3 Reasons Homemade Composting Is Awesome

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Composting binIf 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. We aim to make it clear and simple. While composting can be an exact science, it certainly doesn’t need to be. After all, Mother Nature does composting all the time without the help of human effort. We can join her efforts without making it a big deal. We’re going to discuss composting methods and then show you how to make your own homemade composting bin.

The Two Types of Composting

Composting can be categorized into two basic types:

  1. Passive composting
  2. Active composting

Read our Compost Bin Reviews

Passive Composting

Passive composting is simpler and requires very little work on your part while active composting is more complex and demands more of your time, energy, and mental capacities. Both types of composting result in the same end product, however, so for the purpose of this article and to keep it true to the how to make homemade compost title, we will focus on passive composting.

But before we get into the specifics of composting, we need to address some basic information.

What Is Compost?

Simply put, compost is plant food. It is light, nutrient-rich soil that you put in your garden or potted plants to make them grow better. Essentially, when you go to the garden center to purchase bags of soil, you are buying manufactured compost. Compost is the best of everything you plants need:

  • Mulch
  • Plant food
  • Fungicide
  • Disease deterrent

Why Make Your Own Compost?

There are several reasons why you should make your own, homemade compost:

Composting Is Economical

  • You already have most, if not all the things you need to make compost, so you do not have to spend any extra money to make it.
  • You also save money when you make compost because you will no longer need to buy soil and plant food at the garden center.
  • You cut down on your trash and garbage removal fees because you have less for the garbage man to take.
  • Researchers estimate that 30 – 40% of all household waste could be converted into compost.

That’s a significant reduction in your waste pick up costs!

Composting Is Fun!

Composting bin at homeIf you like to garden, you no doubt like to be outside. Composting is fun because you get to be outside doing something creative and productive. If you like plants, you probably like to see things grow. Composting is fun because you get to nurture your plants and make them grow by your own efforts, especially when you know that you are feeding them home-made meals, so to speak.

Composting Is Environmental

24 % of all the solid waste is yard trimmings and food waste that could be diverted from the landfills by composting!

How Long Does Homemade Composting Take?

Let’s first answer this in terms of the composting activity itself. It takes no longer to make compost than it takes to bag up your yard cuttings and put it out for the trash pick-up. And it takes no longer to make compost than it takes to put your table scraps down the garbage disposal. It does take a few extra minutes each week to go outside and look at your pile and stab at it a bit with a shovel. In terms of how long it takes to get from beginning your collection of compost materials to the finished product of complete compost – it takes one year.

How to Make Homemade Compost

Indoor compost bucketBefore we get to the actual steps of composting, you will have to decide where and how to collect your materials. There are three possible ways to collect your material:

  1. Make a bin
  2. Buy a bin
  3. Pile it freely with no container

The decision is entirely up to you depending on your yard/ neighborhood environment and your personal preference.

If you have plenty of space outside and don’t want to contain your compost, simply designate an area where you will collect your materials. If you want to contain it, however, you can either buy a bin or make your own.

Buying a Compost Bin

Read our Compost Bin Reviews

There are all kinds of bins for sale made especially for the containment of compost materials. A quick search on the internet will show you the myriad of choices available in size, color, style and materials.

How to Make Your Own Compost Bin

If you want to make your own compost bin, here’s how. Simply nail together four skids and you’ve got a perfect 64 cubic foot bin. You can also construct one out of easy to mold wire. Chicken wire is a bit too flimsy, but anything else will work just fine. Just nail the wire to four posts and you’ve got a bin.

Make Your Compost Pile Directly on the Ground

It is best to make your compost pile directly on the ground. The earth below will aid the decomposing process. If you buy a bin, however, you may not have this option. You may also want to build a bin over a concrete slab or other such outdoor surface. Although it is best to compost over the raw ground, this option may not always be feasible. In such cases, you should put some finished compost in the bottom of the bin to initiate the decomposing process.

Once you have decided on where you will keep the compost materials, whether or not you want to contain it, you are ready to follow these steps.

Three Steps to Making Homemade Compost

Start with Yard Scraps

When you cut your grass or rake up the leaves, put them in your compost pile. Toss twigs in there as well as this helps provide ventilation.

Add Table Scraps

Things you can compostAfter meals, collect table scraps in a bucket and when it is full, simply dump it over the yard scraps.

The Composting Rule of Ratio

You can consider the ratio of carbon and nitrogen as a complex science and some hard-core composters certainly do, but remember, this articles is called homemade composting, so we are keeping it simple. Even if your ratios are not exact, you can produce excellent compost by sticking to a general composting rule of ratio: 4 parts brown to 1 part green. The brown stuff: sticks, twigs, dried leaves – is carbon; the green stuff: wet green leaves, kitchen scraps – is nitrogen.

This ratio is important, but don’t let that consume you with worry and stress. Simply eyeball the size of the bulk you put into your pile and try to keep it to the 4 – 1 ratio.

Stab and Stir

You will probably be anxious to tend to your compost pile, so every week just go out and stab at it with your shovel. Every 2 – 3 weeks you can dig down and stir it up. This is important as it keeps the pile ventilated and avoids the build-up of mildew.

That’s it! This time next year, you will have plenty of complete compost (natural fertilizer) to use in your garden. You’ll be amazed at how happy your plants, vegetables, herbs, etc. are to have such rich and healthy soil.

Advanced Composting Tips

Seedlings from compostWhile the above steps are really all you need to know to make compost, there are a few extra tips you should follow in order to make better compost and to make the process more effective.

  • Start directly on the ground or start with a finished compost to get the microbial activity started.
  • Pile in layers rather than vertically. The more surface area you create with your pile, the more efficiently the material will decompose.
  • If your compost starts to smell bad, it is simply crying out for air. This is your cue to stab and stir.
  • To harvest your compost, skim off the stuff that on top that has not rotted and use the finished compost below for your plants.

Note: Not everything breaks down easily, so if you put certain thing into your pile that shouldn’t be there, you will hinder the process. Follow the two lists below:

Use These Materials in Your Compost:

  • Banana peels
  • Bread
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Dryer lint
  • Egg shells
  • Feathers
  • Flowers
  • Flour
  • Fruit scraps
  • Grains
  • Grass clippings & yard waste
  • Green plant trimmings
  • House plants
  • Hair
  • Leather
  • Leaves
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool)
  • Newsprint (b&w)
  • Oatmeal
  • Paper/cardboard (shredded)
  • Peanut shells
  • Pine needles
  • Potato peels
  • Rice
  • Stale bread & cereal
  • Straw & hay
  • Tea bags
  • Tobacco
  • Protein powder
  • Vacuum bag wastes
  • Wood chips & shavings

Do Not Use These Materials in Your Compost:

  • Bones
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Fats
  • Feces
  • Fish
  • Limestone compound
  • Meat
  • Peanut butter
  • Weeds
  • Sauces

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Have you tried composting? Were any of our tips useful? 

Michelle is passionate about living a healthy life. She shops farmers markets, cooks organic, and eats vegetarian. Juicing and smoothies are a part of everyday life in her home. So are recycling, composting, and gardening. I guess you could say Michelle has a green thumb. Even when a plant doesn't make it under her care, she is still dedicated to making the earth a greener place for future generations.

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Leslie
Thanks for the great article – so helpful and inspiring! One question – how and when can one harvest decomposed material if the pile is mixed every 2-3 weeks?
Sadie Cornelius (Admin)
Leslie, you should leave some at the bottom to fully compost and pull from, if your bin allows that and turn the top. If not, you risk partially uncomposted materials in your compost mix. Even this should compost in the garden over time too, making this option ok too in most cases. Hope that helps and happy composting!
BioBagWorld
I agree about the claim that compost may reduce plant disease. In testing worm casting seedling mixes, I’ve observed vigorous, healthy seedling growth without sterilization. I was able to grow seedlings with no damping off in worm castings, compost and mixtures thereof. These mixes were loaded with microbes… the beneficial kind! As it turns out, researchers at Cornell have found that vermicompost can introduce beneficial microbes that colonize the surface of a seed, protecting against pathogens.
Aria an environmentally conscious drifter
I really like this site. Its very informative. Keep it up!

Monte
I live in an apartment, and have a decent sized back patio, so I want to begin the composting now so I can plant some veggies next year. Your information was very helpful, and since I already have a mini canister for wet items such as egg shells, coffee grounds and banana peels, etc, to save on buying plastic bags for my garbage that is separate from the recyclables, it’s naturally the next step. I hope to find a bin that is shallow as I am disabled and would make it easier to stir every few days, I plan on getting the yard clippings from the lawn care guys who come weekly. Thank you for the info on the items we can and cannot use – it broadened my compost horizons.

Monte
I have a question about adding hair to composting; I assume that color-treated hair would not be acceptable, but cat hair would be okay? Thanks!

Sadie Cornelius (Admin)
Yes, from our experience, cat hair is okay. We have composted dog hair in the past but we stopped because it does not break down as quickly as other things and thus, can end up in your soil. It will not hurt anything but it can look strange.

Not sure about color processed hair, but when in doubt, I would say no because of the chemicals in the hair dye that could spoil the soil.

myrameka
I wouldn’t use any type of hair that is just gross. You are mixing human/animal belongings on food that you will be eating and feeding to your babies, keep it real.
Sadie Cornelius (Admin)
Myrameka, we don’t recommend eating compost with hair in it. This article is about composting used for gardening and the byproduct with hair will not harm plants. Thanks for reading and happy composting!
Lori
I feel a little silly asking, but here goes. My garden is all organic. The foods I buy that I would like to compost are not always organic. My grass is sprayed every month by a pesticide company. I’m afraid of composting these items that will introduce insecticides and other non-organic materials into my garden. What do you suggest?

Thank you.

Pam
Can you use cigarette butts or ashes in your compost. I live with a smoker and was curious. Thank you.

Sadie Cornelius (Admin)
We do not advise putting cigarette butts in your compost – they contain hundreds of chemicals and a material in the filter does not degrade for years. They could end up killing your plants and doing more harm than good.

Newbie
Hi! Thank you so much for your informative article. I am beyond stoked to begin making my own compost. Question for you: are boxes, paper bags, and toilet paper rolls considered green or brown material? You say to add the brown before the green, but what about when it comes time for me to compost the boss, bags, and rolls? And so I need to shred them up into tiny pieces?

Thank you!!!

darlene dittmar
If you think back to the original source where paper came from. That’s right, it’s brown.

Shredding will help speed up the process. Have fun.

StarBird
I have my first home and the back yard is a sea of weeds. Very little crabgrass but tons of flowering weeds. You say not to use weeds, what is that? I would so much lovely brown stuff…

Thanks,

Bonnie

Donnetta
The reason you do not want weeds, especially flowering ones, is because it will cause weeds to grow either in your pile or in your garden. So instead of ridding yourself of the problem you’re spreading it around. Weeds took over our yard when the rains hit and I was sad I couldn’t use it because my landlord bundled it so nicely on my front carport…stick to the good stuff.

Good luck!

Elaine
We just began a trial pile of composting yesterday directly on the ground, and read this article today! We have a medium size backyard, however it is mostly filled with weeds of all sorts. We also have a large tree and wooden fence on one side and cherry shrubs on the other two sides. We keep the weed trimmed down to grass size! But now, I am concerned about the weeds! We didn’t clean them out before making a hole of about 16 x 16 in, Can we continue using our backyard to compost or should we clean it out first?

Sadie Cornelius (Admin)
Elaine, your compost should be fine on top of the weeds, and in fact it should kill the weeds if it hasn’t already. But, hopefully there are not any chemicals or from the weeds that could be harmful to the compost. Hope that helps and happy composting!

Jim Stramler
We began a compost pile on the ground last year. For a while, it seemed to go well, but now it seems all we are doing is feeding weeds some good stuff. The weeds have overtaken the compost.

Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks.

Jim Stramler

Anonymous
I have been composting for years now, and I still learned some new tricks from this article. I had no idea that compost was a natural fungicide, for one! Another new thing was that eggshells are compostable, which I never knew before. That is going to be put into use right after breakfast today. My personal recommendation is to set up a bin with either slats or a ventilated door on the bottom that you can shovel finished compost directly out of. And since the article only hinted at this, I want to assure everyone that your compost is definitely coming along, even if you do not see results immediately.

Usually the process takes a few months before it gets going, although after that you will have fresh compost virtually any time you need it. If you think you do not have enough “brown” for your compost, like if you live in a drier climate where there are not very many plants or trees, you can still have a successful compost. This is mostly because the ratio is by bulk and not necessarily by weight, and things like dried leaves and twigs take up a lot of room.

Kathy Faust
I would have never thought to use dryer lint and hair in compost. Who knew there was an actually use for dryer lint? How cool is that? I can’t imagine just building a compost pile straight on the ground though. With so many dogs and while animals roaming the area, there would be compost all over the yard. I would definitely need to invest in a sturdy bin that will keep out all the animals. However, this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. The ability to put food scraps to use is wonderful.

I wasn’t aware that you had to invest 1 year in the process. I guess it makes sense. You can’t just throw dirt and scraps together and expect compost the next day. This is truly a project that you will invest a lot of time into, but at least it’s only a few minutes here and there. It’s not like you’re spending hours each day. This means it’s something that almost anyone could do.

I like that this article included a list of things not to put in compost. I think a lot of people add the wrong ingredients and end up with a stinky pile of waste and angry neighbors.

Kathy Faust
Homemade composting is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. However, there are many issues I have that keep me from jumping in head first. First of all, we already have a problem with ants in our home during the warmer months, which makes me worry about keeping a jar of food scraps on the counter. Second, we have bears. As in big, black bears that aren’t afraid of people in the least. The last thing I want to do is walk outside and find a bear munching away at my compost bin.

However, this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. Once we move into our new home, I plan to have a garden and would love to be able to use fresh compost to keep the garden going strong. I also love the fact that by composting, we create less waste to go in the landfills. I suppose the only course of action would be to invest in a commercial compost bin that was bear-proof and make frequent trips to the bin in the warmer months. I know that we’ll figure it out because this is something that is really important to us. Thanks for such a great resource. This will come in handy once we get settled into our new home.

Donnetta
Use cinnamon. It’s amazing! Stay away from the bears 🙂

Kathy Faust
Composting is something I’ve been extremely interested in. I live in the mountains and don’t get trash pickup so it would be nice to not have to take off trash as often. We use a lot of produce in our home and it would be nice to take the scraps and turn them into great compost for plants. I think it would be an incentive to start our own vegetable garden.

The only real problem is that because we live in the mountains, there is a lot of wildlife, including bears, wolves, coyotes, and other animals that would be drawn to the scent. In other words, there’s no way we could use an open composting bin. I like the tumbler-style composting bins because they are closed, but I’m not crazy about the price. I would love to find a way to make this style of composting bin that was more affordable, but served the same purpose.

This was an excellent resource that I plan to use over and over again. I was amazed to find out that composting could divert so much waste from landfills. This was even more incentive to get started. I also liked seeing the list of what can go into compost because it can be hard to remember what to avoid.

Anonymous
Composting is a natural way of reusing most of the organic material that you would ordinarily throw away. This is usually stored in some type of container, called a compost bin. It is mixed up from time to time and basically allowed to decompose. This turns into some very rich organic material that is incredibly helpful to plants and crops. In essence compost is plant food. It is great way to reduce the amount of waste which is produced and then just thrown into a landfill.

According to the author of this post, there are several approaches that can be taken towards composting. Passive composting is probably the easiest and most applicable to the beginner. You will simply start by either purchasing or building a compost bin or container. Then, each day or week, you will place organic waste material in this container. Each day or two, go outside to the container and mix it up a bit with a shovel. The author states that from start to finish, it should take one year to develop the finished product. This compost can then be used on your garden or flowers as food.

Anonymous
Anyone who has ever wondered about home composting should really take a look at this article. The author starts off with a brief description of the various types or categories of composting. This has been boiled down to passive and active types. Being self-explanatory, you can decide for yourself whether it will be more in line your personality to become more active or more passive with your composting.

Then a pretty good definition of compost is given. It is one of the better ones that I have heard, probably because of its simplicity. Compost is plant food. This is followed up by some great reasons to consider composting.

Thinking about this whole idea a little more, composting is a great fit for someone who already is a gardener. Or for someone who would like to start their own garden, whether it be to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers or other plants. Obviously, composting is also a great way to cut down on the amount of waste you and your family produces. So, in effect, it is like recycling, only the natural and organic waste goes right back into the soil.

Anonymous
I started composting about three years ago and originally, I never really thought of it as a viable thing to do because I live in an apartment in a relatively urban environment. Because of this, I have very limited space for both my gardening habits and for the act of composting itself. However, once I did some research, I realized just how simple it would be and started a small bin for compost immediately.

After some time, I found that my capacity to make compost was far greater than my ability to use it up. Did this deter me? Not one bit.

I have actually started a group within my apartment complex that all have their own small gardening endeavors and I have begun to supply them all with nutrient rich compost every spring so they can use up what I do not. It has worked out remarkably for both my vegetable pots as well as my neighbors. An unexpected result is that my neighbors have also started granting me with their vegetables and flowers as well to thank me for my efforts!

Ceal Whalen
I have thoroughly enjoyed ready this website. I’ve learned a lot more than I knew when I first started my compost bin. I was surprised to find that moldy cheese can also be added. I thought cheese was not allowed.

But I am still confused about a few things:

1) how to add wine corks. How small should they be cut up? And what about the new types of corks that are being used for wine bottles? They look like some type of plastic – I’m not talking about the corks for champagne which really are plastic.

2) can newspaper with colored ink also be added?

3) what about magazines with colored ink?

Thanks for all the good info!

Alex Schenker (Admin)
Yes, you are correct. Cheese and any other dairy or fatty foods should not be composted as they will attract pests to invade your compost pile. We have corrected the comment below to reflect this. Thanks for your assistance.

True cork wine corks can be recycled by simply cutting them up into small pieces of about 1/3″ thick. However, the new, synthetic corks are made out of plastic compounds and, thus, cannot be recycled.

All newspaper and magazine ink used today is completely non-toxic, no matter what color the ink (black, white and color). It is a soy-based ink that will compost perfectly.

Kathy Faust
I love this article. You really did take a subject that most people are confused by and turn it into something that is easy to understand. I know I often have a hard time explaining it to people, but you just gave me some great ideas to share information about composting so that people don’t get that glazed look in their eyes when I am trying to get my point across.

I wonder why people make such a big deal of it though. I mean people have been doing this for years. It really is not anything new. We have just gotten so used to using chemicals that we have lost a lot of valuable information that can lead to some really healthy lifestyles, including eating habits and gardening.

I compost and I love it. I enjoy feeling like I really am getting closer to nature and I love the idea that I am wasting almost nothing. My hope is that one day I will be completely self-sufficient, but I worry that I am getting too old to do the physical parts of it. Then again, if I keep composting and raising an organic garden, maybe my health will improve and I won’t have to worry about it.

Anonymous
One tip not mentioned in the article that helps compost be rich and balanced is adding red earthworms. I know, they sound crawly and icky, but they really help the breakdown process. There are some people who build or buy and set up complicated worm bins in spiral or dome shapes and whatnot, but for basic composing (passive, as the article describes it), this is really not necessary. You just add a bunch of worms to the compost and let them do their thing.

Compost is also good for planting grass seed or sod, in addition to bushes, flowers, herbs, and vegetable gardens. I got the idea a few years back when I saw an office building being built that advertised the fact that their soil was in fact post-consumer compost. They then seeded the welcome lawn, and it grew in green and fantastic looking. And for those of us with planters, compost can be great for filling those, as well. I keep plants in pots and re-pot them in larger pots as they grow, potting them with fresh compost each time. Old compost can go back into the bin or into another planting project.

Anonymous
I really would never consider myself to be an “earthy” person by any stretch of the imagination, but when I decided to take on the task of composting, I could not have predicted how easy and rewarding the activity was. I really hate the thought of my garbage ending up in some landfill somewhere so I started recycling a long time ago, and not just my plastics and stuff either, I try to reuse paper plates multiple times, I keep all my paper for scratch paper and even reuse my plastic baggies by washing them out when I am done with them.

Composting though, was a way I could reuse and deal with my more organic garbage. The coffee grounds, the banana peels, and all of that type of thing that I ordinarily bagged up and put out for trash, now go into my gardens and potted plants to deliver nutrients (once it has composted of course). Starting a bin was pretty easy once I figured out how to best aerate the area and produce very natural results. I feel even more like I am doing my part.

Kathy Faust
This is something I’ve been interested in for quite some time. I live in an area where there’s no trash pickup, so that means having to drive 5 miles to the nearest dump. I know that composting would give me a chance to drive to the dump less often. Actually, I may be able to get away with only going to the recycling center. The only problem is that I live in bear-country. With bears roaming in my backyard, I’m a bit worried about starting a compost bin.

I know there are many different options for composting and there are bins that are bear-proof. However, I also know that these methods are much more expensive. I would love to be able to build a simple bin in the backyard that was affordable, but easy to maintain. I assume I could use a large bin with a good fitting lid and aerate the compost ever so often.

Regardless, I love the idea of composting. I firmly believe in using everything to its fullest and wasting less. What better way to make the most of our food than to start a compost bin? There is so much waste when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but a compost bin can put it all to good use.

Anonymous
Haven’t all gardeners been doing this? Well, I know not all gardeners, but I know that I’ve heard many people throughout my childhood (before people became environmentally aware) talking about putting old food in the garden. I don’t think they made any effort to process the food more than chopping it up. Much of it was already mush and stuff naturally. I had no idea this process had a name and that the process could become so involved.

I think it is really interesting that there are some things that you should not use in your compost blend. That is one thing that giving an old activity a new name can do. It brings new research into things, which always helps us to advance forward instead of staying stagnant.

I am surprised that fish is an item you shouldn’t compost, I will probably be looking up the reason why within the next few days, because that’s just me. My other concern with homemade composting is that this is food after all. I would wonder if it would attract raccoons, squirrels and possums. These animals can be dangerous or simply destructive.

Kenya
I believe to have an organic compost fish would be out of the picture. I see feces on the list. Many farmer’s use cow feces. Not organic. I found this article to be helpful. I would not have thought to add hair to compost. I have a head full, excited to know what comes out while brushing can be recycled. You can personalize your compost to your life style. I live in Miami, not many wild animals here. We will have our’s open in the backyard. It is really simple.

Kathy Faust
I hope that people realize that you can do both types of composting. You can even put a focus on your compost based on what you want to use it for. For instance, this year I did not use any fertilizer or compost at all. I moved into a new house and I wanted to see what the soil was going to do after not being planted on for a couple of years (This house was empty during that time). I decided to just let it do what it was going to do and watch the plants to see how they responded to the soil. But, in the meantime I have a couple of different compost piles going. As the summer goes on and I see everything that happens in the garden, I’ll add to it specific items to make it richer in what I need it to be. I don’t have the details of that yet because I still need to research what the plant thrive on and so forth. I would rather not send my soil to a lab every year.

What I mean is, I won’t use the same compost for my flowers as I use for my corn or my tomatoes. You can start your compost pile now based on what you need for next year’s crops.