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How to Start Composting at Home: Everything You Need to Know

Want to learn how to start composting at home? This guide will teach you everything you need to know to become a composting pro.

Written by
Laura Beiler

Composting is one of the best ways to be more eco-friendly at home. It keeps food waste out of landfills, with the average person saving nearly 277 pounds of waste per year.

Aside from reducing food waste, compost also benefits your outdoor garden or indoor jungle. The nutrient-rich material can be added to the soil of your flower beds, vegetable gardens, houseplants, and more, helping your plants thrive.

Want to learn how to start composting at home? Here's everything you need to know, from the importance of browns and greens to what not to add to your pile.

How to Start Composting at Home

1. Think About Your Space

No matter how large or small your home or yard is, there are many different options for composting. If you don’t have a large garden, or the space to have a large compost pile, you can buy smaller kitchen counter compost bins. These are also handy to have around so you don’t need to make so many trips to a larger pile outside, or if you're just getting started. 

If you have the space for a bigger pile outside, you can simply create a pile and use a shovel to turn it, or you can build simple bins from wood. Many people choose to purchase large bins, and you can even find ones that rotate, saving you time.

2. Know the Importance of 'Browns and Greens'

You've probably heard of your "browns" and "greens." But what does that mean exactly? Basically, it means having a good balance between dead/decaying items and fresh items in your compost.

The browns can consist of twigs, dead leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded paper, and even pine needles. Items like straw and brush help keep air pockets in the compost, which is important for the oxygen flow. These “browns” are carbon sources, which also help your compost and make your new soil rich.

The next step, greens, can be things from your kitchen, like fruit and veggie scraps (but not citrus), grass clippings, coffee grounds, and tea. Chop up your food scraps to help them break down better. The “greens” in your compost add nitrogen, which also creates rich soil.

As a rule of thumb, stick to about 30 parts browns to 1 part greens for the best mix.

3. Consider Organisms for Composting

Earthworms are always good for composting, but there are also microorganisms that are important to the composting process. You can get these from old compost, potting soil, and compost starters. Having one or more of these is essential to a healthy compost.

4. Layer Up

Once you have your bin, browns, greens, it's time to make your compost layers. First layer on the sticks, straw, or brush. Next, add your browns, then your greens, and lastly, your soil. Then wet it down until it's slightly damp (too much moisture leads to mold and maggots).

After you've dampened it, you'll want to give it a good turn. If you don't have a rotating bin, grab a shovel and start mixing.

5. Know What Not to Add to Your Compost

As you're starting and maintaining your compost, there are some things you won't want to add to your compost, as they can breed bad bacteria, germs, and maggots.

First, you'll want to avoid dog poop, cat poop or litter, bird poop, and other pet feces. Dairy products, meat, and oils should also not be added.

As mentioned earlier, citrus fruits should be avoided as well (use them to make a bird feeder instead!), as they disturb the pH levels in your soil, which inhibits the composting process.

6. Learn How to Maintain Your Compost

Now that you've started your compost, you'll need to do some work to keep it going. Remember: oxygen is important, so turning the pile helps. Piles will naturally heat as nitrogen and carbon build up, so it's important to make sure the pile is hot and has good drainage.

Your pile should always be damp and not overly wet. A good visualization is to imagine a damp sponge; wrung out but not dry. By adding in kitchen scraps, you're feeding the good microorganisms, and this cuts down on how much water you need to add to your compost.

7. Be Patient

Most compost piles will take 3 to 6 months to complete. This means you'll have to plan ahead. Once you've completed your compost, you can store it, but you should protect it from extreme weather.

If you're able to make compost twice a year, you can spread it on your garden in the spring before planting and in the fall after harvest to help keep your garden healthy. We hope these tips bring you a healthy garden full of fresh flowers, vegetables, or whatever your heart desires.