Instead of sending food scraps and yard waste to the landfill, why not compost them? Composting returns nutrients back to the soil and gives your garden a boost too! In this blog, we’ll go through the steps you need to get started.
Steps to Homemade Compost
Composting is simple. Add food scraps and yard waste to your compost bin. Occasionally turn and water the decomposing materials. Wait several months, and then you’ll have finished compost to use in your garden!
You really can’t go wrong. The most important part is just getting started. From there you can make a few changes that will help your compost break down faster.
1. Pick a composting set-up that works for your space
Before you start composting, you’ll need a container for the decomposing materials. There are many kinds of compost bins. Choose one that suits your space and preferences. With most stationary bins, you add compost to an opening at the top, turn the compost with a garden fork or shovel, and remove the finished compost from a door at the bottom. Tumbling composters allow you to easily turn and aerate the compost.
Another popular style is a 2 or 3-bin system that you can build yourself. You can even simply throw your composting materials into a pile to decompose. However, critters like racoons will likely rummage around for food scraps in open bins and piles, something that is unlikely with the stationary or tumbling composter options.
2. Add food scraps and yard waste to your composter in the right amounts
Your compost will break down faster if you have a balanced mix of browns and greens. Simply put, browns are dry plant material, such as dry leaves, sawdust and used potting soil, and greens are fresh plant material, like food scraps and grass clippings.
Add at least 1 part brown for every 1 part green. A good brown to green ratio will allow the microbes in your compost to break down the plant materials efficiently. Too much fresh plant material slows down decomposition and can cause your compost to smell. Some people suggest as much as 4 parts brown to 1 part green.
3. Turn or tumble compost
Your compost pile supports an ecosystem of helpful microbes that are turning your food scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost for your garden. These microbes need oxygen to do their job. Turn your compost regularly to evenly distribute oxygen throughout the pile.
Turn your compost every few weeks. In a tumbling composter, you can give your composter a quick spin every time you add in food scraps from the kitchen. Turn your compost whenever the pile looks compacted.
Aerating your compost is important, but there can be too much of a good thing. An active compost pile will warm up in the center from the microbial activity. The warmth also helps the materials break down. Turning too frequently can break up this activity and warmth.
4. Maintain moisture
A dry pile of organic material won’t break down. Any food scraps and fresh yard waste you add will help keep the pile moist. Water your pile with a hose during hot and dry weeks in the summer or whenever the pile starts to dry out.
5. How to know when the compost is done
Finished compost should be dark and crumbly. Big intact pieces are a sign that your compost still needs time. The compost should smell earthy and like soil. At this point, the pile should be about the same temperature as the air since it is no longer actively breaking down materials and releasing heat.
6. Add finished compost to garden beds and landscaping
It’s finally time to put the compost to use! Mix compost into potting soil, garden beds, and landscaped areas to build healthy soil and support your plants. You can also sprinkle it on top of soil or your lawn as an amendment.
What to Compost
For the most part, if it came from a plant, you can compost it!
- Greens, or fresh plant materials:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps, such as banana peels, onion skins, and apple cores
- Egg shells
- Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters
- Tea bags
- Grass clippings
- Plant trimmings
- Fresh leaves
- Browns, or dry plant materials:
- Dry leaves
- Woodchips and wood shavings
- Shredded paper
- Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
- Spent potting soil
What Not to Compost
Composting the following items can make your compost pile decompose slowly, attract critters, or spread weeds into your garden when you apply the compost.
- Meat and bones
- Fats, grease, or oil
- Oily pizza boxes
- Glossy paper
- Pet waste
- Invasive weeds and weeds with seeds
- Diseased plants
- Non-compostable materials, like plastic and metal
Tools to Use
- Compost bin– The Conservation Foundations sells several types of composters: the Earth Machine stationary composter as well as a tumbling and stationary composter from Upcycle Products. You’ll need additional supplies if you’re making a compost bin from scratch.
- Container to collect food scraps – This can be a bucket with a lid or a container made specifically for collecting food scraps. Make sure it has a securely fitting lid to prevent flies from getting into your container.
- Garden fork or shovel – for occasionally turning the compost.
- Hose or watering can – to add water to the pile to keep it consistently moist.
- There are other composting options if you have limited space. Try out kitchen composters or indoor vermicomposting!
- Your compost pile needs water to decompose efficiently, but not too much! Your decomposing compost should be damp or moist, but not wet.
- Green plant materials add nitrogen, brown plant materials add carbon. The microbes that break down your compost need a balanced mix of nitrogen and carbon.
- Avoid adding grass and plant clippings that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
- If your compost bin smells, try turning your compost regularly to add more air spaces into the mix.
- For more information on composting, watch our Composting 101 webinar!
If you can, composting at home just makes sense. By composting, you help bring back closed-loop systems to our modern lifestyle. Nutrients from food scraps and yard waste return to the soil to support new life, and nothing goes to waste.
Be Recognized for Your Earth-Friendly Choices
The Conservation Foundation’s Conservation@Home program recognizes homeowners who are composting, conserving water, and gardening with native plants that support our local ecosystem. When you meet the criteria, we’ll award you with a yard sign to show that your yard is actively working to help the environment and build healthy neighborhoods. If you’re not yet ready for certification, we’ll help you get there with a yard visit, personalized advice, and educational resources.
To help the earth, start at home! Learn more about Conservation@Home at https://www.theconservationfoundation.org/conservation-home/