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Want to start composting at home but don’t know where to start? Recycle your food scraps and yard waste into nutrient-dense fuel for your garden right in your backward with this complete guide to home composting.
I view home composting as an essential urban homesteading project. I might even say that it’s one of the most essential projects after learning to grow your own food.
To me, composting closes the loop of the mini urban homestead ecosystem. The waste produced by your garden, yard, and kitchen is transformed into nutrient-dense compost that will fuel your plants’ growth in coming seasons.
Through composting, you learn that nothing is truly wasted and that energy is merely recycled. It’s really a meditation on the cycle of life.
Plus, composting fun and really simple to do! I’ve been composting in my small backyard in the city for years now, and I’m always pleasantly surprised with what my compost pile is able to produce with a relatively small amount of real estate.
There is much written about the science of composting that can be intimidating, but remember–it is the nature of organic matter to decompose. By following a few simple rules of thumb, you’ll be composting in no time!
Hi, I’m Leslie!
My name is Leslie, and I’m the founder of PunkMed! On my blog, I and my team share my info, experiences, and recommendations in the area of sustainability, urban homesteading, and gardening. Our goal is to make it less overwhelming for you to live a fun and sustainable life!
In today’s post, I’m sharing my steps to home composting. These ideas come from my years of experience composting in Boston, MA!
Let’s get into it!
This post is all about home composting.
What is Compost?
Sometimes referred to as “black gold” in the gardening world, compost is the result of the decomposition of organic (AKA containing carbon and a product of organisms) matter.
Finished compost is moist, crumbly and deep brown–almost black. However, it may takes months to years to become this finished product.
The Benefits of Home Composting
- Waste Reduction: Home composting is an effective method to divert organic waste from landfills. Organic matter, such as kitchen scraps and yard waste, makes up a significant portion of household garbage. By composting at home, individuals can contribute to reducing the overall waste burden on landfills.
- Soil Enrichment: Compost is a nutrient-rich organic material that enhances soil structure and fertility. When added to garden soil, compost improves water retention, aeration, and nutrient content. Plants thrive in well-amended soil, resulting in healthier and more productive gardens.
- Cost Savings: Composting at home eliminates the need for store-bought fertilizers and soil amendments. By recycling kitchen and yard waste, you can create your own nutrient-dense compost, saving money at the garden supply store and promoting a sustainable, cost-effective approach to soil enrichment.
Steps to Home Composting
#1 Choose a Composting Method
There are various composting methods to suit different preferences and available space. Traditional outdoor compost bins, tumblers, and vermicomposting (using worms) are popular options. Select a method that aligns with your lifestyle and available resources.
These instructions will focus on traditional compost bins.
If you have access, it’s best to compost on dirt or lawn. Composting on earth allows for friendly worms to aid the decomposition process and add their beneficial worm castings (AKA worm poop.)
Ideally, an outdoor compost pile should be at least about three feet (3′) high and three feet (3′) wide. A compost pile this size or larger will be able to achieve the internal temperatures required to sterilize weed seeds and kill pests.
To achieve this shape, I recommend using a compost bin. These can be makeshift–I have seen very successful outdoor compost bins made of four pallets nailed together. You could also create a circular bin by shaping chicken wire or hardware cloth into a tube and securing with wire.
You can certainly also buy an outdoor compost bin. I like this cedar wood compost bin.
However, believe it or not, you can compost right on pavement, cement, your back porch–anywhere really–especially if you have chosen a compost tumbler as your composting method.
If you’re worried about pests, or don’t have a patch of land on which to compost, a sealed compost bin may be the best option for you. These containers can be set up anywhere–even on your porch.
#2 Collect Compostable Materials
Understanding what materials can and cannot be composted is essential. Compostable items include kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells), yard waste (leaves, grass clippings), and some paper products (unbleached cardboard, newspaper). I recommend collecting kitchen scraps in a compost caddy that sits on your countertop.
Avoid composting meat, dairy, oily foods, and pet waste, as these can attract pests and slow down the composting process.
Compost should be fed a good mix of high carbon-containing materials (called “browns” because they are often dry, brown materials) and high nitrogen-containing materials (called “greens” because they are often fresh, tender materials like food scraps and lawn clippings).
High Carbon “Browns”
Sticks and twigs
High Nitrogen “Greens”
What Not To Compost
Dog or cat poop
#3 Achieving the Right Balance
The ideal ratio of high-carbon to high-nitrogen materials in a compost pile is about 50:50. However, I don’t recommend getting to caught up with maintaining this ideal ratio. Instead, focus on maintaining a good mix by adding alternating layers of “browns” and “greens” to your compost.
A good rule of thumb is to put down a brown layer each time you add a green layer. Too much green material, and you’ll end up with a stinky, mucky mess that is especially inviting for maggots.
#4 Turning and Aerating:
Regularly turning the compost pile ensures proper aeration, helping microbes break down the organic matter efficiently. Use a pitchfork or compost aerator to mix the materials and introduce oxygen into the pile. A well-aerated compost pile accelerates decomposition and reduces the risk of unpleasant odors.
Turn your compost pile any time you notice any unpleasant smells or maggots. Otherwise, you can probably get away with turning your pile at least once a year.
#5 Keep Compost Moist
Compost also needs to be kept moist. The ideal moisture level is that of a wrung-out sponge–damp but not soaking. During the hot summer months this means you may need to manually water your compost with a hose.
When Is Compost Ready?
Finished compost is moist, crumbly and deep brown. I’ve heard really good compost described as the texture of crumbled chocolate cake. (Sounds yummy!) There may be a few twigs and rocks you can sift out, but otherwise there should be no identifiable materials left in your finished compost.
It may take anywhere from a few months to years for your compost to finish. The speed with which compost decomposes depends heavily on temperature. Compost typically finishes faster in warmer climates and in the summer months.
How to Use Compost
I recommend dressing your gardens with at least a couple of inches of compost every year at the start of the spring before you plant. This layer will act as a mulch and provide essential nutrients to your plants throughout the growing season.
This post was all about home composting.