Just in case you didn't know, composting is a great idea. If you're reading this article, we know you've been wanting to do it but don't know how. If this is you, we've got the definitive guide for how to start composting and why you should do it.
The why is easy to expain. You're plants will positively thrive!
The how takes a little more explaining.
The good news is that once your "how" process is set up, it's relatively easy to maintain. You won't need to expend much effort. Sure, it's not as easy as throwing things in the trash but if you're an environmentally conscious person, the small additional effort is worth the time, if not for the environment, then for your pocketbook.
Let's get into the nitty-gritty and explain everything you should know about how to start composting so you can start immediately.
Benefits Of Composting Food Waste
There are several benefits of composting food waste and other materials and we've broken them down into 3 seperate topics. They are:
- Benefits To Your Gardens
- Environmental Benefits
- Economic Benefits
Let us tell you about all three.
Benefits To Your Gardens:
First, compost benefits your gardens by giving them nutrient rich humus.
(Humus definition: The organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms.)
As leaves, food scraps and other materials break down, lots of beneficial nutrients are created that are very good for your garden plants as well as vegetables. Some would say, even better than fertilizer bought in a bag.
Compost is one of the best things you can add to your gardens to help the plants thrive. Some call it "black gold" for that very reason.
While various plants require various nutrients, it's not necessary to know which nutrients are contained in the compost because there will be plenty of everything the plants need. Although you can see the richness of the soil because of it's light airy texture, you won't be able to see all the benefits - just know they are there.
When you're composting, it's a very good thing for your gardens indeed.
The obvious benefit of composting is environmental. Disposing of food scraps and yard debris into your compost bin, where it is reused in your gardens, means less material taken to landfills. This is the ultimate recycling.
Unfortunately, these scraps do not break down as quickly in landfills because they are compacted tightly when piled up - which means no air can get to them. Therefore, they break down anaerobically (without oxygen), and produce harmful greenhouse gases which in turn are bad for the environment.
Compost that breaks down in your backyard compost bin WILL get air because you'll be turning it (more on that later).
In addition, these scraps will do nothing helpful when contained in plastic kitchen garbage bags that take decades to break down themselves.
The other environmental benefit is that by using compost, you'll be NOT using other fertilizers, some of which are nonorganic chemicals that could potentially harm the environment - especially as they run off into streams and other waterways.
If you want to be a good steward to the earth, you'll want to learn ho to compost and once you know how, you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner.
The economic benefit of composting shows up in your wallet or pocketbook. Composting is FREE.
This means you won't have to purchase fertilizers to add to your gardens, which can add up quickly, especially if you have a lot of gardens.
In additions, composting can help your local economy. Many stores sell composted matter that has been produced locally by farms and different agricultural businesses and is, therefore, a local benefit to businesses.
Note: You most likely won't find this type of compost in your local big box stores. You'll want to visit your small farm stores or agriculture suppliers.
Disadvantages Of Composting
Although there are a few disadvantages to composting, as noted above they are far outweighed by the positive.
These disadvantages include the fact that you'll need to contain your compost in some type of bin or storage container. These containers can be purchase, which cost money. However, they can also be home made, which will take time, but very little money.
If they are made out of wood however, which many home diy kits are, the wood will eventually break down.
The other disadvantage is the time involved to tend to the process, which includes emptying your food scraps into the bin, adding other yard debris, and turning it regularly (more on that process below).
Should You Purchase Compost In A Bag?
The short answer to this question is that making your own is better than buying it bags. Why?
First of all, making your own is free, which is a biggie for most people.
Second of all, you never know what you're getting in those bags of composted materials. Many are OK for sure and contain valuable components but it depends on the manufacturer, where it's coming from, and how they source their materials used in the compost.
As an example, if a manufacturer sources material from farms that use chemical pesticides, are there any harmful residues in the bags of compost? That question and others cannot be easily answered.
If you still want to purchase compost instead of making it yourself, at least read the bags to find out the ingredients and/or ask employees if they know where the compost they are selling comes from. It might help but then again, they might not know.
Why not then, make your own?
Since you're here because you want to learn how to start composting, you'll want to for sure. After reading this article, there's no time like the present to get started.
The Composting Process - What Happens To Food And Yard Scraps
Composting is an interesting process. The breaking down of matter is a miracle of the world in which we live in and can be explained briefly in easy to understand terms.
The decomposing of matter occurs naturally on the earth. As living matter dies, it starts to decay and break down. This breaking down process is caused by microorganisms in the soil that feed on decaying matter. As they feed, the material breaks down.
What composting does is create the ideal conditions for more of these organisms to thrive. The more ideal the conditions, the more organisms thrive and are drawn to the matter, so the quicker it will break down.
By doing your composting correctly, you are providing that ideal environment. Doing it incorrectly however will have the opposite effect. Microorganisms won't be there in mass to break down the material and you'll be left with a pile of debris.
Composting consists of combining 2 seperate categories of products, green materials - that is materials that contain lots of nitrogen, and brown materials, those that contain lots of carbon. You'll be combining them in a correct "recipe" to produce that ideal environment.
How do you do that? Read on to find out.
How To Start Composting 101
Here's the process in a nutshell.
Start With Your Compost Bin:
While we've read advice to start without a bin, we wouldn't recommend it. The food and yard scraps need to be contained in some way and a bin is the way to do it.
Your bin could be purchased or it could be homemade and either choice is fine. One choice will cost more money, the other costs more time.
Here's a question we hear occassionally "Should my bin be a "turnable" one - able to be rotated?" Well, maybe. The compost will need oxygen (air) to decompose properly. Turning and mixing the material creates these air pockets. Turnable bins make this process much easier, which helps the process go much faster.
Just be sure when you're turning your bin that the compost is mixing within it. Turning a full bin that doesn't allow for compost to mix around will not accomplish the goal of aerating the compost.
Stationary bins are also a fine and a cheaper option. However, it will be harder to aerate the compost because turning the material in a stationary bin means digging down with a shovel or pitch fork and manually turning the material.
All bins sold will work. Some just make the process easier than others. The choice though, is yours.
This is an example of the tumbler bin. The one pictured has a capacity of 37 gallones, which is quite a bit, but even better, it is divided into 2 sides, so you don't need 2 seperate bins. You can be using one side while you're working the other side. CLICK HERE IMAGE TO SEE MORE SPECS AND PURCHASE.
Here's a standard compsosting bin that doesn't turn. Notice how there are air holes throughout and that doors are provided at the bottom to access the compost. This bin has a capacity of 110 gallons, which is much larger than the tumbler. This is a great option if you need more room for compost. You would most likely not be able to turn a bin of this size because it would weigh too much. CLICK HERE FOR MORE SPECS AND TO PURHCASE.
Next question "Do I need 2 compost bins?" Well yes and no.
If you're just starting to compost, one bin will be all you need. However, once it's full and/or your compost is ready to use, you'll want to start your next batch in another bin.
One alternative is to purchase a bin with 2 sides - one side will contain ready to use compost while the other side will hold scraps and other debris that is working.
Another options is you could transfer your ready-to-use compost to another container such as an old trash can. This will free up your one bin to start a new batch.
FINALLY... Here's a video showing you a very, very simple and cheap way to make your own compost bin. You can use the instructions as is, or make it larger simply by cutting the boards to a longer length. Watch it and be amazed!
How To Add Matter To Your Bin:
Having the ideal composting environment means getting the ratios of "green" matter to "brown" matter correct.
Green matter includes: manure, food scraps, green lawn clippings, kitchen waste, and green leaves
Brown matter includes: branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, coffee grounds, pine needles, egg shells, straw, peat moss, wood ash
The perfect recipe is to use 2/3 brown mater to 1/3 green matter.
The preferred method for composting is covering fresh nitrogen-rich matter, (the green stuff), which can release odors if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, (the brown stuff), which often exudes a fresher smell. As an example, have you ever smelled grass clippings as they are breaking down. Whew! Bad smelling. When in doubt, add more carbon!
Here's how to add matter to your bin:
That's it. That's the procss. You've just learned how to start composting in a few easy steps. Although we've layed out 6, once the process has started, it should be very simple to keep up with the process of turning the material and keeping in moist. Nature does the rest of the hard work.
Composting Hints Tips And Tricks
Some final thoughts and things you should kow about starting to compost for the first time.
How To Compost Leaves:
Leaves are considered brown matter that you can and should add to your pile. However, adding too many leaves will mean the pile will get compacted too much.
It's best to add a few leaves at a time, sprinkling them through the pile. This means a few handfuls, not wheel barrow loads.
An alternative is to compost your leaves seperately, in an entirely new pile. If you live in a wooded area, you're in the perfect location. Simply pile your leaves somewhere on your property and add layers of soil. Mix them occasionally and they will be ready to use in 4-6 months.
A Better Way To Compost Kitchen and Yard Waste:
Kitchen and yard waste all break down eventually but larger items will take longer. This is especially true if you're adding large plant debris and/or food ideas such as mellon rinds.
To help the process along, break down larger items into smaller pieces. Ideally, most scraps should be about the same size to break down evenly. Otherwise, you may have usable compost with cantalope rinds still left.
Items You Cannot Include In Your Compost:
When Heat Can Destroy Your Compost:
Because heat is a natural process of compost, you should find your pile warm and even sometimes hot. You may even see smoke rising from the pile when you uncover it.
A little known and discusssed problem is that excessive heat can kill some of the beneficial organisms that are living within the pile. Turning the pile not only helps to aerate it, but also helps to release some of the heat to cool the pile down.
If you discover your pile getting too hot, turn it.
A List Of Compostable Items
Here's a list of many items you can use in your compost and which ones are "green" and which ones are brown." This list is an image, a .jpg file, which we've done for a reason.
You can print the file and keep it in a kitchen drawer for quick reference. Simple right click on a windows computer and save it to your computer. Then print it out.
On your android device, hold your finger on the photo until a menu pops up. Choose download, then download the image to your phone. You can then print it from there if you have that capability. If not, send it to yourself via email. Open your email on your compter, download the file to your computer then print it.
We cannot give directions for iphone or apple products as we do not use them ourselves.
How To Start Composting With Confidence
You should now know how to start composting and do it correctly.
However, you can also get persoalized tips and tricks, directly from us to you. Wanna know how? Find out here:
Although a little science is involved, it does not have to be a complicated process and it does not have to be exact. If you're not 100% correct, the materials will still break down and you'll still get compost. It just might take longer.
For more information on conditioning your garden soil, read this article.
For even more information on composting, and how communities around the globe are helped by doing it, check out this very informative website: