compost pile a good kickstart, you can also buy an organic compost starter at your local garden supply store, or you can mix up a DIY compost accelerator.
It’s also important to keep the compost moist, as dry materials take longer to decompose. Finally, mix the compost evenly to help all the materials break down and decompose properly.
Avoid common composting mistakes
Since it’s a scientific process, beginner composters can easily feel overwhelmed and make mistakes. Stick to the simple principles in this article and avoid these common mistakes:
Adding the wrong materials
Beginning gardeners often make the mistake of adding all their household food waste to their compost. You want to add raw fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and lots of brown material like leaves from your yard. Never put meat, dairy, or cooked foods in your compost bin, as these can attract pests and cause odors. You should also avoid adding oil, fats, and other greasy materials, as these can break down slowly and attract pests.
Better Homes and Gardens advises that you don’t put the nuisance weeds, diseased plants, or plant materials that you treated with pesticides from your yard into your compost as the chemicals may harm your garden plants.
Forgetting the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio
People sometimes get the ratio of greens to browns wrong — remember to have about one-part green material (nitrogen) to thirty parts brown (carbon).
Not turning your compost
Lastly, remember to turn the pile every few weeks. Airflow is important for the decomposition process of composting to work.
Other considerations for composting at home
What can you do if you don’t have any outdoor space but want to help protect the environment by not adding your household food waste to the landfills? There are local, community-based garden composting programs. These organizations collect your food waste or have a location where you can drop it off and contribute to community efforts to preserve the environment.
Backyard chickens and compost
Did you know there are safe ways to use chicken manure in your compost, according to the University of Nevada Reno? Having chickens may also help aerate your compost if you give them limited access to it. If you have chickens, find out if homeowners insurance covers damage caused by backyard animals to other structures on your property.