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June 2, 2022  |  Home

Everything you need to get started with home composting

How to get started composting

Composting is more than a feel-good endeavor. It is also not reserved for preppers who want to be prepared for catastrophic events. Composting is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This hierarchy was created to outline actions organizations can take “to prevent and divert wasted food.”

However, composting is also important on an individual level. Roughly 30 percent of what we throw away could be composted. Instead of waste, we’d have soil-enriching organic material that not only frees up space in landfills but reduces the amount of methane gas that is produced and released into the atmosphere. 

Why compost is important

Unlike animals, plants are not mobile. When they need to eat, they can’t go out and hunt for food; it has to be brought to them.

Soil isn’t dirt. It’s alive. It provides the nutrients needed to support plant life. For dirt to remain soil, it must be continually fortified with nutrients. Once soil becomes dirt, plants cease to live.

Compost is a carbon-rich fertilizer that is made from organic materials. It is a source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — the primary nutrients plants need to thrive. Compost can help soil retain moisture, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, encourage the production of beneficial bacteria and help suppress disease and pests. Compost is the secret ingredient that lets your garden thrive.

What materials can be composted?

According to the EPA, successful composting requires equal amounts of green and brown materials. The greens provide nitrogen, while the browns provide carbon. Water and oxygen are also necessary elements for composting.

Greens

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Eggshells
  • Houseplants
  • Flowers
  • Green leaves
  • Tea bags


Browns

  • Hay
  • Corn stalks
  • Fall leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Cardboard
  • Twigs
  • Cotton
  • Fireplace ashes

What materials can’t be composted?

Not all organic materials may be added to your compost pile. The wrong materials can be harmful to plants, destroy beneficial nutrients or invite unwanted pests. Here are some items you never want to add to your compost pile:

  • Plants that have been treated with pesticides
  • Diseased plants
  • Insect-ridden plants
  • Dairy products
  • Black walnut twigs and leaves
  • Grease
  • Fats
  • Oils
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Bones
  • Animal waste

How do I compost?

Composting might sound like a difficult, labor-intensive task, but it takes only slightly more effort than tossing something in the trash.

Select a location

Choose a location for your compost pile or compost bin. The area should be dry and shady yet within reach of a hose.

Create your pile

Mix layers of green and brown material so your compost pile has roughly equal parts of each. If your compost pile is not heating up as expected, add more greens. If it begins to smell, add more browns. 

Moisten and mix

Moisten any dry materials as they are added. Mix your compost pile roughly once every two weeks.

Cover

To help keep a compost pile moist, you can cover it with a tarp.

Monitor the pile

It is important to monitor your compost to make sure it doesn’t become dry enough to spontaneously combust. When the compost is ready, it will be a rich brown color that smells like earth. The material will be cool to the touch and crumble in your hand. If you can still see recognizable food content, the compost is not ready.

Hot composting vs. cold composting

There are two basic types of composting: hot and cold. 

Hot composting

With hot composting (also known as batch composting), you create your compost in batches and do not add to them. You just mix them every couple of weeks. This process is much faster, but you should not add anything new once you start. Your compost will be ready in about two months. 

Cold composting

With cold composting (also known as add-as-you-go composting), you add new materials regularly. The benefit is you only need one pile and you have a place to add new materials as they become available. On the downside, this type of composting can require up to two years to be ready.

Use a combination of hot and cold

For the best of both worlds, have more than one compost pile. Build up the first pile until it gets to a predetermined size. At this point, start a second pile. This way, you can continue to add materials to the new pile without slowing down the composting process of the original pile.

What you need for composting

FCMP IM4000 Dual-Chamber Tumbling Composter

FCMP IM4000 Dual-Chamber Tumbling Composter

Create compost in as few as two weeks with this tumbling bin that is equipped with two compartments. This unit is a low-maintenance composter that is best for the beginner.

Sold by Amazon, Home Depot, Kohl’s and Wayfair

OXO Easy-Clean Compost Bin

OXO Easy-Clean Compost Bin

If you’re looking for a convenient countertop composter, this 1.75-gallon capacity model is perfect for the busy kitchen. It has a stay-open lid, so you can toss in scraps while working. When finished, the lid seals shut to contain odors and keep pests away.

Sold by Amazon and Macy’s

Jobe's Organics Compost Starter

Jobe's Organics Compost Starter

Jobe’s is for people who want to accelerate the composting process. This product increases microbial activity, so you get results in as little as two to three weeks.

Sold by Amazon

 

Anvil 14-tine bow rake

Anvil 14-Tine Bow Rake

If you prefer to mix your compost with a rake rather than a shovel, this model from Anvil is an excellent choice. It has a tempered steel head and a 51-inch wooden handle.

Sold by Home Depot

Ames Four-tine Forged Spading Fork

Ames Four-tine Forged Spading Fork

A third option for turning compost is a spading fork. This tool has a 30-inch handle, and it can easily penetrate and aerate your compost pile with its four sharp tines and poly D-grip.

Sold by Home Depot

Everbilt Medium Duty Tarp

Everbilt Blue Medium Duty Tarp

Though it is optional, a tarp can help your compost pile retain moisture. This medium-duty option is 12 feet by 16 feet. It’s water-resistant and reusable.

Sold by Home Depot

Whitetail Institute Laboratory Soil Test Kit

Whitetail Institute Laboratory Soil Test Kit

If you are curious about the nutrient content of your compost, you can send it out to be tested. This affordable kit from the Whitetail Institute returns easy-to-understand results within one week.

Sold by Amazon


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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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