7 Easy Steps to Composting

Composting is a form of recycling that has many benefits. By composting, you can reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden, and save money on fertilizer.

compost pile with hay and manure and sheep in the background
compost pile with hay and manure

The process of composting involves breaking down organic materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, into a usable form. This can be done through simple methods, such as placing organic materials in a bin and allowing them to decompose naturally.

However, there are also many commercial composters available that speed up the process.

No matter which method you choose, composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact while also improving your garden.

Composting 101: Stupid-Easy Compost Making in Piles & Bins

Types of Composting

Composting is a process of breaking down organic materials into a simple form that can be used as fertilizer for plants.

There are a few main types of composting to be aware of. If you’re interested in composting but not sure which method is right for you, consider consulting with a local gardening expert.

Cold Composting

Cold composting is a method of decomposing organic matter, such as leaves and grass clippings, without the use of heat.

Unlike hot composting, which can reach temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), cold composting occurs at ambient air temperatures.

As a result, cold composting takes longer than hot composting, typically taking several months to a year.

However, it is a simpler process that does not require as much attention. Cold composting also has the advantage of not killing weed seeds, making it ideal for recycling garden waste.

To cold compost effectively, it is important to chop or shred materials to increase surface area and create a mix of high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials.

Once you have assembled your ingredients, simply pile them up and let nature take its course. Over time, the pile will shrink as the material breaks down into rich, crumbly compost.

Hot Composting

Hot composting is a method of composting that uses high temperatures to speed up the decomposition process. When done correctly, hot composting can produce finished compost in as little as two weeks.

The key to successful hot composting is maintaining proper aeration and moisture levels. This can be accomplished by regularly turning the compost pile and adding water as needed.

In addition, hot composting requires a balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. A good ratio to aim for is 30:1 carbon to nitrogen.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to convert organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. It is an efficient and eco-friendly way to reduce the volume of your kitchen scraps while also producing a valuable product for your garden.

The worms consume the organic matter and break it down into a substance known as casts, which are an excellent source of nutrients for plants.

Vermicomposting can be done in a simple bin system or in a more complex setup with multiple bins. Either way, it is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint while also creating a free, natural fertilizer for your plants.

Find the Right Spot for Your Compost

If you’re thinking about composting, one of the first things you’ll need to decide is where to put your compost bin. There are two main options: outdoors in your backyard, or indoors in your kitchen.

Both have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the option that’s right for you.

If you have a large backyard, then outdoor composting is a great choice. You’ll be able to let nature take its course, and the end result will be healthy, nutrient-rich soil.

However, if you live in an apartment or don’t have much space in your yard, then indoor composting may be a better option.

It’s important to keep indoor compost bins clean and free of pests, but if you do it right, you’ll still be able to produce high-quality compost. So whichever option you choose, just make sure it’s the right one for you.

Having an outside compost area doesn’t require a lot of room, really. You can make a compost area out of old pallets, a large piece of chicken wire wrapped around 4 posts, or use a composting barrel.

wooden pallets for compost bin
wooden pallets for compost bin

Simply empty your bucket out there when it gets full. This may present a bit of challenge to those living in an apartment or without a place outside to put a large area. BUT, it can be done.

Make or Buy a Bin for Your Compost

You can make your own bin, buy a bin, or simply compost in a pile.

If you decide to make your own bin, there are many different plans available online or in books.

How to Build a Compost Bin! Simple, Step by Step, DIY Tutorial!

You can also find bins at hardware stores or home improvement stores. If you decide to buy a bin, be sure to choose one that is the right size for your needs and that has a tight-fitting lid to keep out pests.

You can also find bins with two compartments, which is handy for turning the compost.

There are also many different ways to compost without a bin. One method is simply to pile the compostable materials in a corner of your yard. Another method is to dig a hole and bury the material.

Steps to Composting

Composting is a great way to reduce your household waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Best of all, it’s easy to do! Here are a few simple steps to get you started.

Choose What to Compost

Composting is a great way to reduce waste and encourage healthy plant growth. But what can you actually compost? The answer may surprise you.

In addition to common kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells, you can also compost paper products, yard waste, and even some types of clothing.

Basically, anything that was once alive can be composted. This includes leaves, twigs, and grass clippings.

Pro tip: It’s helpful to shred or grind up larger materials before adding them to the bin. This will help them break down more quickly.

Collect Your Green Material

Your kitchen scraps are known as “green” material. Simple enough, right? Grab yourself an old ice cream bucket, an old kitty litter bucket, or any bucket with a lid. Go to your local grocery store’s bakery and ask for an old icing bucket.

They will usually give them out for free so they don’t have to deal with the trash. Store it in an easy to remember space, like either on the counter next to the sink, or under the sink in the kitchen.

To use, simply add all your food scraps to the bucket.

Avoid adding meat, bones, grease, or cheese, as they take a lot longer to decompose. They can also attract rodents. Citrus peels should also NOT be added to the compost bucket for the same reason.

Use the peels to make your own natural cleaner. Your grass clippings when you mow the lawn, recently pulled weeds from the garden are also “green” material.

What are some other “green” materials you can use?

Most people know that kitchen scraps and grass clippings can be added to a compost pile. However, there are many other types of “green” materials that can be used as well.

Coffee grounds, for example, are a great source of nitrogen. Banana peels and yard trimmings work great, too.

eggshells and coffee grounds in a compost container
eggshells and coffee grounds in a compost container

Eggshells add calcium, which is essential for plant growth. Even hair and nail clippings can be composted, as they contain valuable phosphorus and potassium. In general, any type of organic material can be added to a compost pile.

So don’t be afraid to experiment – you may be surprised at what makes for good compost!

Collect Your Brown Material

This would be shredded newspaper, sawdust, cardboard, shredded toilet paper tubes, wood chips, dry leaves, and straw. Instead of recycling that old newspaper, tear it into shreds and layer it on top of the green materials.

You will want to keep a ratio of 3 “browns” to every 1 “green” to keep the compost from smelling. If it starts to produce odors, you may need to add some more “brown” to the mix.

Did you know that the ratio of greens to browns in your compost bin is important for the health of your compost?

Greens are high in nitrogen, while browns are high in carbon. The right ratio of greens to browns helps to ensure that your compost has the right amount of both nutrients.

Too much nitrogen can cause your compost to smell bad, while too much carbon can make it take longer to break down.

Mix Together the Compost

Add a layer of dead leaves or grass clippings to the bottom of the bin. Next, add a layer of green waste such as vegetable peelings or fruit scraps. Finally, top it off with a layer of soil.

Once you’ve added all the layers, simply mix them together with a shovel or pitchfork. Be sure to turn the compost regularly so that air can circulate and speed up the decomposition process.

In no time at all, you’ll have rich, nutrient-filled compost that’s perfect for adding to your garden beds.

Wait and Aerate

One of the most important things you can do for your compost bin is to aerate it regularly.

Aerating helps to break up any clumps that may have formed, and it also allows oxygen to reach the microorganisms that are busy breaking down your organic matter.

You can aerate your compost bin simply by turning it with a shovel or pitchfork every few weeks. So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – your compost bin will thank you for it!

Keep the Compost Damp

You don’t want it overly wet, but keeping it damp will help attract worms and keep the compost decomposing. If you find that it seems “dry”, hose it down a bit.

Again, you don’t want to run the water all over, but just so that it’s damp. A nice, “gooshy” mess is what you are looking for. If it gets too dry, the worms will leave and find a more moist home.

Keep the Compost Turned

This is easy enough to do. For a large compost pile, simply take a pitch fork once a week or so and “turn” the pile, mixing the top down to the bottom as much as possible.

This keeps air going to it, and the decomposition going. The more air it gets, the hotter it will get, and the faster it will decompose.

If you have a small space, or don’t want to use a big pitchfork, a turning bin makes it easy to turn the compost and I have had great success getting good compost in as little as 3 weeks with it!

large compost area
large compost area

Use Compost to Feed Your Garden

Some gardeners may not be aware of the best way to use compost in their garden. The key is to apply it evenly and at the right time.

For example, compost can be applied before planting to help the roots get established. It can also be added during the growing season to provide a boost of nutrients.

How to Tell When Compost is Ready

For anyone who is interested in gardening, composting is a great way to create nutrient-rich soil for plants.

And while it may seem like a simple process, there is actually a bit of science involved in making sure that the compost is ready to use.

One way to tell if compost is ready is by its color. When it first starts to decompose, compost will be dry and brown. As it continues to break down, it will become darker and more crumbly.

Once it is ready to use, compost should be a dark, rich brown color and have a pleasant earthy smell. Another way to tell if compost is ready is by its texture.

Fresh compost will be chunky and rough, but as it decomposes, it will become finer and more crumbly.

If you are still unsure, simply give the compost a squeeze – if it forms together in your hand without being too wet or dry, then it is ready to use.

What NOT to Compost

Not all materials are suitable for composting. Some items, such as meat and dairy products, can release harmful bacteria into the compost pile.

Others, such as plastic and glass, will not break down over time. And still others, such as pet waste and treated wood, can release toxins that can harm plants.

As a result, it’s important to be selective about what goes into a compost pile.

The no-no list:

  • ❌ meat
  • ❌ dairy
  • ❌plastic
  • ❌ glass
  • ❌ pet waste
  • ❌ treated wood

Compost Troubleshooting

Here are some common composting problems and how to solve them.

Compost is Too Wet

If your compost is too wet, there are a few things you can do to fix the problem.

First, try adding more dry materials such as leaves, straw, or shredded newspaper. This will help to absorb some of the excess moisture.

Next, make sure you are aerating your compost regularly. This will help to keep the material from getting too compacted and will allow excess moisture to evaporate.

Finally, if your compost bin is located in a shady spot, move it to a sunnier location. The heat will help to evaporate any excess moisture.

Compost Smells Bad

If your compost pile smells bad, it may be because it’s too wet or there’s not enough air circulation. To fix this, mix in some dry leaves or straw and make sure the pile isn’t too compacted.

Composting Weeds

Composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

And it’s easy to do! All you need is some organic matter, like kitchen scraps and leaves, and a way to contain it all.

But what about weeds? Do they belong in the compost pile?

The answer is… maybe. If the weeds are young and haven’t gone to seed yet, they can probably be composted without issue.

However, if the weeds are mature and have already dropped seeds, it’s best to err on the side of caution and compost them separately. That way, you won’t risk introducing more weed seeds into your garden.

You can also try composting weed seeds, but it’s not guaranteed to kill them all.

The bottom line is that composting is a great way to reduce waste and build healthy soil, but make sure you know what you’re putting in your compost pile!

Flies or Insects

If your compost is full of flies, it may be because it’s too moist, or there’s too much food waste in the mix. To fix this, add more dry brown material, and cover the pile with a tarp or lid.

Compost Pile is Steaming

If you’ve ever had a compost pile, you know that they can get pretty hot – but what does it mean when your compost pile is steaming? It turns out, it’s a good sign!

When the temperature of your compost pile gets hot enough, it means that the microbes are working hard to break down the organic matter.

This process is essential to creating rich, nutrient-dense compost that will be great for your garden. So if you see steam coming off your compost pile, it just means that everything is working as it should!

Not Heating Up

If your compost isn’t heating up, it may be because it’s too small or there’s too much green material. To fix this, add more brown material such as dead leaves or twigs, and turn the pile regularly to aerate it.

Materials Are Clumping Together

If your compost pile is made up of mostly green materials, like grass clippings and vegetable scraps, it’s likely that the materials are clumping together.

This is due to the high nitrogen content of green materials, which acts as a glue to bind the other organic matter together.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can make it difficult for air to circulate within the compost pile, which is essential for the composting process.

To fix this problem, simply add a layer of brown materials, such as dead leaves or twigs, on top of the green materials.

The brown materials will help to aerate the compost pile and prevent the materials from clumping together.

Can You Compost in an Urban Location?

You might think that composting is only possible if you have a large backyard or live in a rural area. However, with a little bit of planning, you can easily compost in an urban location.

One option is to use a worm bin. Worms eat organic matter and produce nutrient-rich compost.

Another option is to use a small outdoor compost bin. If you don’t have space for an outdoor bin, you can even compost indoors using a special container.

Can’t Compost Where You Live? Try Municipal Composting

If you’re interested in composting but don’t have the space for a compost bin, there’s good news. Many municipalities now offer composting programs that allow residents to drop off their food scraps at designated locations.

The food scraps are then taken to a central location, where they are turned into nutrient-rich compost. This compost can be used by the municipality to improve local parks and gardens, or it can be sold to local farmers and gardeners.

Municipal composting programs are a great way to reduce waste and help the environment. And best of all, they’re usually free or very affordable.

So if you’re looking for a way to get started with composting, check to see if your municipality offers a composting program.

Final Thoughts

Composting is a great way to reduce your waste, and it’s easier than you think. If you’re not sure where to start, consider these easy steps to get started composting today.

Once you get the hang of it, you may find that composting becomes one of your favorite sustainable habits.

So, getting your black gold for your garden isn’t hard. Just grab a bucket and you are on your way!

five easy steps to composting

last update: August 5th 2022

16 thoughts on “7 Easy Steps to Composting”

  1. Amanda @Natural Living Mamma

    We have a compost pile we have been keeping going all winter and I plan on sorting it out and getting the ratios right once the snow melts. I love homemade compost! Thanks for the great post.

  2. I don’t do much of a garden but I’d love to start one. I only have a small flower garden in my back yard. I do save my coffee grinds for my azaleas though because I heard the acidity is good for them

  3. Shannon @ GrowingSlower

    Composting is really so easy! And I love that it diverts most of our food waste from the garbage (whatever doesn’t go to the chickens that is).

  4. Chrystal @ Happy Mothering

    Whenever we finally move to a house we plan on staying at long-term, we definitely plan to compost. I’m using the deep litter method in our chicken coop this year, so we will have compost from that.

  5. Love composting, it makes me happy turning rubbish into such useful stuff, thanks for the tips!! I am not able to turn mine as I have chronic pain but if you have chickens they make fine compost turners and make a great job of it if you cannot do it yourself.

  6. Perfect timing! I was literally thinking this morning that I needed to start composting, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it 🙂

    1. Isn’t it awesome that you don’t need a lot to start off? Composting is so easy, I think that everyone should do it as much as possible.

  7. Greetings from Maine.
    You shared 4 browns to every 1 green to make a good compost mix. Does this means that if I place salad scraps, ie cucumber peels, carrots shavings, brown lettuce leaves, onions scraps..etc into my compost bin I then need to add 4 times that amount (visible measure) in brown ,material to balance it well kind of in an alternately pattern? I want to revamp my composting this summer. Over the winter most all my greens go to my chickens, I never really thought of news papers etc. as brown material, I typically use leaves. Any clarification of suggestions on what this ratio balance looks like would be very helpful!
    Thank you! Tracy G

    1. that’s a starting ratio, and to be honest…I do the best I can to maintain that. If it looks like more kitchen scraps are going in, then I add some shredded newspaper or cardboard in the winter, or grass clippings in the Spring and leaves in the fall. Try not to worry too much about it, but keep it turned and damp if at all possible 🙂 Hope that helps!

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