Composting at Home Doesn’t Have to Seem Like Dirty Work – It’s Not

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When you think of people composting at home, you may conjure up images of crunchy, Birkenstock wearing hippies tending to the garden in their commune.

But the art of turning waste into soil is more common than you think.

In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people composted 1.84 million tons in 2013, but a mere 2 years later, they composted 2.1 million tons.

composting rules chart

Image via: cityofaspen.com

Evidently, composting at home is a national trend.

Unfortunately, many people shy away from composting at home because they think the process is too complicated. After all, who wants to learn about the terms anaerobic and aerobic in their spare time?

But trust us: composting at home isn’t difficult.

And if you don’t want to learn the science behind it, you don’t have to. (But we’ll try to make it as interesting as possible!)

Are you ready to get started turning all that waste into something valuable? Let’s learn how you can take the stuff you would normally throw away and turn it into compost.

Contents

Did You Know?


In the U.S., 40 percent of wasted food is thrown out. If people composted that food, it could be put to better use by helping grow other food.

What Is Compost?

Compost, often called Black Gold by gardeners, is decomposed organic matter. It is rich in nutrients and can be the difference between a garden that thrives and one that doesn’t.

Compost promotes soil microbes, and those microbes help plants reach their full potential.

Compost includes fungi, microscopic bacteria, crickets, earthworms, and other life forms. This mass of organic matter saturates the soil and helps plants feed themselves.

decaying organic matter

Image via: homeyou.com

What is the difference between compost and fertilizer?

Sometimes the word compost is mistakenly substituted for fertilizer, but they are two very different things. While compost is the decomposition of organic matter, fertilizer includes things like synthetic chemicals.

Compost works to add nutrients to the soil to help plants grow while fertilizer adds chemicals to the soil to make up for soil deficiencies.

One is a man-made remedy while the other comes from nature.

child holding a plant sprout

Image via: hirexp.com

5 Benefits of Composting

So far, we’ve only talked about one benefit of composting at home: allowing plants to better feed themselves.

But compost does much more.

man holding a compost fertilizer

Image via: pxhere.com

Here is a list of five benefits that composting at home will give you — and the world.

1

Composting at home reduces greenhouse gasses

Many people think that when they throw away food scraps and other compostable material, it will automatically compost in the landfill.

But that isn’t true.

Instead, all that food waste begins to produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas. And we all know that methane is known to contribute to global warming.

2

Compost improves soil quality

If you’ve ever tried to grow a garden in bad soil, you know how important composting at home is.

Good soil will produce grapefruit-sized tomatoes and roses beautiful enough to display on your dinner table.

red rose

To achieve that that soil quality, you should practice composting at home.

That’s because it regenerates bad soil by producing beneficial microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria.

Those organisms then break down the organic matter to produce humus. (No, not the kind you eat!)

All that composted material improves the quality of your soil.

person holding a humus

Don’t eat this humus!

Image via: vozdocampo.pt

hummus in a plate

Eat this hummus to your heart’s content! 

Image via: pxhere.com

3

Compost cleans up contaminated soil

When composting at home, you can clean up contaminated soil.

For instance, composting soil will absorb odors, and treat some Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as explosives and heating fuels.

Done right, composting at home can even make weed seeds unfertile.

Sometimes compost will eradicate pesticides, wood preservatives, and chlorinated and non-chlorinated hydrocarbons.

man fertilizing a rice field

4

Compost reduces erosion

Have you ever noticed that the naturally rich composted soil on riverbanks helps prevent the soil erosion around it?

wide river bed

Image via: commons.wikimedia.org

That’s because compost works as a preventative for soil erosion on rivers, lakes, creeks, and roadsides.

It also helps prevent erosion on golf courses and playing fields.

5

Composting from home saves money

Composting at home saves money in a variety of ways.

For starters, when your soil contains compost, the plants won’t need as much water.

Composted soil also helps prevent pests and diseases from ruining your plants, which means you won’t have to replant them or spread more seeds.

And composting at home can save you even more money at the nursery.

Instead of having to buy prepackaged compost and lug it home, you can simply make your own. Talk about a win-win!

Why Should You Compost?

In addition to the soil benefits we mentioned above, many great things happen when you practice composting at home.

Here are a few composting benefits that will motivate you to begin composting today:

  • Compost doesn’t wash away like fertilizers
  • It reduces the amount of waste in landfills
  • Reduces civic waste collection efforts
  • It doesn’t burn plants like fertilizers because it’s natural
  • Compost returns to the earth what came from it

Did You Know?


The greasy parts of a pizza box make it unsuitable for recycling, but you can compost it! Instead of throwing away your pizza boxes, add them to your compost pile.

10 Composting Misconceptions

For all the good composting at home does, it’s horribly misunderstood.

People imagine all kinds of worst-case scenarios when it comes to turning their food waste to compost.

Let’s put an end to those unfair compost rumors, shall we?

1

Compost smells bad

Many people think that compost is nothing more than a pile of trash, so they naturally assume that it smells bad.

So when they consider composting at home, they imagine a pile of stinky garbage right outside their door.

Luckily, that’s just not true.

When you monitor your compost pile and ensure the water levels and PH are at the right points, the compost pile will not have an odor.

2

Compost is useless

Some people can’t understand why you would go to all the trouble to practice composting at home. After all, it does take some work, and what benefit will you get from it?

There are two main reasons for composting at home, and both are great excuses to start the practice right away.

The first is that it helps the environment. It not only reduces greenhouse gasses, but it clears up space in the landfills.

Secondly, if you grow a garden, composting at home is a great way to increase your yield.

pineapple sitting on a field

We have a feeling that someone grew this pineapple in composted soil!

3

You use dirt or garbage to make compost

Another misconception about composting at home is that people throw anything into the pile they want.

But compost piles aren’t made up of random garbage.

Instead, they are carefully orchestrated piles of organic material that will turn into black gold.

4

It takes too long

Some people believe that starting and managing a compost pile takes hours of daily work, but that’s not the case.

Once you get your pile started, you can manage it in just a few minutes a day. All you need to do is turn the pile, check the PH levels, and add more organic matter to the pile.

Could it be any easier?

5

You need to keep the worms out

Au contraire!

In the normal course of life, worms aren’t something you spend a lot of time thinking about. And when they do somehow become part of your day, you probably do all you can to avoid them.

But when composting at home, worms will become your new best friend.

Worms eat the organic matter you add to the pile and add worm droppings, which help decompose the compost. (We would add a picture here, but we want you to keep reading!)

6

Temperature doesn’t matter

A compost pile that is in the process of decomposing will be warm.

If it isn’t, you’re not doing something right.

7

Pile size doesn’t matter

The size of your compost pile is important.

If it’s too small, it may not decompose properly, and if it’s too big, it may decompose too much.

The perfect size for your pile when composting at home is three feet tall and three feet wide on any one side.

8

Composting at home isn’t allowed
in the city

Some cities don’t allow urban farmers to compost, and so compost enthusiasts created another way to create the black gold.

It’s called vermicomposting, and instead of creating a 3 x 3 compost pile, it uses a bin filled with red worms.

The bin fits almost any place, and all you have to do is feed the worms food scraps to keep the compost going.

9

You can put anything in a compost pile

There is a sure-fire way to get your compost pile to smell — add items to it that aren’t supposed to be there.

You should never add meat, bones, any kind of dairy, or pet manure to your compost pile.

10

You have to be a perfectionist to compost

Yes, you will have to take specific steps to create beautiful compost, but you don’t have to be a perfectionist to do it right.

You will add layers to your compost pile, but if you accidentally add a wrong layer, the decomposition will still do its job.

people doing backyard compostiing

How Does Composting Work?

Organic matter will automatically decay, but composting at home speeds up the process by ensuring that conditions are ideal for the micro-organisms that feed on the pile to thrive.

By giving these micro-organisms a home, you will start the process of decomposition.

When composting at home, your pile will go through three stages before it becomes black gold.

Composting at home: stage one

In the first stage of decomposition, mesophilic microorganisms -- or microorganisms that thrive in temperatures ranging from 68 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit -- start to break down the organic material.

This stage goes quickly. Temperatures will rise to more than 104 degrees and will sustain itself for a couple of days.

Composting at home: stage two

In this next stage of decomposition, thermophilic microorganisms replace the mesophilic ones.

This stage lasts from just a few days to several months. The microorganisms break down the organic matter into even small pieces.

Temperatures continue to rise, and these higher temperatures are better for breaking down fats, complex carbohydrates, and proteins.

You will have to monitor the temperatures during this stage of composting because if the pile reaches 149 degrees or higher, it can kill off the microorganisms.

Turning over your pile and aerating it will help keep the temperatures lower.

bulldozer cultivating a compost pile

Image via: commons.wikimedia.org

Composting at home: stage three

This last stage of composting at home typically last several months. It happens when the thermophilic microorganisms use up all of the compounds.

The temperature begins to drop enough for the mesophilic microorganisms to return and finish breaking down the remaining organic matter into the black gold you’ve been waiting for.

Two Types of Composting

You can do composting at home in an open compost pile or a sealed one, and the method you choose will determine which types of microorganisms do the work.

Aerobic

Aerobic microorganisms live in the dirt and our environment.

When you compost using an open-air method such as piles or containers with no lids, aerobes will quickly populate your pile and begin chewing through it.

All that chewing creates heat, which speeds up the process.

Anaerobic

When you seal your compost pile, anaerobic microorganisms break down the organic matter. These microorganisms don’t need air, but what they produce isn’t as pretty as the aerobic’s work.

Sealed compost results in a wet, sloppy mess, but you can use it in your garden just as effectively.

Did You Know?


Composting reduces your carbon footprint. Not sure what yours is? Take this free online quiz that spells it out for you!

What Ingredients Do You Use for Composting at Home?

Composting is mostly made up of ingredients you would normally throw away, but shouldn’t. These essential ingredients will produce rich soil that help you grow the plants, flowers, or food you want.

Here’s a great example of what you can put in your compost pile:

This year as I took down my Christmas tree, I realized that instead of putting the tree on the curb for the city to take it away, I could use it in my compost pile.

That Christmas tree that brought so much joy during the holidays is now “cooking.” It will soon be used to grow my spring vegetables!

What Shouldn’t You Compost?

Just as a good compost pile has essential ingredients, there are some things you should not put in it.

Here’s an easy-on-the-eyes infographic explaining what you should not add to your compost pile.

What Not to Add to Your Compost Pile

  • domestic pet droppings
  • coal ask
  • colored paper
  • synthetic chemicals
  • dairy
  • meat
  • bones
  • fish
  • fats
  • plants that are diseased
  • plastic
  • metals
  • pressure treated lumber

Hot vs. Cold Composting

When composting at home, you can use two basics methods: hot or cold.

Each will produce black gold but have some distinct differences.

Hot composting

Hot composting is the most commonly used method and what our article has concentrated on so far.

Your compost will be ready faster when using hot composting.

With this method, you should take the following steps:

  • 1
    Create a pile that is 3 feet high and 3 feet wide on any side
  • 2
    Add two parts of brown matter, one part of green matter, and some good quality soil
  • 3
    Put the pile in an area where the sun can help heat it up, and the air can get to itLayer the ingredients with the brown matter on the bottom
  • 4
    Soak the pile after creating it and then keep it the consistency of a damp sponge
  • 5
    Punch holes in the side of the pile to add air to it
  • 6
    If the pile begins to stink, flip it over and take out any dairy or meat items that may have gotten mixed in it
  • 7
    In the beginning, turn the pile once a week until it begins to cook down
  • 8
    If you want to be able to use your compost faster, turn it every other day

Cold composting

If you use the cold compost method, it could take a year or more for your pile to become useable.

But this method is easier and doesn’t take as much effort as hot composting.

Follow these steps to cold compost:

  • 1
    Add the same types of ingredients as you to would a hot compost pile
  • 2
    Place your kitchen scraps in the center of the pile to deter animals from raiding your pile
  • 3
    Don’t add weeds to the pile because it will not generate enough heat to kill them
  • 4
    With this method, you can add as you go instead of creating one big pile
  • 5
    Always keep a brown layer on top of the green layer to deter gnats, rodents, fruit flies, and smells
  • 6
    Turn it once a week to ensure greens and browns are thoroughly mixed
  • 7
    Stockpile some browns to ensure you always have this type of organic matter to put on top of kitchen scraps

Remember! The more often you turn your compost pile, the faster you’ll be able to use it.

What Types of Composting at Home Can You Do?

When composting at home, you’ll have a lot of options.

You can compost indoors, outdoors, in a garden, in a small area on the side of the house, and even on an apartment balcony.

Check out these cool composting ideas to kick start your imagination into high gear!

5 types of outdoor composting

If you want to create a large compost area, you should think about making your pile outdoors.

Maybe you have a big vegetable garden, or perhaps you’re an avid rose grower. If you need a lot of compost for your garden, outdoor composting is definitely for you.

Here are some options for outdoor composting.

outdoor composting in a wooden box

Image via: gerimgq.pw

1

Lasagna gardening direct composting

If you have room for a garden but don’t want to keep a compost pile or bin, lasagna gardening, also called sheet mulching, could be your solution.

With this method, you will create your compost pile directly in the area where you grow your plants or vegetables. You can do this on the ground or in a raised bed.

Start by laying a layer of cardboard on the bottom. The theory behind this is that it creates a weed barrier, and the weeds will die before the cardboard decomposes.

Next, add a layer of dirt. On top of that add a layer of green organic material such as kitchen scraps.

Then, add another layer of brown matter such as dried brush, shredded leaves, manure, or hay. Then add another layer of dirt.

Plant your vegetables or plants, and then layer the top of the ground with a thick layer of mulch to further prevent weeds from growing.

2

Wire bin

To create a hot composting at home bin, use wire to create a DIY bin.

Set up your wire using poles and create a bin that is at least 3 feet wide. Then add your layers as directed in the hot composting method outlined above.

3

Plastic storage bin

If you’re limited on space, composting at home with a plastic storage bin is a great solution. You can use this method on apartment balconies or in a small backyard space.

What’s more, you can use this method for hot or cold composting at home.

Use it by adding layers of compost to the pile inside of the plastic bin. If you want to use cold composting, simply add a lid to the plastic bin.

4

Trash can

If a plastic bin isn’t large enough for you, use a trash can for hot or cold composting at home.

Use it the same way: by adding layers to the trash either all at once if you plan to hot compost or a little at a time if you want to cold compost.

The great thing about using a trash can to compost is that it’s easy to turn your layers. Just turn it on its side and roll!

metal trash cans

Image via: fr.rti.org.tw

5

Vermicomposting

We mentioned this earlier, but want to make sure you don’t forget about this great alternative.

Vermicomposting uses red worms to chew up your kitchen scraps and makes a beautiful, hands-free compost in no time.

You can use this method indoors and outdoors.

Indoor Composting

indoor compost bin

Image via: bhg.com

Indoor composting is a thing.

I know, it sounds gross, doesn’t it?

But if maintained correctly, there is no reason why you can’t participate in composting at home from indoors and produce the same black gold that others do outdoors.

After all, why should only people with outdoor space have all the fun?

You can use some of the methods we mentioned above for indoor composting, too.

For instance, if you have the stomach for it, you can do vermicomposting indoors, as well as use a plastic bin with a lid indoors.

You can also use a 5-gallon bucket, old drawers, and solid wooden crates. Be sure to provide some type of lid such as a hinged piece of wood or a thick painter’s drop cloth.

You can also use specialty kitchen countertop indoor compost buckets.

These items aren’t used to compost, but to carry kitchen scraps to your compost pile. They have charcoal lids to block the smell in between trips.

When composting indoors, be sure keep some brown organic matter on hand so you can add it on top of any kitchen scraps you add.

Also, be sure to chop up or shred the items you place in your bin into small pieces. This makes the process move along faster.

Cool DIY Composting Bins

If you want to build your own composting bin, it’s not that difficult.

In fact, here are some cool DIY composting bin ideas that will have you composting in no time.

Pallet and wood bin

If you want to build an affordable compost bin, this one could do the trick.

Use two pallets — one for the bottom and one that you will break up to form the frame. Then wrap hardware cloth around it.

Use a second roll of wire to insert in the middle of the pile as a chimney. This will allow air to reach the bottom on your pile.

All pallet bin


You can usually find pallets for free, and if you can round up five of them, you can use them to make a useful DIY compost bin.

Use one of them for the base, and then use brackets to secure the others to it. Don’t forget to attach hinges to one of them, so you have a workable door.

Brick compost bin


If you love the idea of composting from home but don’t want unsightly bins in your backyard, consider building one from brick.

The video below outlines a plan that will help you build a brick compost bin with an optional mesh frame that grants you access to it.

Cinder block compost bin

If you like the idea of having a permanent structure but don’t want to spend the money on expensive bricks, you can use these plans to build it out of cinder block.

What Do You Need for Composting?

By now, you’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to babysit a pile of scraps and grass clipping for the next few months.

You’ve also committed to turning the pile as often as it needs to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold.

organic trash in a pile

Image via: br.wikipedia.org

Congratulations, you’ve taken the first step towards a composting at home lifestyle. But now that you’ve made the commitment, you need to buy some tools.

Relax, you don’t need a lot of them. But you do need a few tools to make your life easier.

A composting bin (or not)

One of the first things you need to think about is where you will put your compost pile.

You can use one of the many suggestions we’ve made for both store-bought bins and DIY bins, or you can start a pile in your backyard without a bin.

It will be messier, but it will still turn into the black gold you’re looking for.

decaying plants in a black trash can

Image via: flickr.com

Turning tool

You need something to help you turn your pile, and here’s where you can get creative.

You buy a fancy compost turning tool, which is a cross between a pitchfork and a shovel, or you can use the pitchfork you already have in the shed.

Compost thermometer

You need the right temperature in your pile when composting from home, and a compost thermometer will help you achieve it.

Moisture meter

You will need to gauge your compost pile’s water level, and a moisture meter will tell you when you need to add water to your pile.

Compost accelerators and starters

If you want your compost pile to work double-time, consider adding a compost accelerator or starter to it. When you do, your pile will be ready to use even faster.

How to Choose a Composter

Choosing a composter is about more than choosing one that goes aesthetically in your house or yard.

diy composter blue bin

Image via: negoinc.com

You need to consider several factors to ensure you get the right composter so that you can successfully work on composting at home.

Here are the factors you should keep in mind when choosing yours:

What do you want to avoid?

Decide what you want to avoid when composting at home and you’ll narrow down your choices.

Do you want to prevent smells? An open-air composter is probably right for you. Want to avoid a visible compost pile in the backyard? Consider compositing in a trash can that will blend right in.

Make a list of what you don’t want when composting at home and it will help narrow down your list.

What do you want to accomplish?

You should also make a list of the things you want to accomplish when composting at home.

Do you want to produce enough compost for your entire vegetable garden? Then you should consider a large bin.

Do you want an attractive compost pile? Then maybe building one made from brick is your perfect solution.

How much time do you have?

If you want to set it and forget it, look for an enclosed compost bin you can use to cold compost.

On the other hand, if you’re going to dedicate some time to the process, purchase or make an open-air compost bin that you can use to hot compost.

What is your fitness level?

Some compost bins are easier to use than others, and if your fitness level isn’t good, you need to consider it when deciding which type of compost bin to use.

For example, if you have a bad back and turning your compost pile would hurt it, buy a tumbler bin so that you don’t have to do the back-breaking work yourself.

How big is your family?

You don’t need to buy or build a large compost bin if you’re the only one in your family who produces waste.

On the other hand, if you have a large family, you will need a bigger bin when composting at home.

Step-by-Step Composting Guide (with Pictures)

If all this information seems a little overwhelming and you would rather us give you 7-easy steps to start composting at home, you’re in luck.

Take a look at our easy-to-digest guide. We’ve even included pictures!

1

Choose your bin

Answer the questions above to determine the perfect compost bin for you.

Then either purchase one, build one, or start your pile from something you have laying around the house.

biodegradable waste in a wooden box

2

Choose your location

Choosing the right spot for composting from home is essential.

For example, if you’re cold composting, you won’t want the bin close to your house as it could draw rodents if you’re not careful.

And if you’re composting to add the black gold to your vegetable patch, you should position it nearby so you won’t have to haul it as far.

Make sure the area is flat, gets plenty of sun, and is well-drained.

decaying organic waste in a wooden box

3

Alternate layers

Start by adding bulky twigs and brush to the bottom layer because this will help aerate the pile. Then alternate layers of brown and green organic matter.

Don’t forget to finish with a layer of brown to keep bugs and critters away from your pile.

organic waste in a plastic bin

4

Add Waste

Begin collecting your kitchen waste in an indoor bin and when it’s full, add it to your compost pile. Then, add some of your brown organic matter on top of it.

composting vegetables and fruits leftovers

Image via: yogajournal.com

Do this continually to build your pile.

5

Add layers

As the pile decomposes, it will begin to shrink. Continue adding layers to it until it is full.

organic trash in a wheelbarrow

6

Maintain the pile

You should maintain your compost to make sure it’s on track to become black gold.

Do this by mixing your new layers in with the old layers, add water as needed to give it that damp sponge feel, and turn it at least once a week.

man cultivating a compost pit

Image via: commons.wikimedia.org

7

Harvest the black gold

When the top of your compost pile smells like the earth and is dark and crumbly, your compost is ready.

Since finished compost travels to the top of your pile, carefully remove the finished part and allow the rest to continue the process.

Transport the finished compost to your garden area and spread it.

man holdiing a finished compost

Image via: pxhere.com

Common Composting Problems and How to Fix Them

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, composting at home turns out differently than you’d imagined it would.

You can run into problems when composting, even if it’s the tenth compost pile you’ve created.

To help you get past these compost troubles, we’ve created a composting at home troubleshooting guide to help.

Your pile is too wet

If you’ve added a bunch of green organic material such as kitchen scraps and grass cuttings, your compost pile can become too wet.

When this happens, harmful insects will take up residence in the pile, and you could start smelling foul odors.

To combat this problem, dump the entire pile out and combine it with a good amount of brown organic matter such as cardboard, egg cartons, hay, or dried brush.

Mix it together and put it back in the compost bin. This should clear up the problem.

(Designer_start) Please place image here (Designer_end)

Your pile is too acidic

When you add a lot of green organic matter, along with a lot of waste from citrus, your pile may become too acidic.

When this happens, it slows down or even stops the decomposition process. Clear this up by adding coal ash and a large helping of browns to the pile.

Your pile is too dry

If your compost pile is mostly made up of brown organic matter, your pile can quickly dry out.

When this happens, the decomposition process will slow down because microorganisms can’t thrive in that environment.

Start clearing up the problem by adding some green organic matter to the pile and mixing it in. Then water the pile to ensure the greens are thoroughly soaked.

composting process in a flow chart

Resources for Composting at Home

Finally, if you’re going to be composting at home, you need a good list of resources you can use to help make the process easier.

Here are a few sites that you can use to further your education about composting from home and gather information:

  • Cityfarmer.org: This site has a wealth of information about composting at home, including a brown/green composting recipe.
  • Howtocompost.org: This is another site dedicated to educating the public about everything compost. It even includes recipes for compost tea.
  • Houzz.com: You will find a discussion board on this site where other people talk about their successes and failures of composting at home. It’s a great place to connect with other composters!
  • Realgoods.com:  If you need to find gear and composting equipment, this is one of the best-known sites for natural products.

Is Composting at Home Right for You?

Now that understand how a little dirt, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and cardboard boxes can produce a material most gardeners drool over, it’s time to decide: is composting at home right for you?

If so, we’ve given you a wealth of material so you can get started.

Have you already started your compost pile? If so, we would love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.

And if you haven’t yet started your pile, we want to hear from you, too!


Suzanne Kearns
 

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