Types Of Composting – Methods For Home Gardens

If you’re just getting started with composting, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the different methods you’ll find online.

The good news is that each type of composting offers different advantages, so no matter if you have a large space in your backyard to dedicate to a compost pile or if you only have a few feet of space, you’ll find a method that works for you.

We will go over a few different types of composting for the home gardener, including an indoor technique you can use in smaller spaces like an apartment.

No matter where you live, you can use composting to reduce your carbon footprint and landfill impact. Here’s how!

Pile Composting

Composting in a large pile is arguably the most well-known home composting technique.

enclosed compost pile

It involves simply placing organic matter, such as kitchen scraps, yard, and garden waste and even cardboard, cotton, or any other biodegradable material, into a big pile.

The pile can be placed inside a container, open enclosure, or simply placed on a big heap on the ground.

There are two ways to compost your pile – hot or cold composting. You’ll have to choose which technique to use before getting started, as each method has different requirements.

Hot Compositing

Hot composting is often what comes to mind when people think of composting. If you’re ever seen someone turning a compost pile, then you’ve seen hot composting in action.

How Does It Work?

This method uses the heat created by microbial activity to not only break down organic matter quickly but also kill off possible pathogens and sterilize weed seeds present in the soil.

Related | Can You Compost Weeds?

How Long Does It Take?

Hot composting can turn a pile of kitchen scraps into usable compost in about a month, but its speed comes at a price.

For this technique to work, you’ll have to regularly turn the compost in order to aerate the mix, as well as monitor the pile’s temperature to prevent it from getting too hot or too cold.

If you’re willing to put in the work, though, hot composting is quick, efficient and very rewarding.

What Equipment Do You Need?

There are many commercially-available setups you can purchase to make hot pile composting easier.

These are often spinnable bins that make it simple to turn and aerate your pile, but they can be pricey and limit how much you can compost at once based on the size of the bin.

If you prefer, you can easily build your own composting bin by making holes in a large trash bin and simply rolling it around when you need to mix your compost.

If you opt for just composting in an open-air pile, the only equipment you’ll really need is a garden pitchfork to turn the pile and a compost thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Why Choose This Method

Hot composting is great if you want high-quality compost quickly. It really doesn’t take very long to maintenance the pile, so anyone with just a few extra minutes each week can do it.

By hot composting, you can also be sure that any weed seeds won’t make it into your garden as well.

Who This Method Isn’t For

If you don’t want to be bothered with keeping track of your compost pile’s temperature and don’t have time to turn the pile, hot composting might not be for you.

Cold Composting

Another way to compost your pile is to set it and forget it. Cold composting is a hands-off technique will transform your heap of organic material into usable compost with no effort on your part.

How Does It Work?

Simply pile all your biodegradable material as you would for hot composting, making sure to mix in both greens and browns, and leave it alone. There’s no need to mix or turn your pile.

How Long Does It Take?

The lack of aeration doesn’t feed the thermophilic bacteria that produce heat in a hot composting setup, so your compost stays cool, which significantly slows down the composting speed. Composting can take between one to two years with this method, however.

What Equipment Do You Need?

Cold composting doesn’t really require much equipment beyond basic gardening tools. It can be done in an open-air heap or in a small compost bin.

Why Choose This Method

Cold composting is perfect for anyone looking for an easy composting method that requires minimal effort but still produces usable compost.

Who This Method Isn’t For

If you’re not ok with waiting a year or more to use your compost, then don’t cold compost. If your organic material has a lot of weed seeds that may contaminate your garden, then use a different technique as well.

Sheet Composting

Also known as lasagna composting, this is a cold composting technique that involves setting up a garden bed with compostable materials underneath.

Alternating layers of green and brown materials are placed on the ground where you would like to plant.

As the organic matter breaks down, it will feed the plants growing above it.

How Does It Work?

To get started, place a layer of cardboard or newspaper on the ground where you want your garden plot. Water heavily to soak the layer and keep it in place and then begin piling layers of compostable material on top.

You should alternate layers of “greens” and “browns” to promote proper composting.

Your “greens” can include:

  • Fresh grass clippings (How To Compost Grass)
  • Vegetable scraps or any other fresh, unprocessed plant material.

Your “browns” can be:

  • Fallen leaves
  • Peat moss
  • Newspaper or cardboard strips
  • Pine needles or any processed and browned plant material.

Add topsoil or finished compost as the top layer, some mulch on top of that, and you’re done. Let it sit for six months to a year, and you’re ready to grow your next crop right on it. This method has the benefit of keeping the whole process out of sight and directly feeding your garden once the compost is ready.

How Long Does It Take?

It will take about six months for your garden bed to be ready to use, so this method should be set up in the fall for use in the spring.

What Equipment Do You Need?

You’ll need enough cardboard or newspaper to fully cover the space you want to use.

You’ll also need bins to collect the different materials you’ll use as layers until you have enough to place them on your composting location.

You’ll also need topsoil and mulch to cover your organic matter.

Why Choose This Method

Sheet composting is another hands-off way to compost, all while creating a highly fertile garden bed. Since it’s cold composting, you don’t need to turn or maintenance your compost.

Who This Method Isn’t For

Don’t use sheet composting if you plan on moving the compost to a different location later or if you’re not interested in planting over it. If not used, your garden bed may become home to weeds.


If you’re looking for a more fun way to break down your banana peels and leftover salad, try your hand at vermicomposting.

This technique can be used both indoors and outdoors and can be scaled for small spaces or massive operations.

How Does It Work?

Vermicomposting uses special composting worms to quickly produce the best kind of compost possible: worm castings!

Worm castings, a.k.a worm poop, contain high amounts of nutrients, as well as beneficial bacteria, are less likely to wash away when it rains, or you water your plants.

Vermicomposting is odorless, as your organic matter is being consumed rather quickly instead of allowed to decompose.

You can get started with just a bucket of worms small enough that it can fit in a closet or under your sink or incorporate worms in your outdoor cold compost pile.

The size of your vermicomposting bin should be based on how much organic waste your family produces.

Don’t go digging up earthworms for your worm bucket, though. You need special composting worms that can take the higher temperatures of a compost pile and like to live near the surface.

Red wigglers and European nightcrawlers are the two most commonly used composting worms.

Related | How To Raise Nightcrawlers

It’s recommended to include both in your vermicomposting project, as between the two of them they’ll eat from all levels of your compost pile.

How Long Does It Take?

Worms are efficient workers and can transform half their body weight into compost each day.

That means that two pounds of worms can compost one pound of kitchen scraps into worm castings every 24 hours.

What Equipment Do You Need?

You’ll need to purchase composting worms, worm bedding, and a bucket or bin to keep your worms. Alternately, you can add your worms to a preexisting outdoor cold compost pile.

There are many vermicomposting setups commercially available, although you can easily make your own by drilling holes into a 5-gallon bucket.

Why Choose This Method

Vermicomposting allows people who don’t have outdoor space to compost within their home, as well as providing a fun and engaging way to produce a high-quality compost quickly and easily.

Who This Method Isn’t For

If you don’t like seeing or handling worms, vermicomposting may not be for you.

Also, if you have a vermicomposting bin instead of an open-air setup and don’t feed your worms for over a week, your worms will die off. This is something to keep in mind if you are regularly going on longer trips.

Where you live and how much effort you want to put into your composting will define what kind of composting technique you use, but the good news is that there’s a method for everyone.

Whether you have a half-acre food forest in your back yard or an apartment windowsill garden, you can still make composting work for you. So go out and make some black gold!

About Justin Micheal

Justin has always loved gardening and caring for the outdoor spaces in his grandmother's backyard. He believes everyone can enjoy the space available to them, no matter how big or small. On Backyard Digs, he shares everything he's learned about growing a successful garden and maintaining and improving the landscape of a backyard.