A Simple and Quick Guide to Composting at HomeAnn
A few years ago, I visited my friend’s house and came across something interesting: instead of throwing food scraps in the bin, she collected those for composting right in her garden. Let’s be honest! I wasn’t a big fan of the whole idea of composting, it reminded me of the stinky smell our food scraps would leave. But to my surprise, her garden was magnificent with fragrant roses, azalea and camellias, along with citrus trees, potted herbs and strawberries. All were nourished by this dark, rich and crumbly compost which leaves nothing to waste. How cool is that?
Since then, I was totally hooked by a new hobby, composting at home. If you have been thinking about making compost but think that it may be too difficult, complicated, or time-consuming, you have come to the right place because I will make everything simple for you. Let’s dive right in!
What is composting and why do I compost?
Simply put, composting means you just organic matter in a compost pile and wait for it to decompose into a rich soil known as compost.
I have been composting at home for over 3 years now and it has turned into my new hobby that everyone in my family can enjoy. Here are the reasons why I love composing.
It’s economical. Everything I need to make for compost can be found right in my kitchen and garden, plus I no longer have to buy soil and plant food.
- It’s fun to be outdoors and teach my kids about the natural cycle of life, death, rebirth and the recycling of nutrients in the ecosystem. I love seeing watermelon rinds converge with my greens and coffee grounds in harmony, knowing that they would turn into nutrients to nourish carrots and potatoes that my whole family enjoys.
- It’s good for Mother Earth. When organic waste is dumped into landfill, it undergoes anaerobic decomposition and generates methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide1. Since I started composting, it has significantly reduced the amount of trash that my family generates. Less trash in the bin means less trash in landfills. How can that be bad?
What materials can be composted?
What to compost and what not to compost?
Before you eagerly start composting, it’s important to know what should go into your compost bin and what should not. In general, anything that is organic and was once living can be composted. However, there are a few items that do not decompose well and will decrease the efficiency of your compost pile. So it’s better to keep them out of your compost to avoid a hassle later on. To make everything quick and easy, below is a simple guide for your reference.
|What to compost?||What not to compost?|
|o Fruits and vegetables
o Coffee grounds and filters
o Tea bags
o Nut shells
o Shredded newspaper
o Yard trimmings
o Grass trimmings
o Hay and straw
o Wood chips
o Cotton and wool rags
o Dryer and vacuum cleaner tint
o Hair and fur
o Fireplace ashes
|o Pet waste
o Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
o Coal or charcoal
o Dairy products
o Fats, grease, lard or oils
o Meat or fish bones and scraps
o Diseases or insect-ridden plants
Does ratio matter?
When I first started composting at home, I found myself wondering why I was left with a smelly rotting mess instead of a crumbly dark compost, like I found in my friend’s garden. It took me a while to do some research and troubleshoot, but the answer was so simple. Just stick to a general composting ratio rule: 1 bucket of “Browns” to 1 bucket of “Greens”. Sounds complicated? Don’t fret. Let me explain and everything will be crystal clear to you in no time.
- Browns are those dry and bulky organic materials such as prunings, twigs, straws, corn and sunflower stalks. As well as dried potato, tomato vines and leaves. Since they do not hold a lot of moisture as compared to the greens, they don’t decay as rapidly. Therefore, too many browns tend to slow down the composting process.
- Greens are those nitrogen-rich materials which are fresh and wet. Think about tea bags, coffee grounds, fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps or dead houseplants. As they rot quickly, if there are too many greens, you will end up with a stinky pile as I did.
The 1 Brown to 1 Green ratio is important, but don’t let that consume you with worry and stress. Composting is all about trial and error, so simply eyeball the size of the bulk you put into your pile, then do some adjustments later on and you will be well on your way to the best compost.
How should I get started?
Enough of theory, it’s time to get outside and compost! Below is my simple step-by-step guide to composting for absolute beginners. Are you ready? Okay, let’s start!
Step 1: Choose a compost bin
In general, you can make a composter out of any material you have. A few old pallets will make a great solid container or you can simply pile material together at the bottom of your garden. For me, I love compost bins because they are neat, able to preserve heat well and keep the pests away. If you are thinking about getting a compost bin, don’t forget to do sufficient research and be practical about your composting needs, available space, efforts and amount of waste. After all, we are talking about taking up a new hobby, so let’s keep things simple and easy for a start.
Step 2: Choose a location
I personally have found that a sunny and well-drained location is the key to successful composting. Why? Because heat is what gets your compost “cooking” so that it can quickly turn into black gold.
Step 3: Prepare and mix the ingredients together
In my house, we have a small indoor container on our countertop for all kitchen scraps that can be composted such as peels or tea bags. When it’s full, I would chop or use scissors to cut them into small pieces before emptying the scraps into the compost bin. Smaller pieces mean quicker decomposition.
When it comes to putting those ingredients together in the compost bin, layering is key. So here is how I usually layer everything.
- Bottom layer: 10 to 15 centimetres of brown materials such as twigs, dead plant stalks and leaves to allow for drainage and aeration.
- Next layer: 10 to 15 centimetres of green materials
- Continue to alternate layers of brown and green materials in equal increments. The top layer should always be made up of brown materials to minimise the stinky smell. If you don’t have any brown materials such as twigs or dead leaves, shredded newspaper works as well, but remember to remove those glossy pages.
- After each layer, I would add a good sprinkling of water. The microbes that do the dirty work in the compost pile require water for survival, so keeping the compost moist but not sopping wet is crucial.
Step 5: Maintain your compost bin
After layering three or four times alternating between dry leaves and kitchen scraps, I will usually start turning the pile with a pitchfork or a spade every time I add a new load of green material or kitchen scraps. This might sound intimidating but the more you turn the pile, the less odour it produces and the faster you will have finished your compost!
Step 6: Check whether your compost is ready to use
It usually takes me between 9 months to 1 year to produce good compost. Here is a quick tip I learnt from my friend to test whether the finished compost is ready to use. Just take a handful of the finished compost and put it in a sealed plastic bag. After 3 days, open the bag and smell. If it smells sour, then it’s not ready yet, so you will have to patiently wait for a little longer. If it smells pleasant and earthy, it’s ready to be mixed with garden soil for your flower beds or potted plants.
How do I involve my kids?
Do you know that kids and composting were meant for each other? My daughter always has so much fun collecting food scraps. Putting them into her own tiny compost bins and watching those food scraps turn into nutrient-rich soil that she can grow her veggies in. It is also such a great way to help her spend more time outdoors and teaches her how to take care of the environment responsibly. What’s not to like?
If you are wondering how to involve your little ones, why not start small by letting them to compost in soda bottles. This is a great way to recycle those big soda bottles and give them a second life. I love how my daughter can use these soda bottles as a mini compost bin and then grow her own flowers. This all happens in a month or so. Here is how we do it together.
- My daughter starts by rinsing the bottle well, then screwing the cap firmly and removing the label.
- I help her to make a flip top in the bottle. By cutting most of the way around about a third of the way down the bottle
- We will go to the garden to find some soil and place a layer of soil at the bottom of the bottle.
- My daughter will now be in charge of spraying the soil moist and finding suitable materials to add more layers to the bottle. One thin layer of fruit scraps, a thin layer of soil and a layer of fallen leaves from the garden.
- Her daily task also includes rolling the bottle around to mix the contents well until everything is brown, crumbly and ready to be used to grow her flowers.
I still remembered I asked my friend why she loved composting. And she replied, “It just feels good. You know?” After a few years of creating homemade compost and giving my garden the tender love and care it deserves, I now understand what she meant back then. It feels good to retain and recycle the nutrients to produce all kinds of goodness within my garden instead of letting them rot in the landfill. It feels good to let my daughter connect with where her food comes from and appreciate the natural cycle of life at such a young age. If you aren’t composting already, why not give it a go?