Beginner’s Guide to Composting

Originally Published on May 13, 2014. Last Updated on May 13, 2024.

There are so many benefits to starting a compost bin or pile. By recycling your kitchen and lawn waste, you reduce your carbon footprint and minimize your contribution to landfills.

Composting is also a key element in growing a successful, flourishing organic garden. It helps the soil retain water, improves its composition and acts as a nutrient-rich, natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.

What to Compost: Brown vs. Green

The items you put in your compost bin are categorized as either dry, brown materials or wet, green materials.

Brown materials are rich in carbon. They help absorb excess moisture, facilitate air-flow, and mask unpleasant odors that can be caused by an excess of green materials.

Green materials are rich in nitrogen. They are what kick-start the decomposing process and provide the nutrients to your finished compost.

It can take some experimentation as every compost bin will behave differently, but generally, you want to have 1/3 green, nitrogen-rich matter and 2/3 brown, carbon-rich matter.

What NOT to Compost

In order to obtain the best quality compost, there are some items that you should avoid adding to your bin. Some of these items jeopardize the health of the compost while others may attract unwanted animals.

What to Do

1. Construct a bin for your compost or designate an area in your yard to start a pile – You will need a space at least 3 ft. by 3 ft. to house your compost. There are several tutorials online that show you how to construct your own compost bin, or you can purchase one. It’s a good idea to have a lid on your bin to make sure animals keep out. Find a shady spot in your yard to put your bin or pile.

2. Add brown and green materials – Start by putting down a layer of brown materials like twigs or straw which will help with drainage. Put this first layer on the bare ground so worms and other beneficial organism have a chance to find their way to your compost. Then, alternate layering green materials and brown materials (remember 1/3 green and 2/3 brown).

3. Keep it moist – It is important to keep your compost moist, but not soggy. Rain may do the job, but keep an eye on the moisture and water it yourself if it gets too dry. If it’s too wet, add some more dry, brown materials.

4. Turn your pile – Providing oxygen to your pile is very important to the composting process. Use a pitchfork or shovel to aerate your compost every few weeks.

How Long Will it Take?

If you take a hands-off approach and let your pile do its thing, it could take up to a year for your compost to be ready. If you actively rotate the materials in your bin, the composting process is much quicker and may only take a couple of weeks to a month to be ready to use. When your compost is ready, it should have a nice, earthy smell. If it has an unpleasant smell, give it a little more time.

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