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How to Use a Composting Bin or Create a Compost Pile

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Rebecca loves sharing what she knows about alternative medicine, health, frugal living, fun, animals, and how to live a better life!

Tips for composting.

Tips for composting.

What Is Composting?

Put quite simply, composting is nature's way of recycling decomposing organic material and turning it back into rich, healthy, useful soil. Therefore, we compost to save money, help our gardens flourish, and keep the planet nicer for everyone while creating less trash!

Composting is a simple way to put organic material into the soil that is no longer full of nutrients. Compost is like steroids for plants and helps them stay healthy and ward off disease. Composting restores vitality and life energy to the soil while avoiding the use of harsh chemicals to fertilize your yard. Even by avoiding chemical use, we cannot prevent all the chemicals that come from rainwater; using less helps everyone. Another benefit is that it's 100% FREE to make! A compost pile is your own personal fertilizer manufacturing company.

What Are the Benefits of Compost?

  • It conditions and replenishes the soil
  • You can reuse household and kitchen items that would normally be thrown out
  • It reduces landfill waste and garbage
  • It's good for communities, the environment, and everyone on the planet
  • It introduces beneficial organisms to the soil which plants use to fight helps diseases and stay healthier
The cycle of composting

The cycle of composting

How to Start a Compost

Let's assume you have a large yard to start your composting pile. If you don't, or you find this is too much work, you can buy a composting bin, or make your own!

  1. Start your pile of compost on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and eventually be relocated to your garden(s).
  2. Lay some twigs first, 2-4 inches deep. Doing this provides drainage and helps keep air moving and flowing through the pile.
  3. When adding compost do so in layers, alternating between dry and moist/wet items. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust.
  4. Next add manure, by this I mean green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheat-grass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost and speeds the process of it all breaking down.
  5. Occasionally water the pile or let the rain do the job.
  6. Cover the pile with anything you have—a tarp, a piece of wood—scraps of carpet are okay, too. Covering the pile retains heat and moisture and prevents the pile from becoming overly wet. You want and need some moisture, but you don't want to end up with a pile of soaking stinky trash. Overwatering will cause your pile to rot.
  7. And finally, turn and rotate the pile every few weeks with a shovel or pitchfork. Rotation of the pile is important to keep air moving, compost needs to stay oxygenated.
What should and shouldn't be composted.

What should and shouldn't be composted.

Tips and Suggestions

  1. Carbon vs. Nitrogen. A compost pile should have more carbon than nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will make the pile stink like a huge pile of trash, and I doubt you want your yard to smell like that! Carbon will make the pile have a pleasant smell. If you are doubting what is in your pile, add more carbon material! (See list of carbon materials below.)
  2. Small vs. Large Pieces. When you can, make all the pieces as small as possible: cut, shred, tear, smash. All items should be cut into the smallest pieces whenever possible. Doing this allows nature to break items down faster and speeds up the decomposing process.
  3. Rotating the Pile. The biggest pain and nastiest job with composting is rotating the pile. If you want to cut back on this, add more material, like straw and twigs. Harvest fresh compost from the bottom while adding to the top. Rotate that stock!

Compost is meant as an additive to a flower bed, but you still need manure and dirt. Compost is rich in nutrients and should be viewed as an organic fertilizer. So don't make a compost pile and think you'll just grow things in it, it doesn't work that way.

Carbon-rich material

Carbon-rich material

Carbon Material Can Be Composted

The following lists carbon-based materials that you should use when composting for your garden(s):

  • Leaves
  • Shrub scraps from pruning
  • Pine needles
  • Straw or hay
  • Newspaper (avoid high gloss pages, or paper with colored ink)
  • Shredded paper
  • Corn cobs (chopped or shredded into bits)
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Wood pellets
  • Dryer lint (from natural materials, like cotton)
  • Sawdust
Nitrogen-rich material

Nitrogen-rich material

Nitrogen Material Can Be Composted

  • Table scraps (no meat or bones)
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Clover
  • Buckwheat
  • Wheat-grass
  • Garden weeds
  • Coffee grounds (filters can be added too)
  • Flowers (cuttings and stems)
  • Tea leaves
  • Seaweed

What Else to Compost

When composting these items, keep in mind...MORE carbon, less nitrogen

Eggshells (neutral item)

Paper napkins

Pet hair

Sticky post-it notes

Popcorn, popped or unpopped

Old spices

Matches (wood or paper)

Old dried-out herbs

Paper towels

Potato peels

Stale bread

Houseplant trimmings

Peat moss


Stale chips

Tobacco waste

Old pasta (stale, when it hasn't been cooked)

Q tips (cotton and the cardboard sticks)

Elmer's Glue

Animal cage cleanings (Hamster, bird, guinea pig)

Peanut shells

Cooked rice

Finger and toenail clippings

Shrimp, crab, and lobster shells

Pie crusts

Onion skins

Fruit rinds (watermelon, cantelope, etc)

Apple cores

Razor and shaving trimmings

Wood toothpicks

Brown paper bags

Shredded cereal boxes


Vacuum bag contents

Greeting card envelopes

Shopping receipts

Pencil shavings

Cardboard toilet and paper towel rolls

Do you currently compost?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Rebecca


Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 20, 2014:

Wow! I have never thought that I could put cooked rice in my compost pile. Thanks for the tips you have given here. Voted this up and away.

Alise- Evon on July 11, 2013:

This was a really clear description of how to make a nice compost pile. I have read of various methods, but this is a nice, simple "recipe" if you have the yard for it- we have to take a different route as we rent- but I will file this away for later use:) The lists were especially helpful, and I can use that info at present.

Voted up and useful.

Rebecca (author) from USA on May 22, 2013:

Hi Maren, I've never tried to compost any particular seed. But the components of a compost pile are very unlikely to allow a seed to germinate. Seeds are organic, so yeah...toss'em on in!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on May 22, 2013:

Do weed seeds survive in the compost pile?

Rebecca (author) from USA on May 21, 2013:

It's worth it! :) Hope this motivates you. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

Faythe Payne from USA on May 21, 2013:

Composting is something that have wanted to do for quite sometime...But have been procrastinating up