The Beginner’s Guide to Composting: Overview

DIY Compost Bin
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Did you know that around 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away could be turned into compost instead of getting piled up at a landfill? Find out how to start with this Beginner’s Guide to Composting!

All the organic waste that gets thrown away is a major contributor to the production of greenhouse gases. It is buried under heaps and heaps of garbage, decomposing in the absence of oxygen and that causes the release of the harmful methane gas.

A natural way you can control this problem is by composting at home. It’s one of the most effective ways to reduce the amount of garbage you send to the landfills. And, in return, you will be left with a rich fertilizer you can use in your own home gardens or donate to local community gardens nearby.

Fresh Compost in Man's Hands from the beginner's guide to composting
Fresh Compost

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What Is Composting?

Composting is basically collecting organic waste such as food scraps, dead leaves and lawn clippings then storing them in a pile or a container while they decompose naturally. The microorganisms in the pile break down the waste material and convert them into a nutrient-rich dark, fluffy substance. This can be used as mulch in gardens or for potting plants.

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Easy Beginner’s Guide to Composting:

Here’s a simple guide to help you begin your own composting journey. So, let’s begin with how to start composting.

What Can You Compost?

You can add almost anything coming from your kitchen and garden into your compost piles. Waste can be broadly classified into green waste (nitrogen-producing) and brown waste (carbon-producing).  We will cover all the basics in this beginner’s guide to composting.

Green waste includes items like:

Fruits and vegetable waste

Coffee grounds

Strained tea

Hair and nails

Leaves and twigs

Grass cuttings

Lawn and garden weeds

Brown waste includes items like:

Wood shavings

Shredded newspapers



Rinsed Eggshells

Hay and straw

A healthy compost pile should have more carbon (brown waste) than nitrogen (green waste). A simple rule of thumb is to use two-thirds of brown materials and one-third green materials.

For good composting hygiene, you should always use brown waste material to cover the nitrogen-rich green waste material as it can release foul-smelling odors into the air. The bulkiness of the brown waste is enough to allow oxygen and moisture to penetrate into the pile and nourish the microorganisms present in the green waste.

With the right balance between brown and green waste, your compost will smell nothing but earthy dirt. If you live in a drier climate, you may need to add a compost activator and a compost thermometer.

Things You Cannot Compost

Here’s a list of the items you should never add to your compost piles.

Chemically treated wood

Human waste

Pet waste

Diseased plants

Pernicious weeds

Meat and bones

Poultry and fish

Fatty food waste

Dairy products

Animal food products

Animal bones


Cooked food

Un-rinsed Eggshells

Peanut butter

Paper with colored ink

Glossy paper

Important Info on Bears & Compost Piles

Bears will hit your compost pile if they are hungry. Even if you follow the rules of no meat, animal bones, cooked foods, pet waste, etc…..bears will come after the eggshells, coffee grounds and even some vegetation.

If you live in bear country, you will need to take extra precautions when composting.

Handy Guide: Composting in Bear Country

Bear proofing your compost pile is possible. The key is to never let them have a taste! If there is no food reward, they will stay away.

Permanent masonry or rock composting bins are fantastic! This is a must see style of a bear proof bin. Masonry Compost Bin.

Types of Composting Bins and Drums

There are many types of bins, drums and tumblers that work well for compost piles. Simple DIY wooden bins work well to keep the material contained but remember to make removable slats on one end of your wooden bin in order to turn the compost pile.

Composting drums and tumblers have gained tremendous popularity in recent years for ease of turning the compost. Drums and tumblers allow the material to be rotated and mixed with a simple turn of the handle on the drum. The drum is also on a stand which reduces the need to bend over and physically turn the compost pile.

green waste in a home compost bin

 How to Set up a Composting Pile

  • Choose an outdoor space for your compost. It’s best to pick a dry and shady spot on bare ground.
  • Lay some twigs and straw up to a few inches deep to aid aeration and drainage.
  • Add your waste materials in layers, starting with green waste and then alternating between the two. Make sure to use brown waste for the top layer to mask any strong odors.
  • Add a little bit of green manure (such as grass clippings, buckwheat) as it will activate the compost and speed up the process.
  • Keep the compost moist by sprinkling some water occasionally. Remember the compost should be just moist not soaked in water.
  • After a week you can turn the pile using a garden fork or shovel. Mixing the pile allows for proper aeration which is necessary for decomposition. You can then continue turning the pile once every week.

How Long Does It Take for the Compost to Get Ready?

When the pile turns dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This process can take anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks or more depending on the humidity and temperature.

If you’re not seeing progress, you can add more of the green waste and make sure you’re keeping the pile moist. Consider using these tools: a compost activator , a compost thermometer and a compost crank.

And, if it’s getting wet and smelly, add some more brown waste and keep turning the pile frequently. Your compost crank works the best but a pitchfork or garden shovel will also work to keep the pile aerated turned over.

How to Grow Series

How Can You Use the Compost?

You can mulch it directly into your garden or raised beds to improve the quality of the existing soil. Similarly you can use it as fertilizer for your potted plants as well.

Compost can also be added to potting soil to enrich. Another way to utilize compost is by brewing a compost tea and using it as a liquid fertilizer.

Beginning Guide to Composting Pin

Follow this simple beginner’s guide to composting can help you reduce your carbon footprint while improving your vegetable and flower gardens. Compost is also a wonderful addition to potted plants!

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