How to Start Composting

How to Start Composting

We started saving vegetable scraps a few years ago instead of tossing them in the trash, opting to create a small compost pile in the backyard. Our plan was to use the organic matter to fertilize our garden when we planted in the spring. That summer we noticed how healthy and hardy our vegetables were and have practiced the method every year since.

The best tip on how to start compositing is simple: start today. It’s as easy as sorting the organic waste in your home into a separate space. There’s a few things you need to know, such as what can be composted and want can’t be, as well as the two different composting methods. We’ll go over both so you can get started on a compost pile of your own.

Composting Basics

Almost everything in your kitchen will breakdown in a compost pile and is safe for your garden. The exception is meat byproducts. You might be surprised to find out that other household items, such as newspaper and dryer lint, can be composted as well. Below we broke down what you should and should not compost.

You can compost:

- Banana peels
- Cardboard (shredded)
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Dryer lint (only from cotton or wool fibers)
- Egg shells (crushed)
- Feathers
- Fruit peels
- Flowers
- Grass clippings
- Hair
- Leaves
- Manure from herbivores (chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits)
- Newspapers (with soy-based or water-based ink)
- Nut shells (crushed)
- Sawdust and wood shavings
- Vegetable peels and scraps    

Do not compost:

- Dog and cat droppings
- Meat, oils, bones and fat
- Non-biodegradable material
- Ashes

Composting Methods

There are two composting methods available. Hot composting takes around one to three months to produce rich, organic material. We recommend this method, but it does require at least weekly maintenance. Cold composting doesn’t have as much upkeep, but takes around a year to breakdown.

Hot Composting

When using this method, the compost pile must reach an internal temperature of between 140-160 degrees. It’s important for it to remain relatively consistent throughout the process. The heat destroys organisms that could cause plant diseases, and it also speeds up the decomposition process.  

Once you’ve got a pile vegetable scraps ready, find a space in your yard where you can dump it straight on the ground or inside of a bin. Mix two parts high-carbon materials like twigs and leaves to one part vegetable matter, which is high in nitrogen. Put the high-carbon materials on the ground first, then the layer high in nitrogen. Then cover with soil and add more of the matter that’s nitrogen rich. Repeat until you’ve run out of materials and spray with water to dampen the entire pile. Poke holes in the sides of the pile so air can enter the interior.

Periodically check the internal temperature with a composting thermometer. When the temperature decreases, move materials from the center to the outside. Repeat this process once a week.

After you figure out how to start composting, you can provide your garden with fresh nutrients to produce healthy vegetables.
After you figure out how to start composting, you can provide your garden with fresh nutrients to produce healthy vegetables.

Cold Composting

This method can work well in the winter months when keeping a consistent, high internal temperature is difficult. Begin as you would with the hot method by piling together organic materials. Try keeping the scraps small by shredding or crushing them. It’ll help to speed up the process. Remember, it takes at least a year to produce useable compost.

You don’t have to turn the pile or check its temperature, but it doesn’t hurt to mix the pile periodically with pre-existing soil. Otherwise, simply let it sit in your yard and decompose slowly over time.

The rich, black compost then can be mixed into the soil when you plant your garden or flower bed. While the process is slow, there’s no healthier and natural alternative that derives nutrients straight from Mother Nature.