What if there was a way to reduce your weekly garbage waste by a third and give yourself the most nutrient-rich fertilizer free of charge, would you be interested in doing?
The good news is such a product is available, and all it takes is learning how to start a compost pile.
How do you start a compost pile?
It couldn’t be easier to start your own compost system at home, as long as you understand the dos and don’ts of what to throw in there.
Once the compost is up and running, you’ll be rewarded with free fertilizer and a way to significantly reduce the amount of waste that your household contributes to landfill.
Starting a compost pile is a simple matter of diverting scraps of fruits, vegetables, and other compost-safe items from your garbage can into the compost system.
These items all break down and turn into a nutrient rich fertilizer that can then be used in your garden, so if you don’t have one already cooking, it’s time to learn the basics and get started.
- 1 How Do I Start a Compost Pile?
- 2 The Best Options for Compost Systems
- 3 How Long Does It Take to Make Compost?
- 4 What Items Can I Compost?
- 5 What Should Not Be Put In the Compost?
- 6 The Carbon/Nitrogen Rule
- 7 Tips for a Healthy Compost
- 8 What Can I Do With My Compost?
- 9 Giving Back to the Earth With Compost
- 10 Related Questions
How Do I Start a Compost Pile?
You can start your very own compost pile without purchasing a bin or tumbler, so you can begin right away. Follow these simple steps to get your compost pile growing and to see how to keep in maintained as it starts to grow.
- Find a patch of bare earth in your yard that will become a compost pile. Depending on how much waste you want to put there, this could be just a foot or two wide or bigger. You’ll want your pile to end up a few feet tall at first so make sure you have a good accumulation of stuff to put on there.
- Start with materials that will help with drainage, like dried twigs and straw. By keeping this on the bottom it’ll provide aeration as you add to it, so you want a few inches at least.
- Make the next layers, doing one wet and one dry, then repeating. The dry materials include things like dead leaves, twigs, and straws, whereas your wet materials are things that have usually come from the kitchen like fruit and vegetable scraps.
- Put a pile of green manure on the top, which includes items like fresh grass clippings or buckwheat. With the wet manure products on top, it’ll speed up the composting process and get it activated.
- If you live in a dry area or it hasn’t rained in a week, water your pile with the hose now and then. If it rains too much, add some more dry materials to the heap. You want it to be moist only, and not soaking wet, so keep an eye on its composition and adjust as needed.
- Place a cover of something natural to keep the heat and moisture in which in turn helps to break it all down and turn it into compost. Look for pieces of wood or carpet scraps that can go on top to keep it together.
- Every few weeks, turn the pile using a shovel or pitchfork. In addition to the aeration products on the bottom, this will help get it air and bring in much-needed oxygen that helps with the composting process. As you get more products, you can add them on top, so there’s no need to continue layering once it gets going.
The Best Options for Compost Systems
If you don’t want to keep your compost pile on the ground, you can purchase a system that holds it for you.
Depending on your household circumstances and what you aim to do with the compost once it’s done, you might prefer one of these options over the others.
This is an enclosed compost bin that aims to keep bugs and worms out, so they do a great job at trapping heat and breaking everything down.
A compost bin still needs to be turned but everything is housed inside so it’s not visible and doesn’t smell unless the lid is off.
A worm bin has been specifically made to house worms, as they are valuable to the composting process. They usually have less smell because they’re open and can provide nutrient-rich fertilizer.
These bins feature a large handle that allows you to rotate the bin and aerate it without the need for a shovel or pitchfork.
Unfortunately, using a compost tumbler means you won’t be able to have worms, as the tumbling will disrupt them and do them harm, but they are hugely beneficial still.
How Long Does It Take to Make Compost?
Making compost is not a process for the impatient, so don’t expect to start your pile and have some fresh fertilizer ready the next day.
The time it takes for the materials you’ve added to turn into compost depends on a few factors, including:
- The variety of ingredients in there
- How often it’s turned
- The type of bin or pile you’re using
- Surface area and size
- The right ratio of wet and dry materials
- The outside weather
You can expect the average compost bin that’s regularly tended to and with the right materials to take around three months to produce compost that you can use.
In some climates, it can take up to a year to get started, but adding to the pile each day will ensure you have an almost constant stream of compost to use once it gets started.
What Items Can I Compost?
The list of items that can be thrown into the compost is surprisingly large and goes far beyond what most people realize.
Knowing everything that can go into the pile means households can reduce their waste by up to 30 percent, so any time you go to throw something in the trash, check first if it’s on this list.
- Scraps from fruits and vegetables
- Stale, moldy or fresh bread
- Coffee grounds, beans, and paper filters
- Washed eggshells
- Shredded newspaper, envelopes or other non-glossy paper
- Dry leaves and chopped wood
- Plant and grass clippings
- Sticks, twigs, and branches
What Should Not Be Put In the Compost?
A compost heap is not a glorified trash pile, and adding the wrong materials to it can lead to some pretty grotesque things.
You can attract pests and wildlife, ruin the healthy balance of your compost heap, and create some nasty smells and sights if you attempt to throw any of these items in.
- Dairy products: milk, butter, cheese
- Meat and poultry: bones, fat, and meat
- Oils: Fats and oils, even from natural sources
- Pet waste: Waste from any carnivorous animals in the house
- Diseased greenery: Plants or grass that is diseased
- Treated wood: Any chips or sawdust that’s come from pressure-treated wood
- Weeds: Specific weeds that turn to seeds
The Carbon/Nitrogen Rule
There are plenty of great tips and tricks out there to follow in the compost world, but you can boil it all down to one simple equation. For a compost pile to thrive and be healthy, it needs to follow the carbon-nitrogen ratio.
As a goal, you should be aiming for ratio of two-thirds carbon and one-third nitrogen, but you can add whatever you need to reach the perfect composition.
Your compost pile should be damp but not wet, and if it’s smelling too much then it needs an immediate boost of carbon.
Carbon dense products help keep the compost light and fluffy and add a dryness that’s needed to it. Nitrogen products are those that make enzymes and will add moisture to the mix.
To get the best compost, you need to have a higher ratio of carbon than nitrogen products, so check out how to balance yours with these common household ingredients.
Carbon Rich Products
- Dried leaves, stems, branches from the garden
- Bark dust, sawdust pellets, and bits of wood
- Eggshells (washed out)
- Brown paper bags (shredded)
- Coffee grounds and coffee filters
- Straw, wood ash, peat moss
- Fruit and vegetable peels
Nitrogen Rich Products
- All allowed food scarps
- Kitchen waste
- Green or fresh leaves and lawn clippings
- Manure from allowed animals
Tips for a Healthy Compost
Knowing what you can and can’t put into your compost is the most important part of growing a healthy pile, but there are other ways you can improve on it. Follow these tips to get your compost thriving with just a few simple changes that will help it grow.
- If you want to attract earthworms to your compost, be careful about what you put in there. Garlic and onion are two things that will repel worms so try throwing them somewhere else if you don’t want to scare them away.
- The materials in the bin will break down faster the smaller they are. For fruit and vegetable scraps, these should be cut into pieces about half the size of your first or less. Any paper should be shredded and clippings spread evenly onto the pile.
- During winter you can transfer your compost pile to a black plastic bin to help keep heat and moisture in. When the weather heats up, put it back on the ground where the pile was.
- Where possible, try to add larger amounts to the pile rather than just a small bit each day. The compost should digest through a large number of materials compared to bits and pieces.
- The ideal temperature for a compost bin is between 120-160˚F because it will break it down the fastest. It will still occur in colder temperatures but can add a few months to the process.
- If you notice your compost pile starting to give off an unpleasant smell, you can try aerating it more often. This smell is usually due to anaerobic microbes that do the hard work of breaking down all the materials and leaving behind an unfortunate stench. It’s totally normal in most cases but can be quickly reduced by giving the pile a little more air.
- Corn cobs, avocado seeds, and woody stalks are just a few things that take a long time to decompose. If you plan on throwing them into the compost then smash them up with a hammer or cut them in half first.
What Can I Do With My Compost?
The most rewarding part of starting your own compost pile is getting to use it once it’s ready.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb or an extensive garden, there are plenty of ways to use the goodness you’ve created, or simply to let it continue cooking as a safe and green way to reduce your household waste.
To tell when the compost is ready, you’ll usually be able to feel the temperature as a guide just by putting your hand over the top of it or even touching it.
Compost that feels dry and crumbly is ready to go and at its best state for the garden. If it still feels moist and hot when you go near it, it probably needs some more dry materials to even it out.
Take the compost out and put it into your flower beds, aiming for around four inches at least to be covered.
Time this with the start of planting season so that it reaches the plants at their most optimal growth phase, or scatter it around the garden bed at other times if it’s ready to go, being sure to mix it into the soil that’s there.
If you’re a serious gardener, you might want to create a compost tea that can be used as liquid fertilizer. This is seriously nutrient-rich and your plants will love it, but it requires some additional work.
Take some of the finished compost and let it steep in the water for a few days before filling up your fertilizer spray bottles and targeting all the areas of the garden that need it.
Giving Back to the Earth With Compost
Common misconceptions about compost like it being smelly or hard to maintain keep a lot of people away from starting their own system, but when it’s done the right way none of these things will matter.
All you need to begin a compost pile is a few kitchen scraps and some carefully sourced garden materials, so nothing is stopping you from making your own.
A compost pile is not only the easiest way to reduce your household waste and save excess materials from going into landfills across the country, but also to help out your garden.
You’ll save money on fertilizer, be able to turn your household waste into something productive, and your plants and flowers will love their new nutrients.
Every gardener is different and so too is their compost pile, so no method suits us all.
Whether you want to grow glorious compost heaps to make your flowers bloom or just to redirect your household waste to something useful and earth-friendly, this is one simple thing that everyone can do.
The beauty of a compost heap is that it’s simple and straightforward, and there’s no need to have special gardening skills or love of worms just to make one.
If you’re brand new to compost, we’ve got the answers to some common questions that first-timers have before starting theirs.
Does a Compost Need Worms?
A compost pile doesn’t need worms to break it down but it can speed up the process and add nutrients. If you’re using a compost pile or worm friendly compost box, there’s no need to add worms to it.
Earthworms are naturally drawn to compost and will make their way to the pile with a little patience.
Do I Have to Use the Compost I Make?
Some people might find that they create a compost heap but don’t end up using any of the product they’ve made in their garden.
There’s no need to remove compost that has broken down if you don’t want to, so it’s not a requirement if you don’t have any plants or flowers you want to use it on. Just make sure you are keeping the consistency of the compost correct and adding more brown waste if needed.
Why Does My Compost Have Maggots?
Flies are naturally attracted to compost because of its contents and they can easily get to it if you don’t have an enclosed compost box.
These flies and maggot breed in compost bins because it’s full of nutrients and they’re totally harmless. In some cases, soldier fly larvae can help your compost by breaking it down further, as an earthworm would.