If you like the thought of minimizing waste, getting the most out of your food purchases, and becoming more in touch with the food-growing process, composting is a great way to accomplish it all! I’m all about living simply and intentionally, and aim to minimize stress and complication wherever possible. So here’s a simple how-to on composting for beginners!
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There’s something satisfying about the food cycle and how it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The seed turns into a plant, the plant bears fruit, the fruit is harvested for food, and the food scraps are piled into a compost. There, they decompose, producing material rich in nutrients and minerals that fertilize the soil for the next round of seeds. I wanted to create this composting for beginners guide so you could start your own cycle with ease!
Let’s get right to it.
Step 1: Choose Your Composting Method
There are a few composting methods that you can choose from. The best method depends on your physical abilities, available space, and personal preferences.
- Piling: This simple method entails picking a level spot of your yard and piling your contents on the bare earth. Doing so invites microbes to the compost and allows for maximized airflow which will enhance decomposition and ventilation.
- Tumblers: These enclosed cylinders make turning your compost a breeze with handles that aid in “tumbling” the contents inside. This method is a great way to to start composting for beginners, since it does the tumbling and ventilating for you! Here’s an example of a tumbler: Tumbling Composter.
- Bins: Open bins provide a surrounding barrier to help protect the pile from animals and wind while allowing moisture and air to enter through the top. Enclosed bins are a good option for those who live in rainy climates or need protection from hungry rodents. The wonderous thing about this method is that you can choose almost any container to get started. I used an old tote, cleaned it out, drilled holes on the sides/in the lid, and then started layering! There are also specialized bins made for worm composting (vermicomposting) if that’s the route you want to take.
Once you’ve chosen your method, aim to make your compost at least 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet long.
You can also buy a countertop compost bin, which will hold your food scraps inside until you’re ready to bring the materials outside to your main compost. This makes it easier to save your scraps without stinking up the kitchen.
Step 2: Adding the Contents
What Materials Do You Need to Start Composting?
Compost is made up of two types of materials:
- Green: This is the organic material that adds nitrogen to your compost. These materials are your “wet” items and include things like grass clippings, fruit/vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags. You want 1/3 of your compost to be made up of green material.
- Brown: This is the organic material that adds carbon to your compost. These materials are your “dry” items such as small twigs, hay, wood ash, straw, saw dust, old leaves, pine needles and cardboard. 2/3 of your compost should come from brown material.
Your base layer will be a couple inches of brown materials. Using small twigs and straw will allow for draining of excess water at the bottom of the pile. Next you can add your first layer of green material. Continue alternating between layers of brown and green material while maintaining the balance of 1/3 green and 2/3 brown.
What Can’t you Compost?
Materials to avoid adding to your compost include meat, bones, diseased plants, perennial weeds, seeds, plant roots, dairy, processed foods, fats, oils, charcoal, human feces, and carnivorous pet feces.
Composting for Beginners Step 3: Water and Turn
Watering: If you have a pile or open bin, most of your water will come from rainfall. If you have a tumbler or enclosed bin, your water will come from the moisture of the green materials and water that you add to the compost. As a rule of thumb, the compost should be damp, but not dripping when squeezed in your hand. If there is excess water, you can add more brown material to soak it up, or turn the pile.
Turning: You should turn your pile about once a week. This process will supply oxygen to your compost, which is a key component in material breakdown. As stated in the paragraph above, you can turn your pile more frequently if you notice too much water buildup. You might also turn your pile less frequently if you have enough twigs and/or straw allowing for ventilation throughout the materials.
With proper balance, the green material, brown material, water, and air will work together to heat up the pile and break down the components of the compost. Over time, you’ll be left with a crumbly, slightly sweet smelling compost to nourish and condition your garden soil. If you’re interested in using this soil to grow your own food, be sure to read my post on starting a vegetable garden from scratch!
Composting for Beginners: Frequently Asked Questions
- How long does it take for compost to turn to soil?
It usually takes about 6 months for the materials to break down and turn into nutrient-dense soil.
- How to speed up composting?
To speed up the composting process, break the contents into small pieces so that they’ll decompose faster. Keep a close eye on moisture balance and the green-to-brown material (1:3) ratio. You can add worms or a compost starter to help break down the materials faster!
- What to do if my compost is too wet?
If your compost is too wet, add more brown materials and then turn your pile. If you’re using a homemade enclosed bin, make sure your pile is getting enough ventilation by keeping the lid off on days with clear skies.
- What if my compost is too dry?
Add more green materials if your compost is too dry. You may also need to mist your pile with water so that it’s damp to touch, but not dripping.