Composting at home is a great way to scale back how much waste you throw in the garbage. It’s another form of recycling that allows you to divert unnecessary waste from landfills, protecting the earth’s atmosphere and providing an inexpensive source of rich vitamins to your soil.
However, creating your own compost in your backyard is easy, but it’s necessary to understand how it’s done and what is needed to make it happen. In this guide, we’ll get you on the right path to making your own compost at home.
This guide will help you:
- Know what compost is
- Understand why composting important
- Identify how to set up a composting heap or bin
- Recognize where you should build a compost heap
- Know what can and what cannot be compost
- Discover how to compost
- Recognize when compost is ready and many more.
Table of Contents
What Is Compost?
Compost is the break down of organic matter made up of items like yard clippings and food scraps. In the right condition, organic matter will decay through the activity of microorganisms, and aerobic bacteria and which break down the ingredients into a usable form. The result is an earthy and dark material called compost or black gold, which is a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be added into the soil.
Why Is Composting Important?
Composting is one of the most effective ways to minimize the amount of garbage you send to the landfill. Whether it’s an errant cucumber or the skin of a vegetable you peeled, we need to get rid of our organic waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Below are a few reasons why composting at home is essential.
- Compositing replaces store-bought soil conditioners, thereby saving you money.
- Compositing is a great way to dispose of food scraps that would have rotted in the bin.
- Composting is excellent for the ecosystem as it builds soil microbes and provides a food source for the environment.
- Composting benefits the environment by reducing transport and processing of materials and recycling valuable organic resources.
- Compost contains nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium that plants need for optimum growth.
- Mixing compost into your landscape and garden beds boost the soil’s ability to hold on to nutrients and water.
- According to the EPA, yard waste and food scraps make up one-third of what’s thrown away. With composting, you’re putting less food into the landfill.
How Can I Set Up A Composting Heap Or Bin?
You need a compost bin or heap to contain your compost if you’re worried about the way your compost pile will look. A compost bin is where you keep your waste materials while they break down. The traditional compost heap is nothing more than a pile of waste material that is covered with plastic or card sheeting and often covered with straw.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t place your compost directly on top of plastic or concrete. Your compost needs to touch the ground soil, which will make it easier for the bacteria, worms, and other organisms to gain access and help with the composting process.
Where Should I Build My Compost Heap?
Your compost bin or heap should be in an area that is easy to reach. Compost bin or heap that’s outbuilding or behind a shed may discourage you from using it. Composts should be covered or have a lid and always from water sources. Compost bins or heaps should be built in a position that sunlight can easily reach. The sun provides heat that speeds up the composting process.
What Can I Compost?
The general rule of thumb regarding compostable materials is that you need to keep and monitor the brown stuff to green stuff ratio if you want to keep the microorganisms that will transform your scraps into good soil. Having too much green or brown waste can affect the breakdown of your compost. Aim for 25 to 50 percent of soft green and fill the rest with brown woody materials.
Green ingredients are:
- Grass clippings
- Crushed eggshells
- Fruit and veggie scraps
- Teabags and coffee grounds
- Uncooked kitchen scrap such as peelings
Brown ingredients are:
- Wood chip
- Dead leaves
- Dryer lint
- Nuts and shells
- Shredded or cut garden pruning’s
What Not To Compost
There are things you should not compost. Unfortunately, people don’t always think about these things before they throw it into the pile. Below are a few things that do not belong in the compost pile.
- Human feces
- Cooking oil
- Milk-based products
- Meat and dairy products
- Diseased plant materials
- Nappies or cooked foods
- Chips from pressure-treated wood or sawdust
These things either pose a risk of inviting the wrong animals and pests to your pile, or can be a significant health risk. Inorganic materials, such as plastic because it contains a lot of chemicals and does not belong to the compost pile.
Getting Your Compost Started
There are different methods when it comes to making compost, but all follow the same basic guidelines. The steps below are a guideline for how to compost at home.
Step 1: Create a pile of vegetation
Compile enough materials to make your own compost heap. You need to combine your dry brown items with your wet green items. For best results, try ratio 2:1 of brown materials (woody material, dried leaves, etc.) and green materials (grass, food scraps, etc.), which add nitrogen. Aerate more often or add more brown items if your compost pile looks extremely wet and smells. Add water or green materials to make your compost pile slightly and moist if it look too dry and brown.
Step 2: Water the pile
Add enough water to make the pile moistened, like a damp sponge. Be careful when adding water because too much water can make your pile drowned and waterlog. Check the temperature of your pile using a thermometer. Your compost pile must feel warm so that the materials will decompose quickly.
Step 3: Turn the Pile
Turn the pile with a good pitchfork weekly or when you notice the top layer start to dry out to provide the pile with necessary oxygen. The best time to turn the pile is when the temperature is between 130 F and 150 F (54.4 °C to 65.5°C) or when the center of the pile feels warm. Turning up the pile will help it decompose faster and prevents material from developing an odor and becoming matted down. Stir thoroughly at this point because the layers have served their purpose of generating equal amounts of brown and green materials.
Step 4: Feed the Garden
Your compost is fully cooked and ready to be fed to the garden when it’s no longer producing heat and becomes brown, dry, and crumbly. You have gotten a rich compost material. You can now add the compost to your flowerbeds and your pots at the start of each planting season. Fortunately, using compost is incredibly easy and environmentally friendly, no matter which route you choose.
How Long Does Composting Take?
There is no direct or right answer to this question as it depends on a couple of factors. Basically, you need just a few months to get the compost you want if you are engaged in the process. Regardless of whether you can wait a year or two to let the compost adequately mature or you need it as soon as possible, the factor below will determine how long the process of composting takes.
- The place of your bin
- The type of your compost bin
- The size of your compost pile
- The surface area of used material
- The level of ripening of compost you need
- The variety of materials you put into the bin
- The level of aeration and moisture of your bin
- The level of your engagement in the process (how many times you turn the pile).
In perfect conditions, it can take 2 to 4 months for homemade compost with regular turning but can take around 6 months to a year if the brown materials aren’t shredded first.
When Is The Compost Ready?
Compost is ready for any use when it has a dark brown crumbly texture, smells rich, dark earth rather than rotting vegetables. The pile has shrunk up to one-half its original volume, and the organic materials that you put in the pile are no longer recognizable.
One easy way to test finished compost is to take a few and put it in a sealed plastic bag. Open the bag and smell the compost after 3 days. Does it smell sour? If so, the compost is not ready and still has microorganisms at work. If it smells pleasant and earthy, it’s ready to use.
Using unfinished compost can damage plants. Undecayed “green” waste materials can harbor diseases and pests. Undecayed “brown” waste materials in the soil can temporarily decrease plant-available nitrogen. Immature compost can also introduce weed seeds as well as root-damaging organic acids.
How Can I Use My Compost?
Your compost is ready for use after you’ve successfully ‘cooked’ it. There are many things you can do with compost, and here are some ideas.
- Use as a mulch
- Use on your flowerbeds.
- Use for a potting soil mix
- Use to fertilize shrubs and trees
- Use to plant potatoes in containers
- Use to build and enrich your soil structure and water retention
Maintaining Your Compost
Make sure that you have the right balance of “browns and greens” for a heap to fully mature. Oxygen is a vital ingredient to any compost bin or pile, so ensure to give it a good stir once in a while.
Keeping your compost covered can help, as a cover keeps in moisture and heat. If your compost is dry, spray it with a hose but don’t soak it. Keep a close eye on your compost for signs of rodents, but if you avoid cooked foods and other products mentioned above, then there shouldn’t be an issue.
Mistakes to Avoid During Compost
There are some problems that you may encounter while composting. Below are a few of them and how you can solve the problem.
- If you have a large amount of green waste to compost, consider purchasing a chipper/shredder to grind your green waste into finer particles. Remember, smaller bits of green waste decompose faster than large pieces.
- If you experience an odor emitting from your compost, this is usually due to not covering waste deposited inside the bin or pile. When food waste is added to the pile, be sure to add some fresh grass or leaves on top of it and turn the pile immediately. This will keep the odors away.
- Altering the carbon to nitrogen ratio is very important. Carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves, cardboard, and paper should make up around 75 percent of the pile’s volume. Nitrogen-rich materials, including grass clippings, coffee grounds, and vegetable scraps should comprise the remaining 25 percent.
- The fungus and bacteria that stimulate the decomposition need a constant supply of fresh oxygen to perform their work. If your compost pile is extremely dense, then the oxygen will be cut off. Use a pitchfork to dismiss your compost and add loose materials like tree leaves or branches to address this problem.
Saving your food scraps and yard clippings and turning them into something that will nourish your garden is the perfect step in the right direction. Composting is a great way to rid of biodegradable waste in our environment.
The composting revolution is here. It’s time to wave goodbye to those shop-bought plastic sacks. We hope that this guide has cleared any issues or challenges you face when making compost at home. We encouraged you to get started if you haven’t already.