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  • Writer's pictureSarah Boily

Composting 101

If you have been reading any of my other posts, you know that I am on a journey to be as self-sufficient/sustainable as possible out here in suburbia. I’ve begun gardening, making many of my own beauty products (including lotion bars, soap, shampoo. Check out those posts by clicking the links!), and making my own cleaning products! I have been trying to be as eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) as possible. I wanted to do something to benefit my garden and reduce my food waste. That’s right, I’m composting!

I have been composting for about a year now and I wanted to see how it went before I shared any of my tips and tricks to make sure I was sharing reliable information.

It has been going wonderfully. I love knowing that I’m creating my own amazing soil for my plants AND doing something to benefit the environment (and my wallet!)

Composting was kind of intimidating to me at first. What can I put in there? How often do I turn it? What happens when it’s done? How do I know it’s done? Where do I put it?

Thoughts raced through my mind but I just decided to jump in and go for it. I did my research, got started, and it all worked out!

I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 tips for composting to help you get started!

  1. Make sure you know what you’re putting in your compost pile!

This is probably one of the most important tips. There are certain things that thrive in a pile, and some things that can absolutely destroy it. Here is a handy little chart for what materials are amazing for compost piles!

2. Layer your compost properly

This step is important because it allows the compost to degrade properly AND most importantly it reduces the smell. Trust me. Your neighbors will thank you if you follow this step! You want to layer your “greens” and “browns” to enhance the decomposition process. Also using enough “brown” material will help control the odor from the green material. I would recommend 2 parts brown to 1 part green ratio. I just eyeball it when I’m layering. This has worked best for me over the past year!

(Your brown material is the carbon materials mentioned in the image above and the greens are the nitrogen materials.)

3. Turn your compost!

Turning your compost means taking your shovel/pitchfork/rake and just mixing up your pile. This helps aerate the compost and encourages more decomposition. Many people I have researched suggest turning compost piles once every 3-7 days. I did mine once a week and it turned out fine! If you use a compost tumbler this is even easier because you can just spin your tumbler and it turns it for you!

4. Use a compost bin

Now you can surely just create a pile in your lawn somewhere, but I wouldn’t recommend that method. Things can blow away, it’s horrible to look at, not easy to turn, the list goes on and on. The good news is you definitely do not need any expensive or fancy equipment to get started either! There are so many ways to get started. I have chosen to build mine out of pallets because I had some laying around. However, you could easily build one out of an old garbage can, some wire fencing, etc. Check out this post for 10 Great DIY Compost Bins.

Go as big or small as you like! This is just a small indoor waste basket!

5. Add some worms!

Worms are AMAZING for composting. They increase the rate of decomposition and create amazing compost. You don’t need to go full-scale vermiculture type composting here folks. The worms will probably end up finding their way to your pile anyways but pretty much anytime I find some worms while working in the yard, I move them to my compost pile. They love it in there because of the endless food and they turn that food into magnificent compost for your garden! You could set up a vermiculture process if you wanna take it one step further but I’m not there yet.

6. Watch the Weeds

This is a tough one. While we want lots of green matter in our compost bins, we have to be careful of weed seeds. If you add them to your pile then you’ll have weed infestation in your garden in the spring. It’s hard to control this 100% but definitely do not pull weeds and put them in your compost pile.

7. Keep it Wet!

A compost pile doesn’t need to be soaking wet, it shouldn’t be waterlogged. It should be just damp enough that when you pick up a handful, a drop of water or two comes out when you squeeze it. If your pile is in a very sunny spot you might have to water it every once in a while to ensure dampness. I tend to add some wet materials (wet paper towels, tea bags, etc.) that help add moisture on their own. I very rarely have to water my pile.

8. Do not Include These Products

These items are an absolute no for compost piles!

  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Dairy

  • Bones

  • Oils

  • Pet Manure (dog/cat)

  • Glossy paper

  • Anything with chemicals in it!

9. Keep it covered!

In whatever form you have decided to keep your compost pile, you’ll want to keep it covered in some fashion. This keeps out some unwanted guests like wasps, flies, small critters, etc. Anything as simple as a small tarp can be used! But remember we want airflow still. I started with a garbage can with holes drilled in it to begin but quickly had to expand to the pallet method. For my pallet bin, I just have a pallet resting on top, it doesn’t keep everything out but it certainly deters a lot of critters. It also can help to always have a brown layer on top. The critters want the rotting food, so if the brown is always covering they won’t be able to get to the food!

10. Don’t Stress

Enjoy your composting journey. Everyone makes mistakes and we all learn from them. I’ve been doing this for a year and I still have so much to learn. Take your time, start small and soon you’ll be a composting machine!

I hope these tips help you start your journey to composting! I now feel one step closer to being self-sustainable and I hope you do too!

Check out these other posts on gardening!

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