A Step-by-step Guide to Making Compost for Beginners
Composting is popular these days as much as it was a long time ago. Composting is a natural way to recycle organic matter. This process creates compost or rich soil. Statistics suggest that on average, regular composting can help you remove 500 pounds of organic matter every year. This directly benefits the environment by diverting the waste from landfills.
After brief research and looking into popular practices, I prepared this super simple, beginner’s guide that can help set off your journey in composting.
Here's why composting is the best way to start a zero-waste lifestyle!
Recycled household waste - Composting organic waste is known to reduce garbage waste by 30%.
Condition soil - Composting helps to condition the soil by creating nutrient-rich tonic for garden use.
Protect the environment - Natural composting can help enrich landscaping without using chemical fertilizers.
Saves money by reducing water loss - One direct benefit is the ability to improve the soil's water-holding capacity reducing water loss.
In this guide, you will learn about how composting works, the components of composting, and different techniques and ways of composting with some frequent problems faced by beginners. Let's begin!
How does composting work?
Compost is made from organic materials that can break down the soil and enriches the soil components with essential nutrients. To understand the composting process, it is essential to look into the natural decomposition process in nature. The wooden areas are usually filled with organic matter. Over time, these materials decompose and break down with the help of microorganisms. Once this organic material is decomposed, it becomes humus - an essential element to produce rich and fertile soil.
Composting creates the ideal condition for natural decay or the rotting process occurring in nature. This process requires organic waste (dried and wet), soil, water, and air.
The compost conditions need to be balanced throughout for efficient decompensation:
Lots of air - the mixture needs to be turned around every day.
Enough moisture/water - the mixture needs to be moist and not soaking wet.
The proper proportion of carbon and nitrogen - the favorable ratio is about 30:1
Small particles - Big pieces of waste need to be broken down as small particles compost quickly and effectively.
Sufficient soil - There should be enough soil with microorganisms for composting.
Different types of compost systems
Composting is easy if you get the basics right. If you want to garden seriously, you can have a scientific approach or not - it is up to you. First things first, you will need to select a composting system. Commonly, there are four types of composting systems - plastic bins, tumblers, open bay, and Bokashi composting.
Before you begin looking into the systems, consider the following
How much food scraps and green waste do you throw out every week?
Where do you plan to keep the compost system?
What is your budget?
How quickly do you want your compost to be ready?
Once you answer these questions, let's look into the pros and cons of each system.
Easy to move around
Minimum ventilation slows down the process
You might have to aerate once in a while
Composts are made easily
Faster composting - aerobic decomposition due to oxygen from bacteria
A closed system keeps the rodents away
The compost pile is limited to the size of the drum
More compost volume can take up a larger surface area, can be adjusted
Not suitable for apartment dwellers
Potential for rodent infestations
It is perfect for apartment dwellers.
Fits in the kitchen perfectly
Fills up quickly - limited space
Can be costly after adding the Bokashi mix
Bokashi composting is an anaerobic process that requires bran inoculated with microorganisms to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, in a safe soil builder and creates a nutritious tea for plants.
What to compost?
After choosing the best system, most people divide the waste into two categories, 'brown' waste (carbon-rich) and 'greens' which are rich in nitrogen
Here is the list of materials that would go into your compost
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Grass and plant clippings
Tea leaves and tea bags
Cotton fabric and fibers
What not to compost?
It can be confusing to learn what can be composed as it depends on the individual. Here are some of the ingredients that are avoided in compost due to human health, pests, and rodent concerns
Meat and dairy products
Infected plant materials
Fats and oils
Choosing composting bins
To choose the perfect composter, let's look into some of the most common composting bins available.
Basic Composter: A basic composter is a self-contained unit with a lid that helps to keep the compost tidy and avoids rodents and pests. These composters are great for small yards and urban dwellers.
Spinning composter: Spinning composters help to mix the compost by turning the handle. Even though it may cost a little more than basic composters, they cook the compost quickly.
Indoor Composters: For those who are not keen to have an outdoor composter, a small kitchen composter might work for you. Indoor composters also work without electricity with the use of beneficial microbes.
Worm Composters: Worms do an excellent job of turning scraps into usable organic matter. Once you and your worms have an understanding, there is no stopping to make good compost.
Electric composter: If it is in your budget, an electric composter is an excellent option. These modern units fit right into a gourmet kitchen and can handle about 5 pounds of waste every day. Within two weeks you can have nitrogen-rich compost for your garden. Unlike other models that are limited to what you can put in, this composter works with everything, including meat, dairy, and fish, turning it into compost in just two weeks.
Homemade Compost Bin: Homemade compost bins can be constructed from just about any material such as old wood pallets, scrap lumber, cinder blocks, or chicken wire. There are numerous sites on the Internet that provide free compost bin plans. You can even make your own spinning compost bin from large 55-gallon plastic drums. If you are creative, the sky’s the limit concerning design. Although a homemade compost bin requires some work, it is generally less expensive in the long run than retail bins.
The best compost bins are the ones that fit the space you have available, are within your budget, and do the job you need them to do. Be sure to read all the reviews and do some research before choosing the perfect compost bin for your needs.
How to compost
For starters, an easy way to compost is using a layering technique. As the name suggests, you need to layer the 'brown' and 'green' matter in your compost system. This method is best for open bay systems and plastic bins.
Here's how the layering method works
Start the compost pile with a layer of cardboard or newspaper
Add a layer of green matter like veggie scraps
Alternate the green and brown pile until you reach the brim of the container.
Water the compost regularly to keep it moist and leave for 3-6 months.
Regularly check the pile and use the pitchfork to check if the matter has broken down.
Once the compost is broken and gets dark and crumbly, you will notice worms and bugs. Spread it in your garden to improve fertility.
If you choose tumbler composting, it is best to start with 50:50 carbon and nitrogen composition and monitor the ratio as you keep adding the greens and browns.
Bokashi composting is perfect for busy, urban dwellers and it usually comes with all the components you need. If you are not aware of how Bokashi composting works, here's a brief on how can you get started with Bokashi composting
Step 1: Remove the plastic lid and place the plastic grate at the bottom with the knob upwards
Step 2: Put the kitchen waste in the bucket including food scraps, uncooked meat, fish, and even coffee grinds. Avoid bones and too much liquid. For every layer of waste, add Bokashi mix on the top. This helps to accelerate the breakdown and minimizes the food odor.
Add more Bokashi mix if you add protein-rich waste like eggs, cheese, or meat.
Step 3: Make sure that the lid is secured and closed tight. Regularly drain 'Bokashi juice' using the tap at the bottom of the bucket. This juice contains active micro-organism and nutrients, making it a brilliant fertilizer for your garden.
Step 4: Rinse and repeat the earlier steps, until the Bokashi bucket is full. The waste is ready to get buried. If the waste does not break down in the bucket, it can be completed after it is buried. In case if you don't have a backyard, you can strike an arrangement with a local community garden or neighborhood.
Step 5: Wash the Bokashi bucket after use.
Care and Feeding
Add new layers of fertilizing the soil material to the top alongside new soil. Water the fertilizer routinely to keep the manure moist. Turn the fertilizer consistently or each and every day for a sufficient supply of oxygen.
As you add new layers and turn the fertilizer, you will blend new layers of unblemished waste matter in deteriorated layers. Almost completed compost will settle to the base where the particles are more modest. The completed manure will emerge from the lower part of the container.
Here are some signs that your compost pile is working properly:
It does not smell bad. It should have a sweet, earthy smell, like peat moss.
It is warm. The microorganisms are "cooking away" and you may even see some steam rising from the pile, especially on a cool morning.
You may see some gas bubbles in the pile because carbon dioxide is being released as the microorganisms do their work.
Collect the Finished Compost
The finished compost can be accumulated from the bottom of the bin or from the oldest section in case of double-sectioned compost. There is no way to determine when the compost will be ready. It depends on the kind of composter used and other factors. To check the compost, consider the following -
Temperature - After every compost turning, regulate the temperature and ensure it is below 100 F (38 C)
Appearance - Does the matter look identical to trash? You can tell the percent of decomposition
Size - Check the decrease in volume of the compost
Color - Dark brown or black?
Texture - Smooth or crumbly?
Smell: Does it smell like soil?
Finished composts can do the following:
Enhance the soil structure in your garden
Improve the activities of microbes in the soil
Improve the nutritional value of the soil
Improve the degree of acidity (pH)
Reduce the change in soil temperatures around plants
Improve the immunity of your garden plants and trees
Home composters utilize the finished compost near their homes, trees, and gardens. If you have excess compost, you can sell the finished compost to local nurseries or other local farmers.
Tips for Successful Composting
Activate Your Compost
Compost 'activators' can be added to compost to induce decomposition and speed the composting process. Some of the natural activators include young weeds, grass clippings, and rotted chicken manure. You can also purchase inoculants from nearby plant nurseries. You can also use a shovel full of finished compost in another pile.
Is Your Compost Attracting Flying Insects?
Fruit flies are naturally attracted to composts. You can avoid it by covering the wet waste or exposed vegetable matter. Add a layer of grass clipping over the new kitchen waste to the pile. You can also add lime and calcium to discourage flies.
Unbearable Odors from the Compost Pile?
This is a common problem in urban and suburban areas that have neighbors living nearby. You can eliminate the odor in two ways - Don't put bones or meat scraps in compost (unless it is an electric composter) and cover the additions to compost with dry leaves or grass clippings. Adding lime or calcium can help to reduce the odor. if the odor is similar to ammonia, try adding carbon-rich elements like dried leaves and straw.
Hot-Steaming Compost Pile?
Don't worry. A hot compost pile indicates a large community of microscopic organisms working their way to transforming the organic waste into compost.
Do You Find the Compost Pile Soggy?
This is one of the most common problems, likely during cold seasons when carbon-based materials can be short. To mitigate this issue, restore the compost by maintaining a healthy nitrogen-carbon balance.
Matted Leaves, Grass Clippings Clumping Together?
This is one of the most common problems with materials thrown into the composter. The wet materials stick together and slow the aeration process. There are two simple solutions: either set these materials to the side of the composter and add them gradually with other ingredients or break them apart with a pitchfork. Grass clippings and leaves should be mixed with the rest of the composting materials for best results.
Want to buy a composter? Check out our detailed review on composters based on your needs!
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Your sustainable journey doesn't need to end here. There is so much more to an eco friendly lifestyle. Please feel free to check out some of our other blog posts!