Composting at Home

by Courtney Christensen

Are you looking to reduce your carbon footprint, recycle as much as you can, and benefit your lawn and garden? Composting at home may be for you! While there is a lot of information out there about composting, and as much misinformation, getting started on your own compost pile at home can be super simple.

Benefits of Composting at Home

Composting, by definition, is the decomposition of recycled organic materials (typically waste or garbage) into a soil additive or conditioner. The compost introduces an abundance of quality nutrients into your soil and helps plants grow and thrive.

The benefits of composting at home are many. First, it’s a good way to recycle. Most organic materials can be composted, and that includes things like paper and cardboard. While these things can often be recycled by your city’s waste management company, so many items are skipped or passed over and end up in the landfill anyway. Second, it’s a good way to reduce your garbage output. So many of your kitchen scraps can be composted, meaning you’ll be sending less and less to the landfill every day. Finally, it’s a perfect soil additive for your garden at home. Whether you have a vegetable garden or a gorgeous flower landscape out front – your plants will thank you.

How It Works

Ready for a little science lesson? Composting requires four things to work properly: air, water, carbon, nitrogen. When these components are added together, they attract composters: bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms which eat away at the organic waste, which creates heat (the last component needed) and turn it into compost.  Most of these composters are invisible to the eye and work silently – meaning you’ll never know they’re there. Regardless, if you want your compost to flourish, you’ll need to keep them happy with the right ingredients.

What to Compost

Deciding what to put into your compost bin or pile is the part where the Internet can be both helpful and not at all helpful. It’s a good idea to read up on several sources to help guide you into making the right decisions. If you’re unsure about a certain ingredient and can’t find any consistent answers online, it’s best to leave it out.

Compost These:

As I mentioned before, composters require carbon, nitrogen, water, and air to create compost.

  • Add carbon with dead leaves, wood chips, straw, paper, and cardboard.
  • Add nitrogen with kitchen scraps, dead plants, coffee grounds, used tea leaves, freshly cut grass, and manure.
  • Add water by lightly soaking every new layer you add to the pile.
  • Add air by periodically turning the pile or by poking large holes into it (with a yardstick or pitchfork).

Don’t Compost These:

Some things should never be composted due to the negative effects they will have on the composters or because they aren’t able to decompose.

  • Plastics, metals, or other inorganic materials. Save these for the actual recycling bin.
  • Plastic coated materials like glossy or waxed paper and cardboard. This also goes for the food-grade stickers on produce. They cannot be decomposed due to the coating on them, and it’s best to just throw these out as recycling companies cannot use them either.
  • Acidic kitchen scraps. Things like citrus peels or onions add an acidy to the compost that is difficult for the composters to digest, and may even kill them in large quantities. Small amounts of these ingredients are fine, but it’s best to keep them out. Save the citrus peels for DIY cleaners instead.
  • Meat (including fish or bones from animals), greasy foods, and oil. These things will attract animals like raccoons, cats, and squirrels which will destroy your compost pile. On that note, try to bury your eligible kitchen scraps deep into the pile or use an animal-safe compost bin to keep them out entirely.
  • Sick or toxic plants. These will weaken or kill your composters which are a necessity for your compost pile. Avoid plants that humans are allergic to like poison oak or poison ivy. While it’s likely toxic plants can be decomposed due to the heat of the compost pile, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Sick plants can spread disease throughout the entire pile, however, so it’s best to avoid those if you can. Additionally, avoid composting plants that have had direct and abundant contact with pesticides as these can also kill off the composters.
  • Because weeds are such an invasive type of plant, they are often unable to be decomposed quickly enough to avoid the spread of the plant. You could end up with a large pile of weeds instead of lovely compost. The leaves and stems can be composted, but avoid roots and seeds.
  • Feces from pets (or people) that eat a non-vegetarian diet. Most pet foods contain meat ingredients which will attract animals just the same as actual meat products. If you have access to farmyard animals like chickens and cows – it is perfectly fine to use manure from them.

Compost Options

When composting at home, you have a few options. You can make your own DIY compost bin, create a pile in the corner of your yard, or buy a pre-made bin online. Some people may be lucky enough to have the space to create an open compost pile which is great for the addition of natural water and air, but in the middle of the city, this is not always doable. The smell can sometimes be overwhelming (particularly if you use incorrect ingredients), and neighbors may complain!

Buy online:

Squeeze Master Large Compost Bin - $132
Geobin Small Composter - $40

Make your own:

Family Handyman DIY Tumbling Barrel Compost Bin – about $60
YoungHouseLove DIY Compost Bin – about $10



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