Ways & How

How to Compost at Home

How to Compost at Home

Twenty to thirty percent of what we throw away are food scraps and yard waste, which can be (and should be) composted instead. Making compost at home keeps these wastes out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that could make our current environmental situation even worse. The key to successful composting is the balance of browns, greens, water, and oxygen. “Browns” refer to carbon-rich matter that includes dead leaves, branches, twigs, hay, and even newspapers. “Greens” are nitrogen-rich matter that includes vegetable wastes, fruit scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and the old-standby: farm animal manure (from herbivores). To harvest “black gold” from these wastes, you need to nurture them with water and air. Compost microbes need the right amount of water in order to thrive. Too much water reduces airflow, prevents heating, and makes the pile smell. Too little water slows down decomposition and the heating of waste materials. Airflow is important because the bacteria that decompose organic matter, as well as other microorganisms that make up the compost ecosystem, need to breathe.

st piles need “porosity,” or, the ability of oxygen to move around the pile (this also reduces unpleasant odors). If you are inspired to grow a luscious garden, here are a few tips to get you started on how to compost at home.

  1. Assemble equipment and ingredients. After collecting organic scraps as listed above, assemble your garden tools: pitchfork, water hose with a spray head, square-point shovel, and a water-resistant cover to keep your pile moist and protect it from soaking rain.

  2. Choose a dry, shady area near a water source for your compost pile. Dig a hole that you think is comfortable enough to manage. A 3’x3’x3’ hole is usually sufficient.

  3. Install a base of hay about six inches thick to aerate your compost pit. As your compost settles, the layer of hay provides pockets of air. Make a layer of browns first and greens next. Larger pieces should be chopped up or shredded.

  4. Moisten your pile by hosing it down with chemical-free water. Don’t make it soggy; otherwise, your pile will rot instead of decompose.

  5. Top your first layer with another layer of browns and greens. In between, sprinkle a thin layer of soil. Once your compost pile is established, top it all with grass clippings and green waste.

  6. Turn your pile regularly, preferably every two weeks since your waste materials will be matted. This will encourage airflow into your mixture and speed up the decay process.

  7. Cover your compost with a tarp to keep it moist. When the material at the bottom of your compost pile is rich, dark, crumbly, and gives off a sweet, earthy smell, it is ready to use. Depending on your local conditions, this can take anywhere from two months to 12.

If you don’t have enough space for backyard composting, you can compost organic materials indoors using a special type of bin that you can buy at a local hardware store or garden supply shop. Or you can make the bin yourself. Remember to always include the browns and greens in a 3:1 ratio (three parts browns to one part greens), plus provisions for water and air. Turn and mix your pile to create proper airflow and prevent it from matting. After tending your pile, secure the lid properly. Also, watch what you throw in. Correctly managing your indoor compost bin will not attract pests or rodents, and it won’t give off an unpleasant smell. Your indoor compost can be ready in as early as two weeks. As you can see, learning how to compost at home can be relatively painless and even productive, especially if you are planning to grow your favorite vegetables free from chemicals. If you have no space for a backyard edible landscape, consider vertical gardening.


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