These composting tips for beginners will help you get started on your eco-friendly gardening journey. If it’s new to you, it may seem a bit intimidating, and you’re probably wondering where to start.
The following composting tips for beginners will help you get started with your green gardening:
1. What is Composting?
Composting is basically all about organic matter decomposing, and how you go about helping the process along.
Bins or a Pile?
It usually involves some type of bin or container (or a pile on the ground) that you add things to such as dead leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, newspaper and cardboard, or fruit and vegetable scraps.
When the mixture is decomposed properly (by adding water, turning regularly, and the correct ratio of wet to dry) it creates a rich material to use as a natural fertilizer for your garden.
2. Why Should You Compost?
There are several good reasons to engage in composting. And keep in mind that you can compost whether you have backyard space or not. Some people do it in apartments and condos.
Reduce Trash and Food Waste
Composting is an eco-friendly practice that helps to reduce waste going to landfills. This is becoming more and more vital as the space for landfills shrinks. Food waste is a big part of our trash problem.
Along with the benefits for landfills, composting provides excellent chemical-free fertilizer for growing fruits and vegetables or feeding a lawn naturally.
You can make composting an integral part of your overall green gardening plan to reduce your environmental footprint as you engage with nature in your own living space.
3. Composting Materials to Get Started
To get started with composting there are some materials you’ll need. Some are fairly necessary, while others are optional or will depend on your preferences. Most of the items you need can be purchased at your local hardware store or gardening center.
- A compost bin or a well-drained area of your yard for a compost pile
- Something like wood, a tarp, or old carpet to cover the compost pile
- A source of water
- A shovel or pitchfork to turn the compost regularly
- Materials to add to the compost
Whether you use a bin or an open pile will depend on your preferences. There are different types of bins available for outdoor composting such as static bins (more difficult for turning the pile) or tumbler bins (that make turning the compost easier).
There are also smaller bins available that are more suitable for indoor composting. And, some people like to start composting with worms (vermicomposting).
4. What Can Be Composted?
Now that you understand more about composting and what you’ll need, you’re probably wondering what you can add to your compost and what shouldn’t go in.
Go with Organic Matter
In general, you’ll want to add organic matter like fruit and vegetable scraps that isn’t animal products such as meat or bones. There’s also a way to layer your material for the best results. More about that below.
Things you can add to your compost include:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Wood chips and pellets (sparingly)
- Tea leaves (loose or bags)
- Straw or hay (without seeds)
- Leaves (better if shredded)
- Shrub prunings (not too big or woody)
- Shredded paper (without ink or glossy)
- Seaweed or kelp
- Grass clippings and weeds (without seeds)
- Shredded cardboard
- Coffee grounds
Things you should never add to your compost include:
- Meat, bones, or fish scraps
- Weeds or diseased plants that might spread
- Pet manures
- Anything that may have pesticides on it
- Sawdust with oil residue from machinery
- There is some discussion about black walnut leaves because the residue can harm certain other plants.
Now, back to the concept of layers of compost material according to what is considered “green/wet” and “brown/dry” in your mixture.
Green and Brown Items
Items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, and seaweed are considered “green or wet.” Items such as straw, shredded cardboard/paper, sawdust, and dried leaves are considered “brown or dry.”
Start your compost with a layer of thicker/dryer material like small twigs or straw, then add a layer of wet material. Continue alternating the layers until you have created a pile.
Water is Important
You’ll need to water it occasionally to keep it moist, or, if it’s an open pile, you can let the rain do the job for you. But make sure it drains well. It should be moist but not soaked or sodden.
Keep the Heat In
If it isn’t in a bin, make sure to cover it between watering to retain the heat and moisture that contributes to the decomposing process.
Turn to Aerate
You’ll need to turn the mixture every few weeks to let the air in. Being aerated is important to the process. This is easier to do in an open pile than in a static bin. But it’s easiest if you have a tumbler compost bin where you just need to turn the handle.
5. What to Do with the Compost
When the mixture has turned into a rich dark material and you can’t see any of the original materials in it, use it to fertilize your own garden for healthy fruits and vegetables.
If you’re composting in an apartment or condo, you can use the results for an indoor or balcony garden, or for your houseplants. A local farm might also welcome your compost.
If you produce more compost than you need yourself, you can give some away to friends, family, or neighbors. You can also check if there is a local composting program where they pick up your offerings.
Other General Composting Tips
The basic steps to composting outlined above will get you started on your new eco-friendly venture to reduce waste. Below are some extra composting tips that you may find come in handy:
- A store-bought composting bin is an easy way to start, but some people construct a DIY compost bin with old wood or wire and posts.
- If you go with a pile, and it’s possible, try to place it where there are equal parts sun and shade to avoid it getting too hot or wet.
- A bin with a cover works best if you think animals will be attracted to it.
- You shouldn’t get an unpleasant odor if you add plenty of “brown/dry” material to balance the “green/wet” items. It should have the rich smell of a damp forest floor.
- You’ll need patience to allow the composting to happen naturally and have a good product. However, you can add some finished compost from another pile to speed up the process.
- Shredding or chopping material finely will also enable the composting to happen faster and better.
- Have patience with yourself, too, as you learn the ins and outs of composting and gain experience.
These are the basics for getting started as a beginner with composting. You’ll learn more as you gain experience from doing it. You can also check with experienced gardeners or your local gardening center staff if more questions crop up.