25 Tips for Making Compost
It may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not: making and using your own compost really can improve your garden, your life and your world.
Composting reduces the landfill waste your household generates--and that's a good thing for the planet. Composting also saves you money while improving your soil. Expensive soil amendments? You won't need as many (if any) when you use compost at home. And, because compost is rich in the microbes that keep disease-carrying pathogens at bay, it will also help you maintain a healthy garden.
Not sure how to get started? No worries. Making your own compost is easy. Just keep these simple guidelines in mind.
25 Simple Tips for Making Your Own Compost
Tips 1-3 What You Should (and Shouldn't) Compost
1. Shoot for 50-50 green and brown. Equal parts green matter (such as kitchen waste and fresh grass clippings) and brown matter (like straw, sawdust and fallen leaves) is the ideal diet for the microbes that break down organic materials.
2. Slice and dice for quicker compost. Chopping or shredding compostable organic matter expedites the composting process, providing more surface area for the organisms that go about the business of decomposition.
3. Think outside the kitchen. Garden waste like leaves, grass clippings and weeds; wood ash; vacuum cleaner dust; hair--lots of organic matter beyond kitchen scraps can make up garden compost.
Tips 4-7 Everything You Need to Know About Compost Activators
Compost activators can be expensive! To keep costs down, try alfalfa meal. It's cheap and quick-acting.
Garden centers and feed stores often carry alfalfa meal. It's also available online. And if you're a cat owner, alfalfa meal can do double duty in your home as litter.
4. Add layers of activator to your compost pile. For example, after adding kitchen waste, sprinkle some activator onto the pile and moisten it with water. Activators contain both protein and nitrogen, and they'll aid the bacteria and microorganisms with breaking organic matter into compost. Alfalfa meal is one of the cheapest and most effective activators you can buy.
Other natural activators include blood meal, cottonseed meal and bone meal. Barnyard manure can also be used as an activator.
5. Say no to sick plants. Because the pathogens that spread infection may survive the composting process, avoid composting diseased plants and infected plant waste. Composting sick plants may spread disease throughout your garden.
6. Don't feed the animals. Meat scraps, fish, grease and oil should not be added to an outdoor composting pile. Not only will they take a long time to decompose, but they will stink, and they'll attract animals to your compost. For this reason, some gardeners also avoid adding eggshells to their piles; however, working shells into the middle of the pile can lessen the likelihood of attracting raccoon and other egg-loving critters.
7. No pet poo, please. Manure from horse stables, chicken coops and pig pens is fine, but don't add solid cat, dog (or human) waste to your compost. Pet waste contains harmful pathogens, and it will attract animals to your compost. Because human waste also contains harmful pathogens, composting it to create humanure is a lengthy process not to be confused with regular composting.
Tips 8-10 When Is the Compost Ready?
Compost that's ready to use in the garden is a deep, rich brown or black color. It has a fluffy, crumbly texture and a sweet, earthy smell.
The length of time it takes to create usable compost varies. Depending upon where you olive, hole composting can take up to six months. Bin composting is usually quicker.
8. Give weed seeds a miss. Some parts of your compost pile may not reach temperatures hot enough to kill seeds. That's why it's best not to add weeds that have gone to seed to the pile.
9. Paper? It's okay. Rather than sending all of your paper products to the recycling center, add some non-glossy paper to your compost pile--newsprint, paper egg cartons, cardboard, etc. But don't compost the glossy inserts and fliers. They sometimes contain chemicals that inhibit decomposition and plant growth.
10. Milk—it doesn't do a compost pile good. Some gardeners add soured milk to their compost piles, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn't recommend doing so. Milk and milk products, like yogurt and cheese, are comparable to meat scraps: they will stink as they decompose, and they'll attract animals to your outdoor compost pile.
Tips 11-19 How to Make Your Own Compost
11. Use a receptacle with a tight-fitting lid to collect compostable organic matter from your household. Because kitchen scraps smell and can attract gnats and other insects, you'll want to make sure your compost pail has a lid. A handle also is a bonus, making it easier for you to carry and dump the contents.
12. Don't confuse your compost pail with your compost pile. Use a pail to collect compostable household waste, and then dump the waste into the compost pile. A compost pail is not a composter, and if you try to use it as one, you'll have a stinky mess on your hands (and your kitchen counter).
13. Empty your compost pail frequently and rinse it out. Whether it's completely full or not, empty compost pails that have been sitting around for several days. Even compost receptacles with tight-fitting lids can attract bugs and/or stink if they're left for too long. Bits of decomposing vegetable scraps and other organic matter can cling to the insides and cause it to smell. If your compost pile is dry, dump the rinse water on it and solve two problems at once.
14. Keep your compost pile moist. In order for decomposition to occur in a timely fashion, your compost pile needs heat, air and moisture. To test your compost pile for moisture, take some of it into your hand and squeeze. If it drips, your pile is too wet. Add some brown matter. If it feels as dry as dust, add water and stir.
A composter is any receptacle in which compost is decomposed. A plastic bag, a garbage can, a store-bought bin, a homemade bin made of straw—all sorts of receptacles may be used for making compost.
16. Stir it up--your compost pile, that is. As noted above, both oxygen and moisture are necessary to the decomposition process. To keep your compost pile adequately aerated, turn it with a pitch fork or garden fork every week or so.
17. If possible, place your composter or compost pile near a water source. This will make it more convenient for you when you need to add water to the pile.
18. Your compost pile doesn't have to be in full sun. Just about any location will work, so long as the pile isn't next to trees and other plants that will leach nutrients from it. In warm climates, a shady spot often works better than a full-sun locale that causes composting matter to dry out too quickly.
19. Bigger isn't necessarily better. In fact, compost piles that are too large may be difficult to aerate. Most experts recommend piles anywhere from 3 to 5 feet in length, height and width. Smaller piles may lack the mass needed to reach and maintain the high temperatures necessary for decomposition.
Tips 20-25 How to Choose a Composter
20. If your yard is large, consider a portable composter. Easy-to-move wood and wire composters make rearrranging your landscape (and moving compost close to where it will be used) a snap.
20. Lots of room but little money? Try homemade barrel composters or straw bale composting bins. Barrel composters may be used year after year, and straws bales make inexpensive building blocks for temporary composters.
21. Lots of room and no spare cash? You can still compost. Simply allow your compost pile can be just that--a pile of green and brown organic matter that you periodically moisten and aerate.
22. Short on space? Use a barrel or a bag. Even in you live in an apartment, you can make your own compost on your patio or deck by placing compostable organic matter in 40 gal. plastic garbage bags or heavy-duty polyethylene garbage cans.
23. Short on cash and space? Compost holes, sometimes called trench composting, may be the answer.
24. Consider composting indoors. If you have neither the room nor the inclination to create compost in your yard, several well-rated indoor composters and bokashi kits are available.
With an indoor composter, you can compost all sorts of kitchen scraps, including meats, fish and dairy products.
25. Experiment! There are all sorts of traditional and nontraditional composters you can try--from wooden structures, cement block bins and compost boxes to multi-level vermiculture composters.
Recipe for Super-Fast Compost
Make your own garden compost in about 4 weeks!
2 weeks (Zones 5-7)
- 50% "Green" Material, chopped and/or shredded
- 50% "Brown" Material, chopped and/or shredded
Not enough green?
Use a substitute.
If you don't have enough green matter on hand for this recipe, add alfalfa meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal or some other activator into the mix. Like green matter, activators are rich in nitrogen.
- Completely fill your compost bin or barrel with chopped green and brown matter, mixing thoroughly.
- After 3 days, turn the compost pile and check the moisture level. If it's too dry, add water.
- Continue turning and monitoring the pile every 3 days.
- In Zones 5-7, the compost should be dark, crumbly and sweet smelling after 2 weeks. In more temperate climates, it will decompose more quickly; in colder areas, decomposition will take longer.
- Screen out any large pieces of organic matter and allow to age an additional 2 weeks before using.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
My compost is kept within a ventilated brick-walled enclosure. It is now about 3+ years old and the compost is a fine dust type composition. Is it ok to use?
Yes, it sounds like it's ready!Helpful 4
Can mango seeds be composted?
Mango seeds, like other hard pits, take a long time to compost, several years perhaps, but eventually they will break down.Helpful 3
Can one put citrus and onion in compost?
What's the best way to handle fish and chicken bones?
Don't put them in your compost. They will attract critters and don't break down like the brown and green matter discussed in the article.Helpful 2