Start Composting at Home
Compost is decomposed organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste. It provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and therefore is often used as fertilizer. Compost also improves soil structure so that soil can easily hold the correct amount of moisture, nutrients, and air. It improves the texture of both clay soils and sandy soils, making either type rich, moisture-retentive, and loamy.
How to start composting?
1. Select your food scraps. Start with fruits and veggies, for example, the skin of a sweet potato, the top of your strawberry. Also tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, and old flowers. When starting, we recommend not including meats or dairy products as these can generate undesirable smells and therefore attract
2. Store the food scraps. Try finding a compostable bag or any recipient where you can throw and store all the scraps together. If you want to prevent bad smells altogether, you could also freeze it.
3. Choose a place to make your compost. Many companies offer a monthly subscription where they collect and create the compost to then sell or provide to local farmers, however, if you want to create the compost to use in your garden we recommend starting the process in your backyard and below we share the instructions for such.
Add the first materials. You can measure out greens and browns to create a good mix of materials—for example, an equal mixture of brown autumn leaves and fresh grass clippings will give you an optimal composting combination. Don't worry about getting the mix exactly right, as it's very easy to add material to adjust the pile's performance.
- Lay a base. Start with a layer of browns, laying down 4 to 6 inches of twigs or other coarse carbons on the bottom of the pile for good air circulation.
- Alternate greens and browns. Add layers of nitrogen and carbon materials. Make layers about 4 to 6 inches thick. Once you turn the pile the first time, these materials will get mixed together and compost more efficiently.
- Size does matter. Most materials will decompose faster if they are broken or chopped into smaller pieces, as it makes more surface area available to your composters and water.
- Water as you go. Your compost pile should be moist, kind of like a wrung-out sponge. Squeeze a handful of compost; if small beads of water appear between your fingers, you have enough water. Your pile will get water from rain, as well as the moisture in the greens. For example, fresh grass clippings are nearly 80% water by weight. If the pile gets too wet, you can turn it more frequently to dry it or add more dry brown materials to soak up excess moisture.
5. Wait and Aerate. Once you build your pile, the real composters get to work—bacteria, fungi, and insects help break down the materials in your compost bin. As the organic materials decompose and your compost pile is big enough to hold the heat, your pile will get hot on the inside and you might see some steam.
As living things, the microbes in your compost pile need water and air to work and live. Water allows microbes to grow and travel around in the pile to decompose materials. Turning your pile each week with a spade or pitchfork will provide air to aid decomposition and control odors.
How long do you have to wait for decomposition? "If it's hot, you could get there in two months pretty easy, " Diggs says, "If it's cold made, you could be there in six months. And for every component to break down, it might be a year."
Of course composting takes patience — you might run into unexpected things. We don't want you to give up so here are some more resources below.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has an excellent "compost trouble-shooting guide." For example, it has suggestions of what to do if the pile has insects or is too wet.
- Jeffrey Neal from Loop Closing has compiled resources for those looking to try worm composting or Bokashi.
- Oregon State has a comprehensive guide for composting and "vermicomposting" — using a worm composter to break down organic materials.