It’s food for your garden. It’s a smart use of household waste. It’s a great lesson on the cycles of nature. It’s composting! If you’re looking for a healthier garden and an emptier trash bin, composting may be for you. Learn how to start composting at home with these simple instructions.
Using the correct ingredients for your compost is crucial. The right items will help produce healthy compost for your garden, while the wrong ingredients can produce odors, attract pests or cause other problems.
What you should compost:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Grass and plant clippings
- Dry leaves
- Finely chopped wood and bark chips
- Shredded newspaper
- Sawdust from untreated wood
What you shouldn’t compost:
- Anything containing meat, oil, fat or grease
- Dairy products
- Highly processed foods
- Diseased plant materials
- Sawdust or chips from treated wood
- Dog or cat waste
- Weeds that go to seed
- Artificial materials
Purchase a compost bin or make your own using direction such as those here or here. It’s wise to include a cover for your bin to help maintain the proper moisture levels. If you’re not keen on having to mix your compost by hand each week, consider a “tumbler” such as this one.
Wait until you have enough material to create a pile that’s at least three feet deep. Add an equal amount of green, wet materials (e.g. food scraps and grass clippings) along with brown, dry materials (e.g. dried plant matter and shredded paper) in alternating layers. The goal is to create an overall mixture that is moist but not wet. If the mix is too dry, the composting process could take up to a year, and if it’s too wet, the material can begin to rot.
Sprinkle your pile with water regularly so it maintains the moisture and consistency of a wet sponge. If the compost develops a strong smell, it is likely too wet. Test the middle of the pile with a compost thermometer or your hand – if it’s warm or hot (about 100 to 160 degrees F), the composting process is on track.
During the growing season, use a garden fork to turn the pile once a week. This will help provide the compost with necessary oxygen, prevent the contents from becoming matted and ensure an ongoing, even composting process. When the middle of the pile cools down, it’s a good sign the compost needs to be turned. Stir thoroughly since you no longer need to worry about maintaining layers of material. If you have a compost tumbler, you can simply rotate the container to mix the contents.
By following the steps above, known as “hot composting”, your compost process should be complete in one to three months. When the compost stops producing heat and turns dry, brown and crumbly, it’s fully composted. Add about 4 to 6 inches of compost to your flower beds and planting pots at the start of each planting season. You can also steep the compost in water for several days and then strain out the solid contents to create a liquid fertilizer.
And just like that, with a bit of patience, you can turn your uneaten veggies into fresh homegrown ones!