Sick of sending your organic waste off to a landfill? Looking for a way to make use of it whilst improving your impact on the environment? Composting is the answer.

Composting allows you to make the most of the organic waste your household produces by turning it into top-notch food for your plants and vegetables. And don’t worry, it’s not as stinky and unpleasant as you might think!

In this quick-start guide to composting, we’ll be breaking down (pun intended) everything you need to know to start turning all the food scraps and garden waste your household produces into lovely, rich compost.

We’ll be covering everything from the benefits of composting to how to choose the perfect compost bin for your garden, and everything in between.

Ready? Let’s get started!

What is Composting?

Composting is the practice of turning food waste and yard scraps into a nutrient-rich soil amendment (compost) that can be used to enrich plants and soil.

All organic material decomposes over time. Composting is a way of ‘speeding up’ this natural decomposition process by creating the perfect environment for bacteria and decomposing microorganisms to thrive in.

During the composting process, these microorganisms break down the organic matter into smaller parts, producing fiber-rich humus that can then be used to fertilize and improve the quality of your garden soil.

You can use compost for house plants, garden flowers, vegetable beds, trees, and any other crops or plant life in your garden.

What are the benefits of composting?

Here are just a handful of the many reasons you might want to start composting.

Composting reduces waste

According to the EPA, organic waste such as food scraps, eggshells, and yard waste make up more than 30% of what we dispose of each year. By using your food waste to compost, you can substantially reduce the amount of your family’s waste that gets put into landfills.

Composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers

Farmers often refer to compost as “black gold” – and for good reason. It’s rich in nutrients and, as such, can be used in place of chemical fertilizers to enrich your soil and help your plants and crops to grow.

Compost is great for gardeners

Composting is great for gardeners as it helps to fertilize and improve the quality of the soil in your garden. Not only does it add more organic matter to your soil, but it can also help the soil to retain more water, help to control soil erosion, and ward off plant disease.

Composting reduces your carbon footprint

Waste in landfills releases a lot of methane into the atmosphere. By composting you’re helping to reduce the amount of organic matter in landfills and thereby improving your carbon footprint.

Composting is fun! 

Composting can be a fun activity for the whole family. There’s a lot to learn about different composting methods and it can be a great opportunity to teach your children more about the environment and what happens to our waste.

How to start composting (the basics)

Anyone can start composting – it really isn’t rocket science. The basic process can be broken down into 4 simple steps:

  1. Grab a compost bin (see below for the different types of composting bins)
  2. Place your bin directly onto bare soil in a level, well-drained site that’s easily accessible all through the year.
  3. Add your composting ingredients to the bin. You’ll want a good mix of browns and greens. (We’ll explain exactly what materials you can use for composting next).
  4. Turn the compost pile fortnightly.

Easy, right?

Of course, if you want to get serious about it, there are some advanced tips and tricks you can use to improve the quality of your compost and speed up the process – more on this later.

Pro tip: When adding your ingredients, it’s best to start with a 4-inch layer of brush/twigs/stray and then alternative 4-inch layers of browns and greens until the bin is full, moistening each layer with a garden hose.

What can be turned into compost?

There is a whole heap (again, pun intended) of different organic materials that can be turned into compost. Generally speaking, we can divide these composting materials into two categories: browns and greens.

Browns are woody, carbon-rich materials that are – yep, you guessed it – usually brown in color. This includes things like branches, dry leaves, hay, straw, bark dust, sawdust, coffee grounds, and eggshells.

Greens are nitrogen-rich or protein-rich materials that are usually green, like green leaves, vegetable scraps, grass, green plant cuttings, fresh manure, etc.

The secret to a healthy compost pile is the right mix of greens and browns.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for a 1:2 ratio of browns to greens. In other words, two-thirds of your compost bin should ideally be filled with brown materials, and the other third with greens materials.

Note: This is just a general guideline; it doesn’t need to be exact. As long as you have more carbon than nitrogen, you should be good. You can also always redress the balance later. If it looks too slimy, add more browns. If it looks too dry, add more greens.

There are also some things you should never add to your composting pile. This obviously includes anything non-biodegradable, like plastic, but it also includes a few other degradable materials that can attract pests, spread weeds/diseases, or otherwise damage your compost.

Here’s a quick table that shows you what can and can’t be turned into compost.

Browns

Greens

Don’t use

Twigs

Grass

Non-biodegradable materials

Hay

Fruit

Meat or fish

Straw

Vegetable scraps

Bones

Eggshells

Hedge trimmings

Weeds & diseased plants

Sawdust

Green plant cuttings

Black walnut leaves

Woody prunings

Tealeaves

Pet manure (if used on food crops)

Paper/cardboard

Coffee grounds

Banana/peech peels & orange rinds

Types of compost bins

There are several different types of compost bins that you might want to use depending on your needs and budget. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main options.

The DIY compost bin

If you’re on a tight budget, you can make a composting bin yourself using things you might have at home. One option is to drill a few 1.5-cm aeration holes in a heavy-duty garbage can. You can also repurpose wooden pallets, or simply use a cardboard box (just make sure you remove any non-biodegradable stickers and tape first).

Standard compost bin (compost digester)

These are inexpensive compost bins that are enclosed on the sides and tops but open on the bottom. They’re a good option if you want to keep costs down but less durable and require the soil to be turned manually.

Our recommended standard compost digester: Redmon 65-gallon bin

Countertop composters (food waste digester)

Countertop composters are designed to quickly dehydrate kitchen scraps in just a few hours, but they don’t usually actually turn them into compost. Rather, you usually have to bury the resulting fertilizer once it’s finished dehydrating and leave it to decompose underground.

Our recommended countertop composter: SCD Probiotics All Seasons Indoor Composter

 

Tumblers

Compost tumblers are insulated, rotating containers that help maintain higher internal temperatures and turn the soil for you to speed up the composting process. Some designs have aeration spikes and other features to help prevent clumping and create better compost. Tumblers are the best option but they cost a little more than other types of compost bins.

Our recommended composting tumbler: Miracle-Gro Compact Outdoor Composter

How to choose the right composter for your garden

Think carefully about your budget and what you want from your compost bin before you make a purchase.

Are you an avid gardener/farmer who needs to generate a lot of compost quickly? If so, you’re probably going to want to go for a batch tumbler-style compost bin. Do you just want to make better use of your kitchen scraps and create a little food for your houseplants in the process? If so, a countertop composter or worm bin is probably a better option.

You’ll also want to think about the conditions where you live. Some compost bins are more durable and better built to withstand colder temperatures than others. Similarly, if your garden is accessible to pests like foxes or rats, make sure you get a bin with a top cover to keep them out.

Other must-have composting equipment

Aside from your composting bin, there are some other pieces of equipment that can help you to make ever-better compost and speed up the composting process.

Here are three must-have tools you’ll want to buy if you’re serious about composting.

Compost moisture meter

A compost moisture meter is a device that you insert into your compost to measure the moisture content. The display will tell you how much moisture content is in your soil. Ideally, you’ll want to aim for around 50-60%.

Compost thermometer

A compost thermometer tells you the temperature of your compost. The optimum temperature you should be aiming for will vary depending on whether you’re hot composting or cold composting. For hot composting, aim for somewhere around 141°F to 155°F. If it’s too hot or cold, you can adjust the temperature (add cold water to cool it down)

Compost accelerators & activators

Compost accelerators and activators are ingredients that can be added to your compost to help increase the rate of decomposition. You can buy commercial compost accelerators or inoculants online or at your local garden store. Alternatively, you use natural activators like comfrey leaves, grass clippings, or finished compost from another pile.

Composting FAQs

Before we wrap up, here are some common composting questions and answers to clear up any other queries you might have.

What is the best location for a compost bin?

The best location for a compost bin is directly on the soil to make sure worms and decomposing orgasms can access it. Try to position it somewhere that’s level, well-drained, and not subject to changes in temperature/moisture (somewhere partially shaded is ideal).

What is the best compost bin for grass clippings?

Any regular garden compost bin or tumbler will work well for grass clippings. I’d recommend something like this Redmon 65-gallon compost bin or this Miracle-Gro composter.

Tip: Grass clippings are a natural activator. They decompose quickly and provide a heat boost that raises the temperature of your bin and speeds up the composting process.

Can I make compost from kitchen scraps?

You sure can! You can use a countertop kitchen composter or worm composter to help break them down. Just note that food scraps alone don’t make good compost – you need a good balance of greens (including kitchen scraps) and browns in your composter for the best results.

How long does it take to decompose?

It can take anything from a few weeks to a year or two for your compost bin to fully decompose into finished compost. Typically, you should expect to wait around 6 months or so. You’ll know your compost is ready when it’s dark brown with a crumbly texture and a nice earthy smell.

Tip: Turning your compost regularly, adding activators, and maintaining optimal conditions with high temperatures and moisture will speed up the process.

What is compost tea?

Compost tea is made by steeping compost in water. The resulting brew of nutrients, bacteria, humates, and other microbes can be used as a weak fertilizer and is said to provide many of the same benefits as compost.

Can I compost all year round?

Yep! You can compost all year round, even in the winter months. That being said, the RHS says that late summer to early winter is the best time to make compost.

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