A Composting Guide for Beginners
Composting is one of the best ways to turn household wastes into something precious for the garden! The best thing about composting is it almost doesn’t cost anything to do it. You might even have all the materials you need for composting in your home right now. So let’s dive deep into composting, how to compost, what to compost, and all the vital infos you need to know about composting at home:
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What to Compost
Different types of home and kitchen wastes could be added to your compost. These include:
- Grass clippings
- Yard trimmings
- Old herbs and spices
- Fruit peelings
- Vegetable peelings
- Hay and straw
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leave and tea bags
- Dryer lint
- Coffee filters
- Bread scraps
- Old wine
- Natural pet beddings
- Wood chips
- Cotton rags
- Dry cat food
- Dry dog food
- Dust from sweeping or vacuuming
- Shredded newspaper or paper
- Wool rugs
- Fur and hair
- Wood ashes
Be sure to use materials that are natural or organic. Also, you can't just chuck some of these wastes into your compost pit. Some kitchen wastes could repel or kill earthworms, which are vital to boost soil health. For instance, citrus peels, garlic, onions, and some spices repel earthworms. Black walnut trimmings and coal, coal ash from certain trees are also a no-no because these are harmful to plants.
What’s not to Compost
- Diseased or insect-ridden plants
- Fats, grease, lard, or oils
- Meat, chicken, or fish bones and scraps
- Pet wastes
- Pesticide-treated yard trimmings
If added to the compost, disease-ridden plants could end up contaminating the entire compost pit! The same thing goes for chemically-treated garden and yard trimmings; these could contaminate the compost pit and kill plants.
Common kitchen wastes like meat, fish, and chicken scraps could release dangerous pathogens that could harm the soil and plants. Fat, grease, and oils could attract flies into your home and cause odor problems. Pet wastes might contain bacteria and parasites that are harmful to human beings.
3 Benefits of Composting
The most obvious reason behind composting is that it's good for the environment. Common home and kitchen wastes end up in landfills. Because garbage has slowly piled up over the years, it takes a while for some scraps to break down entirely in landfills. Some take decades to break down completely, like old newspapers. And dumps are notorious for emitting methane gas that pollutes the air and poison the earth. By composting your home and kitchen wastes, you’re not contributing to the worsening garbage disposal problem.
Feed the Earth
Making your own compost, you are literally feeding the earth. This is beneficial if you love growing food in your garden. Use the compost to nourish the plants and trees in your garden and encourage beneficial critters to thrive. By composting, you’ll never buy chemical fertilizers ever again. Compost is safe for the environment, and it will cost you almost nothing to make it at home.
Chemical fertilizers do not discriminate -- these products kill pests and beneficial organisms alike. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, you can add compost to improve the health of the soil while supporting biodiversity. Plants grown using compost are more resistant to pests and diseases.
One compost pile could support the lives of over 30,000 different species of organisms, which includes beneficial fungi and bacteria. Compost is teeming with earthworms that aerate the soil as they burrow into the earth and improve the soil’s nutrient profile with their wastes. Earthworms and other critters serve as prey for birds and other wildlife that support pollination and cross pollination.
How to Build a Compost Pit
Assuming that you have all the materials you need for your compost, here’s a step-by-step guide on building compost at home:
Step 1: Combine Green and Brown Materials
You’ll need about 3 feet deep of brown and green composting materials to build a compost pit. Brown composting materials add carbon to the compost. Brown composting materials include:
- Fallen leaves
- Tree trimmings
- Hay and straw
- Wood shavings
- Newspaper or cardboard
Green composting materials, on the other hand, add nitrogen to the compost. These composting materials include:
- Fruit peelings
- Vegetable peelings
- Coffee grounds
- Organic animal manure
- Grass trimmings
- Plant trimmings (fresh)
Combine three parts of brown composting materials with one part of green materials. If the compost looks too wet or smells like damp earth, it’s either there are too many brown materials, or the compost has to be aerated more. Add more green and water to the compost pile.
Step 2: Add Moisture
You want the compost pile to be moist, not wet. You’ll have to sprinkle a little water all over the pile regularly to keep your compost pile nice and moist, like a damp sponge. It shouldn’t be waterlogged because the excess water could end up drowning critters that help break down the composting materials.
Step 3: Monitor the Temperature
Your compost pile should be warm, never cold and wet. The warm temperature ensures proper decomposition of the composting materials. You can use a thermometer to track the temperature (between 130 and 150°F), or you can use your hands to feel the compost pile. If it’s the latter, reach into the middle of the compost pile. If it’s warm, it’s all good.
Step 4: Aerate the Compost Pile
Oxygen is a compost pile’s friend. Enough oxygen is needed to maintain the ideal temperature for decomposition. Stir the pile once a week to “cook” the compost pile evenly. Stirring helps aerate matted down materials and reduce odors. The compost pile should be warm enough before stirring, so check the temperature first. You can speed up the decomposition process by breaking down large chunks of the composting materials, like shredding the dry leaves or chopping the wood into smaller sizes.
Step 5: Check the Texture
How do you know if your compost pile is ready to use? Check the texture. If the compost pile has turned dry, brown, and crumbly, it’s ready to use. Add about 4 to 6 inches of compost to your garden at the beginning of every growing season.
You can also create a compost tea, which involves steeping the fully cooked compost in water for several days and then collecting the water to be used as liquid fertilizer.
Compost Tumblers vs Traditional Compost Bins
Thinking about getting a composting bin? There are two types to choose from:
Traditional Compost Bin: This is a large-capacity and stationary compost container. It's made of hard plastic with a cover to prevent odor problems. A traditional compost bin is durable, easy to use, and easy to maintain. Composting is a simple process and a traditional compost bin gets the job done fairly well.
Compost Tumbler: This is a new compost bin that you can turn manually to mix the compost. It features a handle on the side that you rotate to turn the compost heap. Compost tumbler speeds up the breakdown of the organic materials because the compost is easier to turn. And because of the regular turning, the compost heap won’t produce much odor.
Which one is better, conventional compost bin or compost tumbler? It really depends on your needs and preferences because each of these products has its pros and cons.
As far as the design goes, a conventional compost bin has a straightforward design. A good example would be our very own garden compost bin. Our compost bin features a thick, hard plastic body made from recycled plastic material. It has a cover to keep critters away and prevent bad odors. It also comes with a bottom hatch to access the compost easily.
A compost tumbler has a sealed opening and a handle on the side that lets you spin the cylindrical body to turn the compost. In terms of design, the tumbler has many frills than a regular compost bin, but the primary purpose of the product itself is just the same - as a container for the compost.
Both compost bins do a great job of keeping critters away. But the compost tumbler has a sealed opening so critters won’t get in and out. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the kind of compost you’re making. Because it’s sealed, beneficial garden creatures like earthworms cannot thrive. On the flip side, it keeps small animals, like rodents, from raiding your compost heap.
Compost bins could hold about 7 to 20 cubic feet of composting materials. Our garden compost bin could hold up to 80 gallons of organic waste. On the other hand, most compost tumblers could only hold 4 to 15 cubic feet of composting materials. That's because the heavier the load, the harder it is to spin the compost tumbler. The tumbler’s design isn’t meant for a large compost heap at all, and if the load gets too heavy, you might not be able to turn it at all.
Compost has to be turned to speed up the breakdown of the organic materials and maintain the ideal temperature. With a regular compost bin, you’ll have to turn the heap by hand. But since the bottom of the compost bin is connected to the ground, the organic materials are broken down quickly. The liquids flow directly into the soil instead of seeping all over.
Compost tumbler makes the entire process easy and convenient. You can simply turn the handle to spin the compost around inside the bin, and that’s it. But the design isn’t perfect.
For one thing, the compost tumbler could only hold a particular volume of organic waste. It’s not designed for a large compost heap. Another caveat is that turning the tumbler is harder as the load gets heavier. If the compost tumbler is full and it won’t turn, you’ll still need to turn the compost by hand, which defeats its purpose. Also, liquids tend to seep out all over because the container itself is not in contact with the soil. It can create quite a mess and the smell might attract rodents and other pests.
A traditional compost bin is more affordable compared to a compost tumbler just because of the basic design. It’s a great choice if you want to get the most out of your money or splurge a bit by going for a bigger bin.
The same thing cannot be said for a compost tumbler. Not only is it more expensive than regular compost bins, you don’t have many options in terms of the size as well. Since the design isn’t meant for heavy loads, it will be a pain to spin a huge compost tumbler.
Both types of compost bins are durable because they’re often made of the same hard plastic material. That said, the components of a tumbler’s spinning mechanism might wear down over time.
Turn trash to treasure by composting at home. Be sure that you have all the products you need to build a compost pile. If you don’t have a lot of room in your backyard for a compost pile, try using a compact compost bin. Our outdoor garden compost bins are made of durable yet safe materials. These compost bins could hold a lot of organic wastes, save space, while preventing odor problems.
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