Learning how to compost at home is a great DIY project that can reduce your household’s carbon footprint while improving the health and quality of your yard. Composting can help create stronger, more nutritious soil for gardening, decrease your need for chemical fertilizers that harm the environment and drastically cut back on waste you would normally send to landfills. Getting your own compost bin or pile started at home is simple, and you’ll appreciate its benefits for a long time.
What is compost?
So what is compost exactly? Compost is the product that comes from the controlled decomposition of organic material, or carbon-containing substances. The resulting product is then used to enrich soil.
What to compost
From yard waste to food scraps, here’s a range of everyday materials that can be composted:
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea and tea bags
- Fruits and vegetable scraps
- Pasta, rice and grains
- Nut shells
- Stale bread
- Grass clippings
- Hay and straw
- Paper towels
- Wood shavings
- Hair and fur
- Fireplace ashes
- Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Healthy compost piles have both carbon- and nitrogen-producing matter. Brown materials, such as branches, twigs and dead leaves, provide carbon. Green materials provide nitrogen and consist of things like grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste and coffee grounds. Having the right balance of brown and green elements is crucial to creating effective, useful compost. The ideal mix for richness and smell is 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
What you shouldn’t put in compost
Unfortunately, not all organic materials should be composted at home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, avoid adding the following to your compost bin:
Black walnut tree leaves and twigs
Scraps from black walnut trees release substances that are harmful to plants.
Coal or charcoal ash
Coal and charcoal could contain substances detrimental to plants.
Dairy scraps such as cheese, yogurt, butter and eggs can create strong odors and attract unwanted pests.
Diseased or insect-ridden plants
Diseased plants could spread their contagions to new plants through the compost.
Fats and oils
Fats, oils, grease and lard can cause odor problems and attract pests.
Meat bones and scraps
Meat and fish scraps can lead to additional odor and pest problems.
Waste from household pets contains a variety of microorganisms that are harmful to humans.
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
Yard waste treated with chemical pesticides could kill organisms that are crucial to composting.
If you find that you’re creating a lot of organic waste that isn’t suitable for your home compost bin, try researching active composting programs in your community. These programs may be able to accept a wider variety of materials.
How to compost
There’s no specific way to start composting, but here are some general guidelines to follow when setting up your compost bin:
- If using a bin with an open-air bottom, place it in a dry and shady spot on actual ground, not on your porch or patio.
- Layer the bottom with brown materials — such as twigs and straw — that can increase airflow and drainage.
- Add alternating layers of brown and green materials, making sure to tear apart or chop up any large pieces.
- Moisten dry materials – such as paper or sawdust – with water as they’re added.
- Keep the cover of your compost bin closed to hold in any moisture and heat.
Once you have an established compost pile, you’ll want to start adding oxygen regularly to enhance the decomposition of the organic material. To do so, turn your compost every few weeks and mix in new materials with a shovel instead of layering them. If you have a rotating bin, just remember to turn it when necessary.
Your compost is ready to use when the material at the bottom of your bin is dark in color, has a crumbly texture and no longer resembles or smells like decomposing waste. Compost typically takes at least two months to get to this state.
A working compost bin will prove beneficial when it comes time to care for your garden, but you’ll need the right homeowners insurance if you want to protect everything else. Learn the different types of homeowners insurance available to you.