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How to Start Composting for Beginners

If you find you have mountains of leftover food waste each week, then you likely feel incredibly guilty. However, you don’t have to feel so wasteful. You could throw it on a compost pile and put it to good use, fertilizing crops and plants in your garden.

“I don’t have a garden,” I hear you say.

No worries, there are plenty of options for composting indoors or in containers that don’t require masses of space or a garden.

However, for those of you that understand the basics of composting already, you will know that it isn’t as simple as throwing all your unwanted food waste in a pile at the bottom of the garden. There are a few hard and fast rules you can use to make your composting endeavors so much more successful and rewarding.

This article is for the newbie composter, but if you already have some experience, you will find some handy tips here too.

Why It’s Important to Compost

Millions of tons of food waste end’s up in landfills each year. 

When this concoction of food waste, plastic, fabric, and chemicals are mixed together in a hole in the ground, it becomes incredibly challenging to break down. It festers and turns into methane gas and other substances that degrade the surrounding land. Pollution and biodiversity issues are contributing factors to our collective climate change challenges.

You can literally do your part to save the world from the comfort of your backyard. If you get composting right, you can turn your food and garden waste into a nutrient-rich soil that helps plants and vegetables to thrive.

There are many types of compost. You can buy it from the garden center along with magic formulas to increase its benefits, but most people fail to realize that they can do it at home and save themselves $$ $’s each year.

The Different Types of Compost

Two natural processes occur. Aerobic and anaerobic decomposition. They ultimately define the two separate composting methods.

Anaerobic composting

This type of composting is easy to do. That forgotten smelly sludge at the bottom of the garden is usually identifiable as an anaerobic compost. 

Throw all of your food and garden waste in a pile and leave it for several months, in essence, that is anaerobic composting. It’s very inefficient, but it is the easiest option of the two, as it requires very little work.

Aerobic composting

Aerobic composting is usually quicker than its counterpart and involves aerating the pile to ensure microorganisms have access to oxygen that help them break down the organic matter in the compost heap. 

During this process, carbon dioxide (CO2), ammonia, water, and heat are produced, and the end product is stable and useful.

This article will focus on aerobic composting.

Composting Methods

The amount of space and the tools you have available will dictate which methods you use. Industrial composting methods produce it on a scale unimaginable to the humble gardener. 

However, you may not have the inclination or the need to create those volumes of compost. Which method you choose will be a personal choice

Whatever you do, you need to start small and keep it manageable. If you bite off more than you can chew, you are almost guaranteed to create a toxic pile of sludge.

The typical methods of composting are: 

The farmer’s pile 

This is your usual pile it up and leave it at the bottom of the garden method.

Enclosed bins 

These types are made of PVC, so they don’t rot or rust. This option is excellent if you have limited space or wish to do it in the garage. The whole process can be clean and odorless if you buy the appropriate enclosed bin. They come in all shapes, colors, capabilities, and sizes. They can also be pricey. Check out the best enclosed compost bin on Amazon.

A tumbler 

They are designed for convenience. Just like an enclosed bin, they are often made from recycled plastic. They are designed to be spun, so you don’t have to manually aerate the pile, which is the bane of many an avid composter. Checkout the best compost tumbler on Amazon.

Check out our article comparing compost bin and compost tumbler.


The term vermicomposting means the use of earthworms to break down organic matter. Earthworms can eat their own body weight per day and will eat anything. When organic matter passes through a worm, it becomes nutrient-rich and is great for compost. 

The equipment needed isn’t that difficult or expensive to acquire, but you will need some specialist worms, and for obvious reasons, you can’t be particularly squeamish.

Check out our detailed article about Vermicomposting.


These are constructed from wooden slats. Usually, a pit is dug in the ground and a fence erected on all four sides. They have two compartments for continuous composting, and the bays are usually 1m x 1m in size.

See this video from Grow Your Heirlooms for more information on how to construct your own composting enclosure.

Where to Site a Compost Bin

There are several factors you need to consider when placing your compost heap.

  • Place the compost pile in an area that doesn’t get too hot in the summer. There needs to be a reasonable amount of shade.
  • Try to avoid the dark corners of the garden. You can identify these areas in the winter. If it snows, these areas are usually the last to thaw.
  • The site must be free from flowing water or potential flooding. Any extra groundwater will flood your pile and make it hard to break down.
  • Try to position your compost pile on an earth base. If you use a plastic container or site it on a concrete surface, ensure you throw some earth and soil into the bottom first.
  • You will need to tend to your pile with shovels and pitchforks, and occasionally you will need to top it up with materials. Ensure there is enough space to gain proper access for lifting and turning the pile.

What Is Compost Made out Of?

To make compost, we need three ingredients:

  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon
  • Activators

All three of these materials need to be added in specific quantities to ensure we cultivate a quality compost.

Materials containing nitrogen are also referred to as green materials.

These can include:

  • Grass clippings (without weed killer)
  • Food waste
  • Weeds and plants (without seeds)

Carbon-based materials are typically called brown materials, and they consist of but aren’t limited to:

  • Straw
  • Wood chippings
  • Animal bedding
  • Sawdust
  • Cardboard – Egg cartons are fantastic
  • Fallen leaves
  • Newspaper
  • Weeds

Your compost pile should always have a mixture of the above materials, but there is an important ratio that needs to be adhered to at all times.

The mix of Brown to Green materials should be 3:1. For example, for every three full shovels of straw, there should be one full shovel of grass.

Activators speed up the decomposition of the organic material by supplying and encouraging the bacteria to breakdown the organic matter.

Some good activators are:

  • Chicken manure
  • Horse manure
  • Waste coffee grind
  • Weeds
  • Volcanic rock
  • Blood meal

How to Make Compost the Right Way

 Here’s a step-by-step guide to making compost the correct way. 

  1. Firstly, ensure the base of the compost heap is earth and not an impermeable surface like concrete or plastic. If you have no option but to place it on concrete or you are using a plastic bin, then ensure you throw in some soil from the garden or buy some from the garden center.
  2. Drainage and ventilation are important factors to consider when building the base of the pile. Add small twigs and straw as a base for the rest of the heap to sit on. That will allow oxygen to flow through the pile.
  3. It isn’t an exact science, but the mix of brown to green components should be around 3:1.
  4. Make the process easy on yourself and add green and brown materials in layers. That means you don’t have to mix the pile later.
  5. Shred as much of the material as possible. Typically, brown materials like bark and branches will need to be shredded to increase its surface area to enable the microorganisms to break it down quicker.
  6. Water and aerate the compost heap regularly. Microscopic organisms need oxygen and water to thrive. However, don’t swamp the heap as this will block out oxygen and turn the pile anaerobic. Once every couple of weeks should suffice.
  7. Be careful of overwatering and mixing, as this will slow down the biological process needed for a hot compost.
  8. The aim is to produce as much heat in the center of your pile as is possible. Heat is a byproduct of the natural biological process of decomposition. The more heat you add, the faster the decomposition. A high temperature is a good thing.
  9. Cover the pile to keep away critters and keep it insulated.

Pro-tip: If the internal temperature of your compost pile is above 120ºF, then you are doing a good job so far.

Things to Avoid Throwing on Your Compost Pile

If you want high-quality compost and you want it quickly, then you should avoid throwing items onto your pile that break down slowly. Additionally, when things are left to stagnate in the garden, they tend to attract vermin.

Therefore, you should avoid using the following substances:

  • Oil
  • Fats
  • Meat
  • Pine leaves
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Onions
  • Bones
  • Fish scraps
  • Avoid composting perennial weeds or diseased plants.
  • Don’t include pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops.

Compost Needs to Be Hot

For composting beginners, the aim should always be to ensure your pile is as hot as you can get it.

But I don’t mean setting it on fire or applying heat to the pile yourself.

An aerobic compost pile is so-called because of the aerobic bacteria. The aerobic bacteria use water and oxygen as fuel to break down the organic matter in the pile.

These microscopic organisms feed off the carbon and use nitrogen to build proteins and reproduce.

This whole process produces heat, and just like a feedback loop, the more heat, the quicker the biological reaction.

A good compost pile will reach internal temperatures of over 150ºF or 65ºC. These kinds of temperatures suggest you have the correct mixture of water, oxygen, and organic matter, and you should do your utmost to preserve it.

Here’s an article on ways to heat up your compost for better results.

Tips to Help Get Your Compost Cooking

Maintaining the compost pile is the most challenging part but also the most rewarding. What you do here will make or break a good compost pile.

It’s all a balancing act, but keeping an eye on oxygen and moisture levels is where you start. Then top up the carbon and nitrogen levels to keep the 3:1 balance.

Aeration tips

  • Don’t add layers of materials that will block the oxygen, like lots of grass or leaves.
  • Every couple of days, turn the pile with a pitchfork to ensure oxygen is penetrating deep into the center of the heap. 
  • Test it by prodding it with a pitchfork. There should be a slight bounce in the upper materials.

Water tips

  • Water is critical, but too much will stop the aerobic decomposition process completely.
  • After watering the compost heap, it should feel slightly damp, but not drenched.
  • With a watering can add water as you construct the pile. This way, you can apply moisture throughout the pile to avoid a dry bottom.

Leaf tips

Like grass, if you haven’t prepared them properly, sometimes adding too many leaves can be a bad idea. When they break down, they can form a sludgy carpet.

However, leaf mold is one of the best amendments you can make to your compost pile. Collect fallen leaves and ensure they are brown. Place them in a container and use a garden strimmer to shred them. Leave them to dry for a few weeks, and they will be like rocket fuel for your compost.

Periodically rebuild your compost pile

If you want to keep the pile cooking, it’s necessary to remove the already broken-down material from the center and swap it with the outer material. 

Your compost heap is hottest in the center, and therefore by adding more fuel to the mix will keep those microorganisms working at maximum capacity.

Keep a record

It’s vital to record your process so you can replicate it in the future. Build a road map and adapt it as you discover new techniques. Record quantities and keep a diary of the materials you have added so you can keep track of the all-important brown to green ratio.

Common Composting Problems

For the most part, a compost pile needs little attention, but a few minutes each week will tell you everything you need to know about the progress of your compost. 

A few common problems are:


They lay their eggs in organic material. If you leave rotting food in your garden, it will attract flies. If you are adding fresh kitchen waste to a compost pile, then try to bury it. 

This problem is more likely to raise its head in the summer months, so try to avoid throwing meat and fish into the compost pile altogether. 


You will rarely find a creepy-crawly that is dangerous to humans in a compost pile. Occasionally bees and wasps may colonize a heap, and in that particular case, you should get professional help to remove it. 

Failing that, most bugs aid the decomposition process, however unsightly they may be. Let them live and thrive in your pile for better, more nutrient-rich compost.

Bad odors 

If it smells like ammonia, it means your mix has too much nitrogen, and the pile is turning anaerobic. Brown substances like sawdust and straw are perfect for quickly rectifying a pile that has too much nitrogen content. Additionally, try incorporating calcium or lime into the mix.

Not enough brown materials 

This problem can be rectified in the planning stages. When Autumn comes, stockpile the brown stuff. Additionally, egg cartons and newspapers are excellent sources of carbon materials, and you can find these all year round, so ask friends and family to donate to the cause.

Your pile is too wet 

This can only be solved by breaking down the pile to dig out the damp stuff. Then reconstruct the compost pile while incorporating brown materials.

When Will the Compost Heat Up?

If the pile is well balanced and has all the critical factors working together, then it will heat up in a matter of days. Ensure you have a routine for checking your pile and remixing it to keep the process going. Success can be fleeting if you are not able to stay on top of the tasks needed to keep it cooking.

Can I Keep Compost in the House?

It’s quite easy and hygienic to produce compost in the home. If you don’t have a garden and desperately want to make compost, you can do it in the house with some basic materials.

The steps are mostly the same as producing it out in the garden just on a much smaller scale.

Most people balk at the idea because of the potential smelliness of it all. However, just like a compost heap in the garden, simply avoid adding meat and fish waste. 

Also, don’t add watery items like melons or squashes because they will make a small compost pile too slushy. Add things like waste paper and cardboard and the indoor compost heap will be odorless, out of sight and out of mind.

How Long Does It Take to Produce Compost?

Several factors affect the speed of compost production, including the size of the pile, the materials added, and how often you turn it.

As mentioned earlier, as the temperature of the pile rises, the quicker the decomposition process becomes.

With frequent turning, compost can be ready in a few weeks, depending on the time of year. In winter, the whole process slows down naturally.

How to Tell If Compost Is Ready

Put a handful of your compost in a plastic bag. Leave it for a couple of days. Open the bag, and if it smells sour, it means organisms are still working decomposing the material. Sadly, the compost isn’t quite ready.

Good compost will smell sweet and earthy, like a woodland after rainfall. Also, it will be light and crumbly to the touch.

Even in a good compost pile, some of the material won’t have decomposed completely. However, you can use this material to kick start the next batch as it will be full of beneficial microorganisms and fungi.

How to Use Compost

Compost is extremely versatile and has various uses in the garden. Primarily a good compost will revitalize the soil. When added to the garden, it restructures the soil, promotes airflow, and helps retain moisture.

It can be added to vegetables, shrubs, flowers, trees, potted plants, and turf.

For rejuvenating lawns and turf

When tending to new grass, mix compost into the topsoil to retain moisture and promote growth. 

You can treat bald spots by adding an inch of compost to the soil. You can then apply the seed on top of it. The compost will improve the structure, provide nutrients, and you will get less patchiness in the future. Also, there is no need for fertilizers.

Planting new trees and shrubs

When planting new trees, add a half-inch layer of compost to the top couple of inches of soil from the trunk of the tree to the outermost reach of the branches of the tree. That way, the compost imitates the organic material that is naturally found on the woodland floor. It supplies nutrients and keeps the soil rich and fresh. 

Copyright protected content owner: and was initially posted on February 25, 2020.

However, it’s not a good idea to put compost directly in the hole when planting new trees because this will dissuade the roots from growing further than the void. 

It’s entirely possible to use compost as mulch for shrubs to stop weeds from growing and to retain moisture. Spread compost around your trees and shrubs a couple of times a year to top up nutrients.

Growing vegetables

Give your vegetable patch plenty of compost in the winter and spread a few inches of compost on top of the bed. Add some compost to the hole when you’re planting. Once plants begin to proliferate, add a half-inch layer of compost to the base of the plants.

Growing flowers

During spring, break up the hardened top few inches of the flower beds and mix in a layer of compost. In the winter, apply an inch thick layer of compost as a mulch to protect the roots from freezing over.

Make a compost tea

Fill an old T-shirt or cheesecloth with 1 liter of compost. Tie the top and let it brew overnight in a bowl filled with water. This ‘tea’ can be used to water plants and gardens.

Copyright article owner is for this article. This post was first published on February 25, 2020.

Here’s a detailed article on what compost can be used for.

Essential Tools for Composting

  • Shovels and spades – You aren’t a real gardener until you own a shovel and spade. Invest in these essential items. They will be like bread and butter. Shovel and spade from Amazon.
  • Aerator – It’s similar to a giant corkscrew. When turned into the soil, it will leave holes in the compost to help it aerate. Aerator from Amazon.
  • Pitchfork – A staple of the garden and is essential for hand turning your compost pile. Pitchfork from Amazon.
  • Shredder – Likely, this isn’t an option for you; however, if you’re producing compost in large quantities, it advisable to purchase a shredder for those larger brown materials. Wood Shredder from Amazon.
  • Pruning shears – For those of you who are producing compost on a smaller scale, a good pair of pruning shears will work wonders when breaking down branches destined for the pile. Good Pruning Shears from Amazon.
  • Watering can and hose – Organic material breaks down faster when it’s moist.
  • Screen – When you are finally ready to reap the rewards inevitably, some bulky items may remain. Filter it out with a screen, and this will leave you with lovely black gold.
  • Wheelbarrow – Save your legs and back by having a quality wheelbarrow for transporting heavy compost around the garden. Wheelbarrow from Amazon.
  • Compost thermometer – Vital for ensuring the middle of your compost heap is heating up to the required temperature to really maximize your compost quality and output. Check out this nice compost thermometer.

What Are the Benefits of Good Compost?

It’s the key to a healthy and beautiful looking garden. Good compost will ultimately improve the strength of your soil and will keep disease at bay.

At the end of the day, you will never know the exact nutrient content or PH levels of your compost without expensive testing equipment. Just don’t worry about it; after all, it’s soil. Think of it as a fun and rewarding way of disposing of household waste.

Use it as an educational tool for the grandkids, teach them math, biology, and chemistry in the garden. Take yourself outside for some exercise and breathe in the fresh air.

Whatever your reason for doing composting, just know you’re saving the earth and yourselves.

ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on February 25, 2020.

Cut the pollution and chemicals in the air surrounding your home by growing plants and trees and grow your own fruit and veg and avoid ingesting poisonous chemicals they use in modern farming techniques today.