Your Ultimate Guide to Home Composting
Home Composting. It’s all the rage (again) and if you missed the trend any other time its come around perhaps this is the time you should give it a go. Composting isn’t exactly time consuming and it certainly isn’t very difficult but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take some planning. So let’s start at the beginning:

What is compost?

Put simply compost is decomposed organic matter typically either plant or animal based. Compost is also a natural phenomenon. It is happening every day naturally (ever wonder where all the fallen leaves in a forest go?). That is is—now lets move on.

What Are the Benefits of Composting?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency composting has several fantastic environmental benefits:

Compost Improves and Enriches Soil

Soil that typically lacks vital nutrients, loose soil, and other lesser kinds of soil can be enriched and enhanced by using compost.

Compost Helps Clean Contaminants From Soil

While helping lower quality soil find a more arable way, composting can also help remove harmful contaminants from soils. Composting have been shown to absorb odors, semi volatile and volatile organic compounds including: explosives and heating fuel. Another neat thing that compost seems to do is help bind heavy metals so they don’t make it into the water table.

Compost Helps Prevent Organic Matter Pollution

Organic waste makes up 2/3s of the solid waste we produce for landfills, composting can dramatic mitigate these numbers and keep huge quantities of waste out of our landfills dramatically increasing the lifespan of our landfills.

Compost Reduces The Amount of Water Soil Uses

Composting has been shown to help soil retain water at a fast rate. This has two main effects:

  1. Plants grown in compost rich soil need less rainfall and less irrigation use than plants that are not grown in compost rich soil
  2. Less soil run-off which keeps rivers and oceans clean of pesticides


Compost Reduces Dependencies on Fertilizers and Pesticides

Compost leads to healthier plants that can thrive with less human intervention which means we can use less fertilizer and less pesticide in our crops.

Types of Composting

There are several different kinds of composting and we’re going to cover a handful of the ones that we believe will lead YOU to be a successful composter. A quick tip: No matter what kind of composting you decide to do two chambers are better than one in your compost setup.

Backyard Composting

This is likely the kind of composting your mother complained about when your neighbors tried it in your childhood. Traditionally, this was just a pile of compost in the backyard—typically on the edge of a persons property out of sight and out of mind. We strongly recommend you build some kind fencing structure about your “pile” this will keep dogs and children out while also keeping the compost contained to one specific area.

What Is Backyard Composting Good For?

Backyard composting is ideal for yard trimming and food scraps—this is NOT ideal for large scale farmers or even people with small (1-5 acre) hobby farms. Typically, this process is ideal for suburban homes on less than an acre of land.

What Else Should I Know About Backyard Composting?

That is takes VERY little time. Seriously, this is a set and forget option. After dinner every day, take your scrapes and toss them into the pile.

Set and forget can be a slow process. Using just the “set it and forget it” method it can take two years for your waste to turn into good rich compost. However, adding in a manual turning on a weekly basis can lower that time to just 6 months!

Do not use composting for potting soil for houseplants. This has been outside for months (or maybe even years) you don’t want to force your house plant to fight against grass and weed seeds for its survival.

Vessel Composting

This is an option that a lot of people seem to prefer these days-- as opposed to having a composting pile that is open to the elements, this is a completely self-contained system (typically a drum or ‘composting bin’) These can either live in your home or outside, though we recommend leaving it outdoors, at least turning the warmer months.

What is Vessel Composting Good For?

practically anything! Anything organic anyway. This is an extremely fast method for creating compost and it can handle a much wider variety of organic material including meat and even animal manure. The self-contained units should have a mechanism that handles turning the compost. This is vital, otherwise methane gas might build up and we’d really prefer that didn’t happen in your own home or backyard.

What Else Should I Know About Vessel Composting?

Make Sure That It Can Rotate The Compost. I know I said it earlier but it is probably important enough to repeat here. You want to make sure that the compost shifts and that gases are allowed to escape.

You can leave it out all winter if you have an insulated and heated composting bin.

Your vessel can be any size that you need from that of a small trash can all the way up to the size of a grain silo. You need (and ability to find the raw material) is the only thing holding you back

How To Compost

We’ve taken plenty of time to explain the benefits of composting and to give you an idea of two different methods you can use at home to create a better and healthier garden-- how it’s time to start talking about the how of composting.

Tools You’ll Need

Before we start composting here are a list of tools you’ll need to do the work:

  • Pitch Fork: You’ll use this to flip and move around the compost.
  • Shovel: You’ll use this to haul away your finished compost.
  • Compost Thermometer: Do not get this mixed up with your kitchen thermometer—this is the best way to determine the health of your compost. A good compost pile will heat up to 160 degrees F. That said this is not essential

Composting Materials

Typically, compost requires two different kinds of material: Green and brown. The hardest part, in my experience, is making sure you have enough brown. Our kitchen is constantly producing more green waste and sometimes it’s a stretch for us to find enough brown material to counter balance.

The ratio that works for us is about 5 parts ‘brown’ for every 1 part ‘green’. This isn’t an exact science but you almost always want to have more brown waste then green.

Examples of Brown Material

Here are a few brown materials—in general when we mow our lawn we let the grass brown up before adding it into the compost-- that and a pile of leaves in the fall seems to provide us most of our brown material needs. However, if you need more sometimes you have to get creative:
  • Cornstalks
  • Straw
  • And in a pinch, sawdust
  • You know those “compostable” cups you see at hipster cafes? They count as browns too!

All of these can help but may take a little work on your part to get. Also remember the color of the item doesn't necessarily matter! For example, coffee beans are still considered green material.

How To Build Your Pile

Finally, we've made it. First, make sure all your pieces are relatively uniform in size—so break everything up into smaller bits. This will increase the speed of the decomposition. At the bottom of your compost pile put down a healthy layer of straw.

Next, we want to add a thin layer of brown to the pile. Follow this with a small amount of green material (remember our 5 to 1 rule? This is where you use it.)

You’ll continue to layer the material in this manner until you’ve reached the size compost pile you’re interested in maintaining.

How To Maintain Your Pile

Think about your compost pile as a living and breathing creature that needs attention, food, and water. Water for the most part is easy—if your compost pile is outside let nature take care of it for you. As for attention, you’ll need to get out that pitchfork we talked about earlier and make sure you stir the materials. Finally, food-- you’ll need to add more brown and green material over time to ensure that your compost pile continues to thrive.

Just think how much better your garden will look with rich and beautiful soil and let’s not forget that you’ll be doing your small part to help make the planet a little better. By the way, once you get the basics down it’s time to start looking into worm based composting (vermicomposting). Our world really is amazing

Amy Wright
Amy Wright is the Lead Editor of Remodeling Central. When she isn't playing with her dogs she is trying to remodel a classic Chicago style brownstone with her husband.