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3 Tips to Start Composting Today

I hot compost and vermicompost (worms) to support gardening in my backyard. I have started growing hops (in Florida) to brew beer.

Compost won't smell bad if you compost it correctly.

Compost won't smell bad if you compost it correctly.

Why You Should Compost Your Food Scraps

Composting is a natural, green way to recycle waste into usable soil. Whether you want grade A soil for flowers or to spread on your lawn, composting is the natural, easy, cheap way to do it. The only thing you need is some sort of container for your compost.

Plus, a properly cared for compost heap won't smell bad, so as long as you follow some simple steps for care.

1. Deciding on Your First Compost Bin

There are many different ways to compost. Choosing the right composting bin or container depends on what kind of climate you live in and how much space you have indoors and outdoors.

Create an Outdoor Composting Area

Compost bins are a convenient place to put your food waste. But if you have the room, a compost "area" is actually a really good way to compost your food scraps and grass clippings.

You may need some fencing or something else to discourage pests, but leave it open otherwise. Let it spread out to areas you aren't using. This allows maximum aerobic activity, as well as being very easy to turn with a shovel or pitchfork.

Here's an example of a nice outdoor compost area with the compost box right next to the garden boxes.

Here's an example of a nice outdoor compost area with the compost box right next to the garden boxes.

Make Your Own Compost Bin

I made my compost bin, and I encourage you to do the same, hopefully using reused resources. However, a "vertical" bin like mine is more difficult to turn properly. A rotating compost bin takes care of that problem, but can't hold as much waste.

My first compost bin was a hollowed-out liquid container. I believe it was rated at about 40 gallons. I was planning to use it for rainwater collection but decided on compost instead. These big liquid containers are very handy for lots of things, and I would pick up a few more just to have around for various projects, including more composting bins.

  • To make the compost bin, I cut the top off to make it easier to dump grass clippings into it. If I were going to only use it for kitchen waste, I would have made a smaller opening at the top.
  • Then I took a drill and put many holes, spaced a couple of inches apart, up and down the whole bin and bottom. This allows the composting bacteria to breathe, which is very important for efficient composting.
  • You don't want the holes to be too large, or the compost will spill out through them. Make them just big enough to let air in. Hot composting is done using aerobic bacteria, so airflow in and out is crucial. It did take a while to drill them all, but allowing your compost to breathe is important.
Here is a photo of one of my compost bins.

Here is a photo of one of my compost bins.

Here's a close-up of one of the many holes I drilled into my compost bin.

Here's a close-up of one of the many holes I drilled into my compost bin.

2. How to Compost Correctly

The reason composting works is because bacteria break down the plant matter you have put in there. These bacteria are aerobic and require oxygen. You can have an anaerobic compost heap, but it is slower, and you generally can't get to the compost after it is broken down.

Turn Your Compost

So, since these little guys require oxygen, you should turn your compost periodically to aerate it. If you make your own bin, you should allow for airflow somehow. I drilled holes into the side of my first bin from the top to the bottom. I have read that putting your heap on top of a wooden pallet helps airflow throughout.

Add Sugar if Needed

You can add some sugar to the mix if you want to speed things up. But as long as you keep a steady flow of kitchen scraps, your compost heap should do fine. Try to find a somewhat dry place, perhaps shaded. Your compost heap may give off some heat, which is normal.

3. What You Can and Can't Compost

You can compost almost anything of plant origin, even worn-out cotton clothes (though they take a bit longer and should be cut up).

What Can I Compost?

I regularly put banana peels, romaine stems, and tomato tops into mine. Grass clippings make up the majority of my compost thought. Leaves and sticks don't do as well right away; they should be aged for two summers to compost better.

  • Fruit and vegetable peels.
  • Coffee grounds.
  • Tea leaves and tea bags.
  • Eggshells.

What Can't I Compost?

  • Fats and proteins.
  • Meat scraps and grease. (These will attract fly larvae ("maggots"), which may bother some people and can smell really bad.)
  • Inorganic fibers like rayon and polyester. (Will not compost.)
  • Plastic. (Will not compost.)
  • Other inorganic substances.
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Note: Cotton composts very easily. However, even "100% cotton" garments frequently use some sort of inorganic thread along the seams, so be wary.

Use a Container to Collect Daily Food Scraps

I reuse a 3 lb sour cream tub to collect my scraps and coffee grounds. I like reusing things I already have on hand, and recycle as much as possible.

I encourage you to find something you can repurpose to collect your scraps.

My tomato plants love my compost!

My tomato plants love my compost!

Composting Is Easy, Fun, and Great for Your Garden

It's an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. It will provide soil for gardening and growing your own plants, or improving your soil for your lawn.

I have a couple tomato plants that love my compost and are doing quite nicely. I have even successfully grown hops in Florida, using compost that I produced myself using a combination of hot compost and vermicomposting.

Composting Timelapse

Composting can seem a little slow sometimes, but it is worth the trouble. Seeing composting and decomposition in action is pretty neat.

The video above is an interesting time-lapse of the decomposition of various fruits and vegetables. This is what is happening in your compost pile, right now!

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.

What do you think?

ashleydpenn on May 29, 2014:

Composting is such a good idea, and you've covered it well here.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on May 05, 2014:

When I had a yard, I always had a compost pile. That stuff really is black gold, and it saves tons of money in fertilizer and water costs each year. Water? Yes, indeed, because the compost attracts earthworms, who keep the soil aerated and friable so the soil holds the water molecules just right for plant use and wastes less. Excellent article. Thank you for sharing your process. While I've seen a number of compost bins built from wooden pallets, I never thought of using a wooden pallet under my compost pile. Love that idea!

GrammieOlivia on February 24, 2014:

Moving it over to the FB page, hopefully some more people will see it and like it there too! Head on over Grifs and give it a like too! Thanks for your link!

Elis173 on June 11, 2013:

Great lens!

Devin Gustus (author) on June 04, 2013:

@JaySamson1: Thanks for stopping by!

JaySamson1 on June 04, 2013:

The last video was very, very cool :) Great lens!

Devin Gustus (author) on June 03, 2013:

@takkhisa: I am having quite a fun time finding how many different things you can compost. Every time I go near the trash, I think to myself "can I compost this?" and then "recycle it?"

Only failed both of those, do I toss it out.

Takkhis on June 03, 2013:

What a great lens! I read about composting a long time ago and I knew composting is good for our environment. I try to compost all except plastic stuffs. :)

ratetea on May 31, 2013:

I love composting. I'd add a little caution about composting worn-out clothing, a lot of synthetic fibers don't decompose or only do so very slowly. But when I've had room to compost, I've composted all my kitchen waste of fruits and vegetables (no meat or grain--I don't want to attract mice, rats, or raccoons), as well as yard waste, and it was great. The soil you get from compost is super rich, and makes a great medium in which to garden. My parents have been composting for years and the soil in their yard is very rich...nutrient-loving plants there grow very quickly and readily!

Devin Gustus (author) on May 31, 2013:

@dakadare: I believe the green tip of the day module isn't working right. I may just remove it until that gets fixed.

Thanks for stopping by!

dakadare on May 30, 2013:

Can't imagine why you aren't getting any hits. Looks great! Maybe just add some copy to the last topic - New Igo GREEN Tip of the Day.

Devin Gustus (author) on May 29, 2013:

@nyokamnero: Thanks so much for stopping by! I really like composting, and am getting some wonderful soil for the next planting season.

nyokamnero on May 29, 2013:

WoW!! this is a great article. I live in Texas and composting tree scraps is our thing. I never knew how it beautify the plant especially when it's combined with the soil. Looking forward to reading more...

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