Composting is a great way to reduce landfill waste, (America wastes 119 billion pounds of food every year). and improve the health of your backyard. By adding organic material to the soil, plants and vegetables can grow bigger and produce prettier flowers and abundant vegetables, resulting in a healthier garden without any extra cost. So STOP buying your own compost and make your own.
Options For Making Compost At Home
When it comes to making compost there are three ways to do it:
- a hot compost pile, which can make compost in 6-8 weeks if done correctly.
- a slow or cold compost pile, which can take up to 1 to 2 years to make compost – this is the easiest option and requires less attention.
- worm composting also known as vermicomposting.
So start saving your family’s scraps and turn them into plant food for a more beautiful and sustainable yard.
Making a Hot Compost Pile
You will need the following equipment for a making compost:
- a bucket or container
- rake for gathering leaves and garden waste
- compost bin or compost tumbler (strongly recommended),
- garden hose of sufficient length
- garden fork (4-pronged)
- wheelbarrow or pull cart
While a compost bin is not absolutely necessary, it is highly recommended. Think of it like a toy box for a child: it’s not essential, but without one, toys will be scattered everywhere. Similarly, without a bin, organic waste will be scattered everywhere by kids, dogs, wind, and rain. This will make it difficult to maintain the compost heap and keep it contained.
Pick a location for making compost
To choose the ideal location for your hot compost heap, you need to consider several key factors:
- Good Drainage: It’s crucial to select a spot with good drainage. If water accumulates, your pile will become anaerobic and start to emit a foul odor. The oxygen-breathing bacteria in the pile won’t have air to breathe, while anaerobic bacteria will take over.
- Adequate Distance from Wood Structures: Ensure that your hot compost heap is at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from any wooden structure, such as a fence, home, storage shed, or garage. Never build your pile against an untreated wooden structure since it will start to rot and attract bugs. This separation rule also applies to your garden.
- Water Source: Hot compost heaps require moisture, so make sure the pile is located close to a water source, such as a garden hose.
Types of Compost Bins
When selecting a compost bin, there are two key factors to consider: personal preference and suitability. You should take into account the amount of space you have available, your budget, and the quantity of waste you typically generate.
Compost bins are manufactured from a range of materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:
- Wood – attractive, but untreated wood may rot.
- Metal Wire – allows for air flow, but may not prevent pests from accessing your compost pile.
- Plastic – is it UV-resistant?
- Concrete Blocks
- Compost Tumblers
- Multi-Chamber Bins
For maximum efficiency, the ideal size for a compost bin is one meter by one meter by one meter. Bins that are smaller than this tend to be less efficient.
Many individuals opt to make their own compost bins, which is a feasible alternative.
Five key elements for making compost
For a hot compost pile to work effectively, it requires five essential elements:
- Correct ingredients (Browns and Greens) (Carbon and Nitrogen) (This serves as food for microorganisms)
The appropriate compost materials are organic, which means they come from something that is or was alive. This includes plants, animals, and their naturally-occurring by-products.
What can you compost?
What You Can Compost At Home
- Shredded paper
- Grass clippings
- Horse or cow manure (any poop from a herbivore animal)
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea leaves and bags
- Eggshells, crushed
- Hay or straw
- Garden wastes, flowers, yard trimmings
- Pine needles and cones
- Shredded cardboard
- Nut shells, acorns
- Peanut hulls
- Spent beer or wine
- Flat fizzy drinks or sports drinks (due to sugar content)
What You Should NOT Compost At Home
- Meat , Fish , Bones (attracts pets and animals)
- Cat, dog, or caged bird faeces
- Diseased plants
- Weeds that have gone to seed (actually, it’s the weed seeds you should avoid, the rest of the plant is OK)
- Road kill or dead animal
- Organic poisons like boric acid
- Coal, charcoal
- Human faeces (except in composting toilet systems specifically designed to handle this waste safely)
The Secret to a Healthy Compost Pile
The secret to a successful compost heap is finding the right Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratio. All organic matter added to the compost heap contains carbon and nitrogen, with carbon typically being present in higher amounts. The optimal C:N ratio for composting is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 30:1.
Carbon and Nitrogen Classification
Organic matter added to the compost heap is classified as either browns or greens based on their carbon and nitrogen content. Browns are high in carbon, while greens have high amounts of nitrogen. Materials greater than 30:1 are referred to as “carbons,” and those less than 30:1 are referred to as “nitrogens.”
Scientists have developed this formula as the fastest way to generate compost through the actions of composting microorganisms.
To better understand the C:N ratio of common compostable materials, here are some examples:
Browns (high in carbon):
- Dried leaves (C:N 60:1)
- Dry straw (C:N 75:1)
- Shredded paper, newspaper, tissue (C:N 100+:1)
- Sawdust, wood chips, shredded cardboard (C:N 300:1)
Greens (high in nitrogen):
- Food scraps (C:N 20:1)
- Coffee grounds (C:N 20:1)
- Grass clippings (C:N 15:1)
- Manure (C:N 10:1)
Balancing Carbon and Nitrogen
Since most organic matter doesn’t have the ideal 30:1 C:N ratio, it’s essential to balance them out by mixing ingredients. For example, adding a handful of food scraps can be balanced out by adding a handful of dried leaves.
Balancing Greens with Browns
To balance greens with browns, add either a handful of shredded paper or two handfuls of dried leaves for every handful of grass clippings.
Balancing Manure with Carbons
To balance manure with carbons, add either three handfuls of dried leaves, one handful of shredded paper and one of dried leaves, or one handful of sawdust.
Before adding carbons to your compost heap, it’s recommended to chip, chop, shred, or grind them to a size of 1-2 inches (2.5cm to 5cm). Chopping increases the surface area, making it easier for bacteria to attack and speed up the decomposition process. Nitrogen’s don’t need to be chopped, as they will compost quickly anyway.
Building and Assembling Your Compost Heap
Building a compost heap is a simple and effective way to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Follow these steps to build your own compost heap:
- Wet the Ground Under the Heap (Optional)
If you’re using an open bottom compost bin, wet the ground under the heap before you start. This will prevent the ground from soaking up moisture from the pile and encourage earthworms to visit.
- Lay Twigs in the Bottom of the Bin for Aeration
Lay a 10cm (4 inches) layer of twigs or other coarse carbons on the bottom of the bin to allow air to circulate at the base.
- Add Nitrogen and Carbon Materials in Alternating Layers while Adding Moisture
Layer your organic materials, alternating carbon and nitrogen layers. Add water as you go, making sure that 45-50% of the heap by weight is water. If you’re using the composting table, you don’t need to add ingredients in layers. Just make sure each layer is no more than 10cm (4 inches) thick. Finish with a carbon layer.
- Cover the Heap
Experts disagree on whether a cover is necessary. If you live in an area that is excessively dry or wet, cover the pile with a black plastic garbage bag, a bit of wood, or an old piece of carpet to retain moisture or guard against rain.
- Monitor the Heap
Check to see that your heap becomes hot within a few days. Properly built, the pile will reach over 140°F or 60°C. Temperatures of 150°F or 65.5°C are ideal because they will kill pathogens and weed seeds. If your compost heap doesn’t reach 48°C to 71°C (120°F to 160°F), you probably don’t have enough nitrogen. Add more nitrogen materials, mix, and monitor again. Check the moisture content of your pile regularly; it should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully created your very own compost heap.
How to Turn Your Compost Pile for Optimal Results
A compost heap requires abundant water and air to maintain a high temperature. However, as these supplies are depleted, the aerobic bacteria population needed for decomposition will begin to die off, causing the temperature to drop. To revive the bacteria population, turning the hot compost heap at the right time is crucial. Here’s how to do it:
When to Turn the Compost Heap
Turning the heap too often can disturb decomposers and slow down the decomposition process. To turn it at the right time, wait until the temperature starts to fall. If you have a compost thermometer, take daily readings and turn the heap when temperatures drop. Otherwise, follow this rule of thumb:
- Turn the heap every 4 or 5 days, for 4 or 5 times.
- Then turn it every 7 to 10 days until finished.
Re-stacked, Not Stirred
For safety reasons, re-stack the pile instead of stirring it. The pile will be heavy and wet, and stirring it could injure your back.
Inside Out, Outside In
Organic waste heated in the center of the compost heap will be more decomposed than materials at the outer edge. To ensure all materials are at the same stage of decomposition, move them as follows when turning the heap:
- From the outer edges of the compost heap to the inside of the bin
- From the inside of the compost heap to the outer edges of the bin
- From the top of the compost heap to the bottom of the bin
- From the bottom of the compost heap to the top of the bin
The Finishing Touches
When transferring wastes to the compost bin, water every 6 inches and break up clumps of material that have matted together. The compost is ready for use when the contents can be sifted through a 0.5cm (¼ inch) screen or when it looks like rich, dark soil.
By following these steps, you can achieve optimal results from your compost heap.
Creating a Cold Compost Pile
To create a cold compost heap, you will need some equipment such as a bucket or container for collecting organic waste, a rake for gathering leaves and other garden debris, a shovel for mixing and turning the pile, and a wheelbarrow or pull cart to transport the compost.
Creating a cold compost pile is a simple process. First, select a location where you want to create the heap. Then, gather grass clippings, leaves, and pruning’s and stack them into a pile at your chosen location. From there, you can keep adding to the pile with more garden waste as needed.
Over the course of 1 to 2 years, your yard debris will decompose and the material at the bottom of the pile will become compost. Because it’s had the longest time to decompose. It should resemble crumbly soil with a rich smell.
If you choose to get yourself a compost bin like the one in the above image you can add food scraps, coffee grounds and other organic materials to your compost pile. Filing it up from the top top, in a year or two open up that green door and hey presto! Your compost is ready.
Once the compost is ready, you’ll need a shovel and a wheelbarrow or cart to spread it on your lawn or yard or vegetables for bigger produce, prettier flowers, and a healthier backyard at no extra cost.
Worm Composting – Vermicomposting
Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is a great option for composting at home. It requires minimal space, simple and inexpensive materials, and can be done both indoors and outdoors. All you need is a container or bin, bedding material, worms, and food scraps to get started. If properly maintained, the worm bin should not emit any unpleasant odors or attract pests.
The resulting product of vermicomposting is nutrient-rich vermicompost, which can be used as a soil amendment to improve plant health and growth.
If you’re interested in learning more about worm composting, we have created a comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know to get started.