Composting at Home: A Beginner’s Guide
Make your life, and garden, greener with these 7 easy steps.
Where do your table scraps go when you throw them out? The picture isn’t pretty. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that 21% of all municipal solid waste was food scraps—something to the tune of 63 million tons per year. That’s a lot of banana peels.
Here’s the good news: there’s an easy and effective solution that not only reduces landfill waste, but lowers your carbon footprint and supercharges your flower or vegetable gardens as well—it’s composting. Even better, you don’t have to be an expert, own a lot of land, or drive a modified vegetable-oil running hippie van to do it. Everyone, no matter their space or time limitations, can engage in composing. Yes, even you!
Composing is nothing more than putting a bit of intentionality behind nature’s process of recycling organic matter—food scraps, leaves, lawn clippings—into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. Bacteria and microorganisms do all the hard (and unseen) work and you reap the benefits—what’s not to like?
Got the food scraps, but not sure where to begin? This beginners guide to composting will have you on your way to becoming a composting legend in 7 easy steps.
1. Research your compost options
Before you start saving your fruit peelings, or pull that long-neglected bag of broccoli out of the back of the fridge, it’s helpful to do a bit of research and decide how you want to compost. There are a few options:
- Join a city-wide program. For people living in larger urban centers, this can be the easy button. Many cities have robust composting programs looking to help divert their food wastes from local landfills. The specifics vary wildly, from pick-up at your curb, to drop-off locations at farmer’s markets, but each one looks to leverage the power of people together to make a difference. Be sure to check to see if your city offers something similar. If they don’t, an alternative is to reach out to community gardens, or local farmers, to see if they have a program (or could use your food scraps).
- Bulk composting outside. If you live in a home with a yard, doing outside composting just might be the answer for you. You can choose between hot composting (putting all your scraps into a self-contained rotating bin) or cold composting (dumping scraps into an open-air pile). Hot composting moves quicker, as the heat trapped inside the bin helps to expedite the process, but requires a touch more work. Cold composting might move slower, but you don’t have to do much of anything but wait.
- Micro-composting inside. For those with limited space, composting can even be done inside, with limited mess and smells. There are a plethora of indoor composting bins, but the two major options are aerobic composting (similar to the hot composting method above) and vermicomposting (composting with the help of worms). Both methods involve self-contained systems (don’t worry, no worms are going to escape), so the major factor may be space: vermicomposting bins are usually larger, while many aerobic composters can be fit into a pantry or under the sink. Again, you get to choose your adventure. If you decide to compost inside, try pairing with a Febreze PLUG to get ahead of odors (or a Febreze Small Spaces if you’re tucking the compost bin under the sink.) The reality of compost is that there are smells involved, and Febreze can help get ahead of that by actually cleaning away odors.
2. Choose (or make) your compost bin
Now comes the fun part: choosing your composting bin. This choice is dependent upon the type of composting you want to try, so don’t skip step 1. But once you’ve got it narrowed down, let it rip. You’ll find a myriad of options online, or run up to a local home improvement store or garden center to see them in action. For the DIYers among us, you can find plans online to create your own bins from plastic tubs, old wooden pallets, or even recycled pickle barrels.
The natural processes active in your compost heap will create some heat and can pose a slim fire risk. Avoid positioning outside bins or heaps near sheds, fences or buildings, and make sure you monitor it, especially during periods of warmer weather.
For those choosing inside composting, but worried about smells, many varieties of bins come with filters—keeping the good stuff inside and leaving the air outside smelling nice.
3. Fill ‘er up with green and brown
The health of your compost bin will be determined by what you put in it. You’ll need a mix of fresh green garden waste (think grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and tea leaves) and dry, brown matter (like dead leaves, dead plants and weeds, and hay). The soft, green garden waste is nitrogen-rich and the dry brown waste is more carbon-rich– the balance you want for a good compost. Begin by placing a layer of woody brown matter on the bottom to create good airflow, and then layer green and brown matter whenever possible.
4. Compost dos and don’ts
Did you know you can compost egg shells, paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, paper bags and torn-up cotton clothing? Add these items in moderation—your greens and browns are still the main players in this composting drama.
Don’t put cooked food items into your compost, even if they are greens or browns, and never add meat, dairy products, bones or fat/grease/oils into your bin. These can attract vermin, smell bad, and disrupt the natural processes of your compost.
5. Monitor while it does it’s thang
Once your greens and browns get into your bin, your work is mostly done. The microbes and bacteria will soon be cranking out beautiful compost, and you can keep feeding them with more table scraps and dried leaves.
Be sure to monitor your bin occasionally to ensure your composting process is still occurring successfully and healthfully. A good compost bin…
- Should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If it looks extremely dry, you’re likely adding too much brown. Up your greens input, and do a light watering with a watering can. If it seems too wet, up your browns input until it evens out.
- Needs air to stay healthy, so make sure you aren’t packing the bin too full. If you have a rotating bin, be sure to give it a spin every couple of weeks. If you choose the cold composting method, you’ll need to occasionally “turn” your compost pile using a pitchfork or shovel to allow air to enter. If your compost starts looking slimy, it’s likely because it’s not getting enough air.
- Tip: Remove dirt and grime from your shovel, pitchfork and other gardening tools with a few drops of Dawn Ultra Dish Soap.
6. Home compost tips and tricks
Like everything else, the more you engage in the process of composting, the more tips and tricks you’ll discover. But we can save you some time, by sharing our favorite composting hacks:
- Bury it. Especially if composting indoors, don’t leave fresh scraps exposed to air on the top of your compost pile. This could attract fruit flies and any other number of pesky bugs. Burying the fresh scraps will keep them at bay. If you can’t bury the scraps completely, cover them with fresh soil or brown matter.
- Bag it. If you do a lot of cooking, you’ll likely have all the greens you need… and it will be easy to neglect the browns. But that green-brown ratio is important, so keep a bag of shredded newspaper (for indoor composting) or dried leaves (for outdoor) handy for quick layering.
- Shred it. If composting inside, taking the extra time to shred waste into smaller sizes will help speed up the composting process.
Bonus tip: The reality of composting is that it can sometimes get a little smelly. When you notice it start to smell, take it outside. Then freshen things up quickly with Febreze AIR.
7. Use compost to make your garden (or yard) healthier
Compost can act as a water-retaining mulch, a liquid fertilizer (called “compost tea”) and a lawn fertilizer. Here’s how we put it to good use:
- To use as a mulch, spread it in a 2- to 3-inch layer around flowers, bushes, trees and shrubs.
- To make compost tea, steep a shovel-full of compost in a 5-gallon bucket for two to three days, and then pour the resulting liquid on your plants. It’s like liquid gold.
- To fertilize your lawn, just add a 1- to 3-inch layer of compost to the grass, and then rake it to evenly distribute. Over time, rain water will push the compost into the soil, feeding your lawn in the process.
That’s it! With this beginners guide, you’re ready to start off on your composting adventure. Here’s to a greener yard, garden, and life.