Starting a compost pile at home is an excellent habit to start for anyone looking to recycle their food scraps and plant matter, and to create nutrient-rich soil for future gardens.
Composting at home is pretty simple, and you can get started for free! I’ve broken it all down below to get you started and on your way to your own compost pile.
Decomposed compost is a great resource to have available for any gardener, or yard enthusiast. While most of us think of fertilizing our houseplants, it can be harder to think of adding nutrients and supplements to your garden beds, trees, and lawns.
While making your own fertilizer at home can be relatively easy, it won’t be as packed full of essential nutrients as good composting material will be.
It takes time for your compost to break down and be usable, so start today to reap the bounty in the future.
How to Start to Composting
There are actually a few different composting methods to choose from when starting out. The easiest and cheapest method is called heap composting.
Heap composting is great for newbies, as you can start the pile right in your backyard. You can start it without any structures, right on top of the soil. You can also choose to use any large bin such as a plastic garbage bin. This gives you the freedom to move the compost site if necessary.
Typically, you can start a compost pile any time of the year, but fall is a great time to start due to all the organic nitrogen and carbon materials that are readily available. I’ll talk more about the materials used in a second.
The steps towards composting can be broken down as follows: choosing a location, adding organic materials, adding water, and turning the pile, as necessary.
Step 1: Choosing a location for your compost pile
First things first, you need to choose a location to start your pile. The best location is one that gets partial shade and sun. An area that gets good drainage is also ideal. You don’t want your pile to be located in an area that floods or will have a lot of standing water.
Placing your pile directly on the ground and not on the pavement is also very important. Even if you are building the compost pile in a bin, you’ll want to place the bin on the ground if possible. This makes it easier for all the microorganisms and worms to get access to the pile. These are what speed up the decomposing and breaking down of the organic materials you’ll be adding to the pile.
Step 2: Adding your organic materials
Now that you’ve got the perfect location picked out, it’s time to start building the pile. Essentially you are going to create a mixture with two different types of compost materials. These two categories are nitrogen-based, or carbon-based.
- Carbon-based: These materials increase the overall size of the pile and allow for proper aeration.
The following are all carbon-rich: wood chips, dried leaves, coffee grounds, eggshells, shredded newspaper, straw/hay, pine needles, corn husks, and wood ash.
- Nitrogen-based: These organic materials are protein-rich and provide what’s needed for making the enzymes that will help break down the compost pile.
These are all nitrogen-rich: food scraps (no meat, bones, or dairy), green lawn clippings, kitchen waste, and green leaves.
You always want to have more carbon materials than nitrogen-based in your composting heap. A good ratio to shoot for would be one-third carbon and two-thirds nitrogen-based material.
- When starting your pile, the best building technique is to make alternating layers of your carbon and nitrogen materials. Usually starting the bottom with some bulkier carbon materials such as dried leaves and pine needles.
- Grass clippings work great for the next layer of nitrogen materials.
- Continue adding your materials in this fashion until you run out of material or reach the top of the bin you’re using. To create as little smell as possible try and cover the top of the pile in carbon-based materials. This will help with the smell immensely.
- Adding some dirt to your pile can be a good boost of microorganisms to the pile, and helps the decomposing process go faster.
Step 3: Watering and turning the compost pile
Once you finish adding all your materials to the pile, you’re going to want to give it a good watering.
You want to keep the pile moist, but not overly saturated after the initial watering. If you live in really dry areas you may want to water the pile yourself during long periods of no rain.
During the rainy season, it can be good to cover the pile if possible. Using a tarp or the lid in the bin is a good way to keep the entire pile from being soaked for long periods of time. You can also turn the pile over more frequently to help it dry out faster.
- Turning the pile: Every couple of weeks mix the pile-up using a shovel or pitchfork. This brings more oxygen into the pile, which is needed for the composting to work. Turning the pile regularly will help speed the entire process up.
- As you are adding ingredients to the pile over time, you will want to mix the new materials into the pile each time.
- Make sure to REALLY mix this pile-up. It’s very important for aerating the pile. This is even more important when using a bin.
When the compost is available to use?
This can depend on how fast the breaking down of materials goes. It can take anywhere from four weeks to twelve months for the materials to be fully decomposed.
Finished compost should look like dark, crumbly topsoil. If you can still see what looks like the starting ingredients, you should give the pile some more time to work.
How to Use Compost
FINALLY, it’s time to reap the rewards of working on this compost pile. There are lots of ways you can use this rich resource for your plants and soil needs.
- One of my favorite ways to use compost is to mix it in with the soil when repotting or planting outside.
- You can put it on top of garden and tree beds for a nutrient boost.
- You can even sprinkle it on top of the soil on your lawn, to help improve the soil’s physical condition as it breaks down over time.
Final Thoughts on Composting for Beginners
- Experiment and try new things with your pile. Think of it as a fun science experiment.
- If you are using a bin or plastic garbage can drill some holes around the container and the lid (if using) to allow for airflow into the container. The more the better.
- Soggy compost pile: Try adding more of the carbon-based materials listed above. This will help to soak up some of the excess water. Also try covering the pile if possible, especially during the rainy months.
- When in doubt, add more carbon materials.
- TURN THE PILE ON A FREQUENT SCHEDULE.
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