Composting is an easy way to keep your home and garden sustainable. It’s also a great way to reduce waste and improve soil quality.
If you’re new to composting, there are a few things to keep in mind. This composting tips for beginners guide will help you get started with a successful compost pile.
1. Find the Right Spot
Ideally, you want your compost bin or pile to be placed somewhere that’s relatively stable in temperature and moisture. That way, the micro-organisms that turn your waste into compost have a consistent environment to work in and will be more likely to thrive.
Composting isn’t an exact science, so it’s important to try a variety of methods to find what works best for you. Cordell suggests writing down notes about the results of your composting efforts to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Aim for a composting ratio of two to three times the volume of brown materials (such as dry leaves) to greens, such as food scraps and grass clippings. This will help the pile stay hot and provide a balanced mix of nitrogen and carbon.
2. Layer Your Materials
One of the best tricks to ensure you get the right ratio of greens (wet, nitrogen-rich waste) to browns (dry, carbon-rich matter) is to layer your materials. This allows you to mix the components in a way that promotes decomposition.
Start with a base layer of coarser material like twigs or mulch to promote air circulation and provide drainage. Next, add layers of green waste like garden clippings and kitchen scraps to achieve the correct ratio.
This will provide nitrogen to the microbial army that’s at work. It also helps to keep the pile moist, which is important for proper decomposition.
3. Turn It Often
Your compost pile needs to be turned frequently to aerate, blend, and speed up decomposition. How often depends on a number of factors: the size of the pile, green to brown ratio, and moisture content.
Compaction: Compost piles get compacted when the particles of the materials start to get too close together, taking up space and preventing air from reaching them. Turning the compost will open up these spaces and let more air in.
Overconsumption by microbes: As the microbes in your pile grow, they may consume nutrients and oxygen too quickly. This can result in the pile becoming overpopulated and a smelly mess, but turning it will reintroduce healthy microbes and undecomposed material.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your pile as moist as a well-wrung sponge, which means about 40-60% moisture. If the pile gets too dry, add water a little at a time until it’s properly wet.
4. Keep It Moist
Composting is a great way to recycle all of your kitchen scraps and yard waste, but it can be tricky for beginners. It’s important to keep the moisture in your compost pile at just the right level, so it doesn’t turn into a slimy mess or cause mold and mildew.
To check if your compost is moist, try this squeeze test: Reach into the compost and grab handfuls.
If the compost feels like a damp, wrung-out sponge when you squeeze it, it’s moist enough to encourage decomposition.
To maintain a proper moisture level, try alternating wet and dry materials. For example, mix nitrogen-rich green materials (food scraps and fresh grass clippings) with carbon-heavy brown materials (dry leaves, sawdust, newspaper).
5. Don’t Overdo It
When composting, the goal is to provide the microorganisms that decompose food scraps with the perfect environment. This can be tricky because, just like a fire, you need to structure the materials so they have space to breathe.
In order to do this, you’ll want to layer your pile. This means alternating between nitrogen-rich green materials and carbon-heavy brown materials.
The green material, typically fruit and vegetable scraps, will tend to be wet and help balance out the ratio of carbon-heavy brown materials, which can include sawdust, shredded paper, wood shavings and dried leaves.
When you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to fill the bin with everything you can think of. This is an important mistake to avoid, as it can inhibit the growth of microorganisms and exacerbate any odors or other issues you may have.