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Home/Blog/Home Composting for Beginners

Home Composting for Beginners

By Todd Vincent

April 11, 2023

Home composting

It’s Springtime, and you may have some garden ideas bubbling in your brain. To give your garden, whether its veggies or flowers or a mix of the two, a boost, consider providing those plants your own DIY compost.

“Make my own compost?!” I promise, it’s not intimidating in the least. All you need are a few ingredients that you likely already have on hand, along with some minor equipment.

In the process, you’ll be keeping food waste out of landfills while creating the best kind of soil.

What Is Compost?

Broadly, any organic matter will eventually break down, but composting increases the breakdown speed. At our Ancient Nutrition farms, we use compost, aka food scraps, to help build the soil. Compost can also play a vital role in your own garden. (Learn how to start a garden.)

Composting creates the ideal environment for bacteria and other decomposing microorganisms. When done properly, compost both looks and feels like garden soil and can help flowers, plants, trees and more thrive. Compost often is dark, crumbly and smells like the earth. You’ll love it!

Benefits

Compost isn’t just a heap of food scraps and dirt. There are many genuine benefits, including:

  • Enriches soil, helping to retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.

  • Help plants retain more moisture during periods of drought, which is becoming more common with climate change.

  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

  • Increase soil structure to help prevent erosion and is a big part of the regenerative agriculture movement.

  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich, nutrient-filled material.

  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

  • Provides a free garden and lawn amendment.

How to Compost in Your Backyard

There are four essentials for a successful DIY compost: nitrogen, carbon, moisture and oxygen. Here’s how you make it work.

Common nitrogen-rich essentials for composting include:

Common carbon-rich essentials for composting include:

  • Dried leaves

  • Chopped up corn cobs

  • Ripped up cardboard (best if ink-free and untreated)

First, select a dry, shady spot not too far from a water source for your compost pile or bin. You can either buy or build the right container.

Second, simply add brown and green materials as they're collected, making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded, such as onion skins.

Third, moisten dry materials as they're added.

Fourth, once your compost pile begins to get established, toss in grass clippings and green waste into the pile, and bury fruit and vegetable waste under at least 10 inches of compost material.

Fifth, turn your compost pile every week or two with a pitchfork or shovel, and keep it moist but not too moist.

Optionally, cover the top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist. When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This usually takes anywhere between two months to two years.

Cold Composting vs. Hot Composting

Along with the above, there are two ways to go when home composting: cold composting or hot composting.

Cold Compost Pile or Compost Bin

  • Perfect for people who don't have a lot of time to devote to the compost.

  • Requires no maintenance but takes longer to break down. (Up to a year or more.)

  • Best for piling grass clippings and dry leaves.

  • Must keep weeds out of this mix because it likely won't heat up enough to kill weed seeds.

  • Chopping or shredding yard waste with a mower before adding to the pile can speed up the composting process.

Hot Composting

  • Requires more work, but a few minutes a day can create compost in just a few weeks.

  • Best when high-carbon and high-nitrogen material are mixed in at a 1-to-1 ratio.

  • A minimum compost bin or pile size is 3-feet-by-3-feet-by-3-feet.

  • Choose a level, well-drained site, preferably near your garden.

  • Choose a compost bin that's right for you, or build a pile direction on the ground.

  • Building an effective pile means either alternating layers of high-carbon and high-nitrogen material or mixing the two together and then adding to the pile.

  • If alternating layers, make each layer 2 to 4 inches thick.

  • Water periodically, but don't saturate.

  • Punch holes in the sides of the pile for aeration.

  • Start turning when the pile's internal temperature peaks at about 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (Compost thermometers are available.)

  • Move materials from the center to the outside and vice versa.

Daily or three-times-a-week turning should be enough to create compost in less than a month. Turning every other week means it'll usually take about one to three months for finished compost. Remember, compost is "done" when it smells sweet and is cool and crumbly to the touch.

What to Avoid Putting in Your Compost

There are many things to keep out of your home compost bin. Don't compost these:

  • Dryer lint and vacuum dust

  • Feces of any kind

  • Diseased plants

  • Dairy, meat, bones and other animal products

  • Grease and fat

  • Coal ash or charcoal

  • Trimmings from walnut trees

  • Paper (some people recommend it, but it could contain toxic printer ink chemicals)

  • Any yard trimmings that could be contaminated with pesticides

Todd Vincent, aka The Fermented Farmer, is the Farm Director of the Ancient Nutrition Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability in middle Tennessee. He has practiced regenerative agriculture for more than 16 years. He and his family have run successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in Illinois and Tennessee, bringing Todd’s passion for fresh, nutritious foods to the masses. He has practiced managed grazing herd of grass-fed jersey cows, large scale pastured egg production, large scale meat bird production, and managed acres of organic vegetable production. Todd is a natural communicator and teacher. He loves taking time to tour people through the property and teach them about what we are doing as well as helping them get a vision for doing what they can on their own properties, whether that be a windowsill garden or thousands of acres.

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