Any gardener is familiar with the concept and the benefits of composting! But many are overwhelmed by the process! Composting doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating! Today I’m sharing with you how to start a compost pile!
There is no right or wrong way to compost! There are different methods and techniques based on preference, space available and end goals!
If you’re brand new to gardening, start here! Otherwise keep reading to learn how to start a compost pile in your backyard!
BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING
- Reduce landfill waste
- Gain self-sufficiency
- Improve soil quality in your gardens
- Save money by not having to purchase compost
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CHOOSING A COMPOST BIN
There are many different ways to start a compost pile based on preference, budget, space, etc! Each of these has pros & cons!
WOODEN BIN / PILE
PROS : A wooden compost bin possibly offers the most space to compost! This method gives you the option to have 2-3 separate compost piles which is very beneficial. A wooden compost bin possibly offers the most space to compost! I also find this the most visually appealing method to have in a backyard.
CONS : Some people find these piles harder to turn, plus you may be more likely to attract animals and pests.
PROS : Compost tumblers are probably the most beginner-friendly composting method! This method allows your compost to really heat up, is easy to turn, and deters most pests! This specific unit even has two separate compartments which is very helpful!
CONS : The most expensive of these options (although still very affordable!) and it doesn’t hold as much as a large pile.
PROS : The most affordable compost method is to just use a garbage bin that you already have (or purchase an inexpensive one!) This method is effective at keeping pests and animals out!
This is actually the method I’m currently using!
CONS : Not the most attractive solution, is hard to turn and hard to retrieve completed compost.
Vermicompost aka worm composting is very different than traditional composting! Essentially, you purchase “red wiggler” worms and keep them in a bin with food scraps. They break down the food scraps very quickly. This method can even be done indoors in a very small space!
I personally don’t have experience with vermicompost, but thought it was worth mentioning!
WHAT TO COMPOST?
So what are the rules when it comes to composting? What can you include and what should you leave out? These are important things to consider when learning how to start a compost pile!
Compost materials are broken into two categories: green materials and brown materials. To have an effective compost pile you’ll need to add enough of both!
- Grass Clippings
- Fruit & Veggie Scraps
- Egg Shells
- Tea Bags
- Coffee Grounds & Filters
- Weeds (Avoid anything that might seed)
- Animal Manure – chickens, goats, horse, sheep (Avoid dog/cat waste)
Most backyard composters recommend avoiding fats, cooked foods, dairy and meat products as they are slow to decompose and attract rodents or other pests!
- Wood Chips
- Dry Leaves
- Shredded Paper (Avoid dyes)
Your compost pile will need at least 3 parts brown to 1 part greens. If your compost pile is smelly, it needs more browns. If it is decomposing slowly, add more green!
DO NOT COMPOST
- Human Waste
- Domestic Pet Waste (dogs and cats)
- Diseased Plants
- Grass or Yard Waste Sprayed with Pesticides
- Dairy, Meat, Cooked Foods
- Charcoal Ashes
COLLECT COMPOST IN THE KITCHEN
You’ll likely need a way to collect kitchen scraps so that you aren’t running to your compost pile 10 times a day!
For many years I just kept a regular bowl on the counter and emptied it daily. Recently, I finally invested in an actual compost bin for my counter!
IS IT STINKY?
I often get asked if my kitchen compost bin gets stinky. My personal answer is NO! Almost never. I typically take my compost bin out every 2-3 days.
If I add something extra stinky to it (banana peels ? ) I’ll usually just take it out sooner.
My home stays very cool year round which also affects the smell of a compost bin. If your home is very warm, you might find that things are rotting quickly!
If smell is an issue, you can always keep your compost bin in the freezer!
Some counter composters even come with a charcoal filter which helps with the smell, if that’s a concern you have!
HOW TO START A COMPOST PILE: ADDING TO YOUR PILE
Once you’ve chosen a compost method, and started collected green & brown materials it’s time to put it all together!
Add what you have to your compost pile, aiming for 2-3x more brown materials than greens!
Don’t hesitate to ask a neighbour for extra dry leaves, grass clippings, etc!
I use the layering method which is said to help speed up the composting process!
As you can see in the photo below, the layering method just alternates between green materials and brown materials.
Remember, there are many different techniques to compost! This just works well for me as it makes it easy to keep track of my greens to brown ratio!
Don’t stress if you don’t have every material listed above! You can always substitute for a similar material!
HEATING AND TURNING
Composting works because microorganisms (tiny, tiny, tiny bugs) in the soil work in stages to break down the different particles. The brown and green materials give them the different nutrients they need to thrive (nitrogen, carbon).
The micro-organisms start eating the organic matter in your compost bin and turn it into a substance called humus (not to be confused with hummus LOL). These micro-organisms require oxygen and water to thrive! As this process happens, the compost pile will naturally heat up to over 100ºF.
It’s important to turn your compost pile regularly – daily or every other day is ideal! This provides the micro-organisms with adequate oxygen and speeds up the composting process.
At some point you should STOP adding to your pile and give it time to break down. If you’re constantly adding to the same pile, you’ll end up with finished compost mixed in with new food scraps which is hard to use in the garden!
It is ideal to have two or more compost piles so you can have one that is composting and one that you’re adding to.
Your compost pile needs constant moisture to be successful. If it is in an uncovered container, you may be able to rely on rain. But if it is in a covered or sealed container, you’ll have to add water occassionally.
You just want it to remain moist, you don’t want compost mud!
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S WORKING
You’ll know your compost pile is a success when the food particles and organic matter start breaking down into unrecognizable material.
Your compost pile should not stink or attract a lot of flies/bees. Of course, it’s normal for brand new materials to temporarily cause odours or attract a few flies, but this should not be an ongoing problem!
If your compost pile is really stinky it needs more brown materials. If it is decomposing very slowly it needs more green materials and/or more oxygen/water.
HOW TO COMPOST WITHOUT A BACKYARD
What if you want to compost to reduce your waste but don’t have a space for your own compost pile?
First of all, I LOVE this question because I love when people want to reduce their waste!
Here are a few ways to compost even if you don’t have a backyard space:
- Use the website Share Waste to donate your food scraps to a local gardener who can use them! (Store food scraps in the freezer to save more)
- Learn about vermicompost (You can use the completed soil in houseplants!)
- Check if your city has a compost facility you can donate to (my city has compost pickup, but I choose to do my own compost!)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- WILL IT STINK? I know I’ve already mentioned this multiple times but it truly is the #1 question everyone has! Your compost pile should NOT stink. If it’s really stinky, it needs more brown materials!
- HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE? This will be different for everyone. A compost pile will break down faster in a warmer climate. It also helps to break all organic matter up into small pieces! The small they are, the faster it will decompose. Expect your compost to take at least 2-3 months.
- WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE YARD SCRAPS? Your compost needs both brown and green materials. If you don’t have a yard to collect browns you might have to ask a friend or neighbour if you can have some of their yard waste or dry leaves! Unless they have their own compost I’m sure they’d be happy to give these up.
- HOW DO I KEEP RODENTS / PESTS AWAY? The best way to do this is to have a compost bin that can be completely sealed. If you’re having problems with bugs such as bees and flies, try burying food scraps under a layer of browns!
- WHAT’S THE BEST COMPOST METHOD? This entirely depends on the space you have available, and your budget! All of them have their own pros and cons! I would say a compost tumbler is the most user friendly for a beginner!
I hope this answered many of your questions regarding how to start a compost pile! Composting is very doable no matter your gardening expertise!