How to Compost at Home for Beginners: A Super Easy Step-by-Step Guide

The composting process is good for the environment, your home, and your wallet! Here’s how to start a compost for beginners.

Are you tired of wasting food and filling up the landfills? What if I told you there’s an easy, eco-friendly, and budget-wise solution to this problem right in your own backyard?

It’s composting!

You can easily turn your waste into a valuable resource that can enrich your garden and reduce your environmental impact. I’ll show you how to compost at home – for beginners.

Key Takeaways

  • Composting is great for the environment, your home, and your wallet!
  • Start a compost pile to reduce waste, improve soil quality & recycle organic materials.
  • Composting is easy – just pick a spot, mix materials & turn it every couple of weeks!
A compost pile with grass clippings, yard waste, and food waste

Composting is an environmentally friendly way to reuse organic waste, improve soil, and reduce trash in landfills. It allows you to convert kitchen leftovers, grass cuttings, yard debris, and other similar materials into nutrient-rich fertilizers that can be spread on your garden beds.

Creating the pile is simple – just choose a location or use special bins with “green” (nitrogenous) ingredients like coffee grounds, food scraps, and clippings combined with brown ones made of dead leaves, branches & wood chips – plus some basic tools needed to mix it up regularly–and whala! Your job is done!

Easy peasy!

Why should you start a compost?

A compost bin filled with organic materials

Composting not only helps the environment, but it also helps your home, garden, and wallet. You can save money on fertilizer by reusing household waste. It’s better for you, and better for your garden!

Not to mention it is an excellent way to teach your kids about recycling and decomposing things. 😉 (Science fair project, anyone?)

How does composting work?

A compost pile with grass clippings, garden soil, and food scraps

Composting is the natural process of transforming organic waste into nutritious compost.

The right mix of green materials (nitrogen-rich) and brown materials (carbon-rich), combined with optimal conditions will produce this dark crumbly stuff that can be used to fertilize your garden soil!

But how does this magic happen? It’s all thanks to the millions of microorganisms that work tirelessly to break down the organic material. 

They munch away on your kitchen scraps and yard waste, converting them into a nutrient-rich compost that your plants will absolutely love.

These tiny little decomposers need a balanced diet of green and brown materials to work effectively, though. The green materials provide them with the necessary nitrogen for protein production, while the brown materials supply them with carbon, which gives them energy.

So next time you’re peeling vegetables or mowing your lawn, remember that you’re not just creating waste – you’re preparing a feast for your compost pile’s microscopic inhabitants!

What do I need to start a compost pile?

A compost tumbler with fresh compost

To get your compost pile started, you really only need three things:

  • a pail in your kitchen
  • a spot in your yard
  • a compost bin, if you want one

You’ll need a kitchen pail, to collect waste from in the house, before taking it out to the compost pile. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A simple ice cream pail will do.

But if you are worried about odors, a stainless steel bucket with a carbon filter, or a ceramic pail, will work well.

You’ll need a place for your pile, along with some tools for stirring it up once in a while, such as a hoe or pitchfork. 

You might want to put it close enough to the house that you don’t get tired of walking out there (especially in the winter) but far enough away that the smells and bugs don’t bother you. (Keep in mind though, if you have a lot of odor and insects, you are doing it all wrong!!)

You can use just a pile, or you can actually use a compost bin. You can build your own bin pretty easily from pallets (that’s what my husband did) or you can buy a commercial composter.

the compost bin my husband made out of recycled lumber

Honestly, a tote or tub works just as well.

What to compost

A young girl holding completed compost

Composting materials are divided into two categories: green and brown.

Green materials are “wet” materials, such as food scraps, coffee grounds, and green grass clippings. Brown materials are things like dried leaves, twigs, and paper. The green materials provide nitrogen and the brown materials provide carbon.

You need a good balance of both in your compost pile.

Here’s what you should compost:

  • produce scraps, such as onion peels, celery stalks, potato peels, banana peels, apple cores, etc.
  • eggshells
  • coffee grounds and coffee filters
  • tea bags
  • fresh grass clippings
  • dead leaves
  • straw
  • sawdust
  • garden vegetation
  • shredded brown paper bags
  • peat moss
  • wood ash
  • conifer needles
  • house plant trimmings
  • cardboard
  • shredded newspaper
  • napkins
  • paper towels
  • cotton and wool rags
  • hair and fur
  • flowers

Keep in mind that some things break down faster than others, but all of these things eventually will break down. And they all give your compost that light, fluffy body.

What not to compost

While there are a lot of things that you can compost, there are a few things that you should definitely stay away from:

  • Meat, bones, or fish scraps. They’ll attract pests.
  • Leftovers that aren’t plant materials. Dairy products, fats, cooking oils, and grease will produce an odor and attract pests. Baked goods may also introduce harmful bacteria.
  • Bigger branches, wood chips, and stalks from the garden. They don’t break down as quickly.
  • Yard waste that has been treated with chemical fertilizers.
  • Weed seeds and weed roots. You could reintroduce the weed to your garden.
  • Diseased plants. You could introduce the disease to your garden produce.
  • Pet waste. It might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.

It’s probably easier to remember what not to compost since the list is shorter than what you can compost! 😉

How to start a compost for beginners

A compost container with compost heap and plant material

Getting started is super easy!

  1. Find your spot.

You need a spot that is kinda wet, or can get wet, has good air movement, and is in the sun during the winter and in the shade during the summer.

  1. Choose your bin.

You don’t need a bin; a pile will do just fine. But a bin does keep it more organized and out of sight. You can easily make your own or buy one.

  1. Start your pile!

Your first layer of compost should be brown materials.

These materials are carbon-rich and include items like dried leaves, straw, wood chips, and shredded newspaper. 

This layer forms the base of your compost pile and kick-starts the composting process by providing the essential carbon needed for the microorganisms to break down the waste. 

It also helps with aeration and drainage, preventing the compost pile from becoming too compacted or waterlogged, both of which can slow down the composting process.

Then you can add your green materials from your kitchen. Just keep a pail in your kitchen, and throw your discarded produce in it! At the end of the day, walk it out to the compost pile.

Keep alternating between green materials and brown materials.

  1. Stir your pile.

Every few weeks, you need to stir your pile to make sure oxygen reaches every part of it. The little microbes that are hard at work breaking down your kitchen scraps and yard waste need it!

Stirring your compost pile helps to distribute moisture evenly throughout the pile, too.

Plus, it helps to prevent the formation of any ‘hot spots’ where decomposition is happening too rapidly or ‘cold spots’ where decomposition is slower.

How to use your compost pile

home composting

Using your compost is just as easy as creating it!

You can:

  • Add it to your flower beds.
  • Spread it around your yard.
  • Add it to your garden.
  • Use it in potted plants.

Don’t bring it inside though! You might have bugs in it. 🤢

Composting tips for beginners

a compost pile with compost regularly and compost activators

Composting is pretty hard to mess up. But sometimes it can go all wrong!

Here’s a few tips to get you started:

  1. Break up bigger items, like sticks and branches, to speed up the decomposing process.
  2. Try not to dump leaves and grass clippings in clumps. It’ll mat together and reduce aeration.
  3. Layer brown matter over green materials to discourage fruit flies and bees.
  4. Use a bin, to discourage critters, like raccoons, from enjoying your compost heap.
  5. Put your pile in a spot that you will eventually use as a garden, or a garden bed, and then move it once a year. The soil left behind will be super fertile and ready for planting!
  6. Your compost pile should be warm – around 130 to 150 degrees. You can get a compost thermometer to keep an eye on the temp if you’d like.
  7. You can compost in the winter too!

FAQ’s

Composting seems a lot harder than it is. Here are some of the most common questions about composting.

What are the easiest steps to compost?

a step by step guide on how to compost at home for beginners

For successful composting, all you need to do is pick a spot and a method, collect some green and brown materials, and layer the contents in your bin or heap. Keep it damp, and stir it every few weeks. Make sure it stays warm too.

That’s literally how easy composting is!

Is composting easy?

Yes, composting is super easy, once you understand the right combination of green and brown materials and how to layer them.

What is a worm composter?

Worm composting is actually a great substitute for conventional composting methods, and is especially useful for those with limited outdoor space. A worm composter uses small red wigglers – or worms – to break down the organic matter.

What are the potential problems with composting?

Composting is so easy, you probably won’t have any problems at all. 

But here are a few things that might have you worried:

  1. Odor. If your compost pile stinks, stir it up and then add some grass clippings or dried leaves.
  2. Insects. If it attracts flies or bees, add some dried leaves or grass clippings over the produce. And wash your kitchen pail after every dump.
  3. Animals. Depending on where you live, animals may be an issue. Keep your pile in an enclosed bin with a lid.
  4. Messy. Some people think composting is messy, but it’s really not! Especially if you keep it in a bin.

What is a composting tumbler?

A composting tumbler is a type of container specifically made for composting organic materials. They often have handles that you can use to rotate or spin the bin, as well, to help with stirring.

What is a compost bin?

Compost bins are used to keep your compost pile in. They can be made from wood or plastic, and they can be open or sealed. They also come in various shapes and sizes.

Can I put moldy fruit in my compost?

Yes! Decomposed moldy fruit will provide awesome nutrition for your finished compost. Just be sure to add a layer of brown materials on top of the fruit scraps so that you don’t attract flies and bees.

How often should I turn my compost pile?

Turn your compost pile every couple of weeks to ensure optimal aeration and moisture levels.

What are the 3 parts you need to start composting?

Composting requires organic matter, moisture, and air. Organic material in your compost pile can come from food scraps, yard waste, or other decomposable elements.

What is the easiest way to compost at home?

a compost pile with started composting and composted material

Setting up a compost pile or bin near your garden is the easiest way to compost at home. 

Start by layering green and brown items like food scraps, grass clippings, and dried leaves in your pile. Regularly stir it up to keep it moist and airy. 

In about six months, you will have a beautiful fertilizer for your garden!

How do you start a compost pile in a container?

a compost bin with beginners composting and beneficial organisms

Starting a compost pile in a container is easy too!

To get started, choose your container. A plastic or wooden box or bin with holes is best. The holes in the bin allow for excess moisture to drain out, keeping it damp for the decomposition process.

Plastic bins are a good choice due to their durability and resistance to weather conditions. On the other hand, wooden bins can provide a more natural aesthetic and can also be more environmentally friendly.

Regardless of the material, the most important factor is ensuring that the bin has good air circulation and drainage capabilities.

Start by layering brush, hay, or straw with produce scraps. This is the basic structure of your compost pile.

The green materials, like your produce scraps, are rich in nitrogen and are essential for the composting process. The brown materials, such as brush, hay, or straw, are rich in carbon and play an equally important role in composting.

The key is to alternate between these green and brown materials. By layering these materials, you are ensuring that air can easily circulate throughout your compost pile.

Then you need to stir your compost pile every couple of weeks. This helps to keep it damp and oxygenated, two conditions that are crucial for the composting process.

How to start a compost pile in an apartment?

Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, works great in an apartment.

This method of composting involves the use of worms, specifically red wigglers, to consume organic waste and convert it into nutrient-rich compost. The composting process is odorless, which makes it perfect for indoor use. Plus, it’s a fascinating process that can even be a fun, educational tool for kids.

Compost tumblers are another option, especially if you are lucky enough to have a balcony. They are easy to use and actually speed up the composting process. Compost tumblers are essentially barrels mounted on a stand that can be easily rotated and are perfect for people with limited space.

They’re also great for people who find the idea of turning a compost pile manually a bit daunting.

Countertop food digesters could work in an apartment as well. 

These compact devices are designed to fit on your kitchen counter and can quickly turn your food scraps into nutrient-rich compost. They’re super easy to use. Just add your food scraps into the digester, and it will break them down into compost within a few hours.

Plus, they’re odor-free and require very little maintenance.

After the dust settles…

Composting is an easy way to recycle your organic waste, fertilize your garden, and improve the health of your plants, while simultaneously reducing your ecological footprint.

By composting, you are essentially creating a closed-loop system, where the waste you produce is not really waste at all, but a valuable resource! You’ll never feel guilty about moldy broccoli or a half-eaten apple again!

It’s a simple process that transforms your kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil, perfect for gardening. This practice not only reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, but it also enriches your soil, promotes higher crop yields, and aids in retaining soil moisture. 

It’s a win-win situation for both you and the environment!

Although it’s an easy process, you do still have to take care of it, though.

Composting requires some attention and maintenance, but don’t worry, it’s nothing too demanding.

You’ll need to turn your compost pile regularly to ensure that the materials are well mixed and that air can circulate, aiding the decomposition process.

Also, it’s important to maintain the right balance between green and brown materials to ensure that your compost pile doesn’t become too wet or too dry. 

Remember, your compost pile is a living ecosystem, and just like any other living thing, it needs the right conditions to thrive.

With a little time and attention, you’ll be well on your way to creating rich, nutritious compost that your plants will love.

Before you go!

Want to learn more about living an eco-conscious lifestyle? Learn how to become environmentally friendly in our post, What does Eco-Conscious Mean and How Do I Become Environmentally-Friendly?

We talk about reducing your carbon footprint, making sustainable choices in your day-to-day life, and adopting habits that benefit both you and the environment.

Our comprehensive guide will provide you with practical tips and advice on how to easily transition to a greener lifestyle, from making simple changes at home to advocating for environmental policies in your community.

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What Does Eco-Conscious Mean and How Do I Become Environmentally Friendly?

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