Composting 101 – How To Make Compost At Home

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If you’re interested in growing your own food at home without using chemical fertilizers, you may have heard that composting is the way to go.

Not only does this age-old technique reinvigorate your garden and fuel the growth of your plants, but it also offers you a way to impact the environment positively.

With a little time and effort, you too can turn your scraps into fertile treasure.

Composting at home allows you to take some things that would normally end up cluttering the local dump, from cracked eggshells to banana peels, and give them new life in your garden.

What Is Composting?

Composting is a natural process through which organic matter, like kitchen scraps or yard waste, are recycled into a fertile, nutrient-rich soil amendment that can feed your plants and help them thrive.

Endearingly referred to as Black Gold by gardeners and farmers, compost is made by the decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms.

Bacteria, fungi, and other decomposers break down apple cores, orange peels, carrot tops, leaves, grass clippings, and any other biodegradable organic matter down into the minerals, nutrients, and other substances it’s made up of.

The finished product is a black and earthy dirt-like substance called humus which is added on top of or mixed into your garden’s soil in order to make it healthier and more capable of supporting the growth of robust and productive fruits, vegetables and other plants.

Composting is known to have been practiced at least as far back as the time of the early Roman Empire as it was mentioned by Cato the Elder’s 160 BCE piece De Agri Cultura.

It’s entirely possible that the composting was well known and used across the ancient world.

If you don’t compost already, now is a great time to get started.

Composting at home returns all the nutrients found in your organic waste right into your garden, helping to build up your soil, reverse the nutrient loss and promote healthy plant growth.

Best of all, compost is easy to make and can benefit your home and garden in a variety of ways.

Benefits Of Composting

1. Compost Recycles Kitchen and Yard Waste

Instead of sending more trash to the landfill, composting can transform as much as 30% of household waste into a usable soil amendment.

2. Enriches Your Garden Soil

Compost greatly improves the quality of the soil you use for growing your fruits, vegetables, and other plants.

SEE ALSO: How Much Compost Do I Need?

It enhances the structure, texture, and aeration of your garden’s soil, as well as improving both its ability to drain and retain moisture!

3. Reduces the Need for Chemical Fertilizers

Compost introduces the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) into your soil as well as other nutrients that your plants need for healthy development, all without having to use synthetic fertilizers on your garden.

This naturally improves soil fertility without having to worry about over-fertilizing and burning your plants.

4. Introduces Beneficial Microorganisms to Your Garden

The same beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms present in compost that help to break down organic matter into fertile hummus are also very instrumental in keeping your soil and plants healthy.

Helpful bacteria suppress the growth of dangerous pathogens or increase the availability of soil nutrients to plant roots, while fungi can create mycorrhizal relationships with plants that help increase their moisture and nutrient absorption capabilities.

5. Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Composting is an aerobic process that produces stable molecules of carbon dioxide and water as their end result.

If the same organic materials end up decomposing anaerobically in a landfill, they will create carbon dioxide as well as harmful methane gas instead.

Disadvantages Of Composting

1. Time and Effort

While composting at home is fairly easy, there’s still a certain level of work required to keep a compost pile running smoothly.

It can take an hour or two from your week to collect organic material, prepare your compost pile, check the temperature, turn it when necessary, and eventually haul it off to use in your garden to use.

2. Sight and Smell

While a properly prepared compost pile won’t attract pests, not everyone appreciates having to regularly look at a pile of decomposing organic material in the corner of their backyard.

Compost piles can also give off an earthy, farmy aroma that some people may dislike.

Related | How To Keep Compost From Smelling

3. Loss of Nutrients

While compost is a great way to reintroduce nutrients back into your soil, not all the nutrients in the source materials end up in the final product.

In fact, the nutrient loss can be quite significant in uncovered setups.

Nitrogen, for example, can be lost directly to the environment as ammonia, while other nutrients can be leached off the compost pile by rainfall.

Best Uses Of Compost – What Do You Do With It?

Finished compost is very versatile and can be used around your yard and garden in a variety of ways.

It’s so easy to put your compost to use that you’ll be thinking of making more before you’re even through your first batch!

1. Amending Soil

Work a couple of inches of compost into the top 3-5 inches of your soil. This is a great way of preparing a planting area before beginning to use them early in the season.

2. Growing Fruits & Vegetables

Add several inches of compost to your garden bed in the fall and till it into the soil in the spring.

You can also put a handful of compost directly in each hole when planting. Add about half an inch of compost directly to the top of plants once they start growing.

Give “heavy feeders” such as tomatoes, corn, and squash half an inch of compost each month to maximize their productivity.

3. Growing Flowers

Loosen the top of annual and perennial flower beds in the spring and mix in an inch of compost. In the fall, add an inch of compost as mulch directly on top.

4. For Potted Plants

Make your own potting soil by mixing two parts compost to one part sand or perlite.

You can also add an inch of compost to the top of existing potted plants and window boxes twice a year in order to replenish depleted nutrients.

5. Fertilize Your Lawn

Topdress your existing lawn with up to half an inch of finely screened compost and rake evenly over the grass.

The compost will settle into the turf and provide the necessary nutrients to keep your lawn looking green and healthy.

If your lawn has any bald spots, mix an inch of compost into the soil in that area and reseed. This will help promote healthy grass growth.

For new lawns, add up to 3 inches of compost to the soil. You can till the compost to a depth of 5 to 8 inches before seeding or simply seed directly on top of the compost.

How To Make Your Own Compost

There are various ways you can begin composting right at home, both outdoors and indoors. Below we cover some of the easiest ways to compost to help you get started.

Outdoor Compost Pile

1. Pick a spot to get started. You’ll want to place your compost pile directly on the ground to allow worms and other beneficial organisms to access your compost pile and begin the process of decomposition.

2. Collect organic materials. You’ll want a combination of “greens” and “browns.”

  • Greens include freshly mowed grass, leaves, table scraps, and such. These will be your source of nitrogen.
  • Browns, such as dry leaves, straw or hay, eggshells, newspaper, shredded cardboard, and others will be your source of carbon.

3. Arrange your greens and browns in layers on your chosen spot and finish off with a top layer of browns, such as dry grass clippings or hay, to help your pile retain moisture and heat.

4. Keep your pile moist, either by watering it whenever it dries out or by letting the rain do its job.

5. Turn your pile every few weeks to keep it well aerated. This will help to speed up the composting process as well as preventing your pile from overheating or cooling down.

6. Once established, you can add more organic matter by mixing it into the pile instead of layering it.

7. Your pile will be ready when the source ingredients are no longer recognizable. When the pile looks like black soil and has a sweet, earthy smell.

Outdoor or Indoor Compost Bin

For small-scale or indoor composting, you can use a compost bin instead of building an open pile.

READ MORE: Best Kitchen Compost Bins

These are simply an enclosed compost pile that can keep the compost out of sight or allow you to compost in a small space like an apartment.

1. Make or purchase a compost bin and make sure that it has aeration and drainage holes along the length and bottom of the can. If indoors, place it on a waterproof surface to catch any runoff moisture.

2. Collect and layer your greens and browns inside the bin.

3. Since the compost won’t have access to outdoor decomposers, it’s suggested to add some finished compost or compost “activators” in order to introduce the necessary microorganisms to your bin.

4. Check on your pile regularly to ensure it isn’t drying out completely and water if necessary to keep it moist but not soggy.

5. Turn your pile every few weeks or so to introduce oxygen to your bin. If possible, secure the lid and roll your bin as a quick way to turn the compost.

6. Your compost will be ready to use in a couple of months.

Composting FAQs

What Is Compost Made Of?

Your compost will be made up of whatever organic materials you add to your compost pile.

This can include vegetable and fruit scraps, kitchen waste, eggshells, leaves, grass, paper, cardboard, garden plants, wood, or any other biodegradable organic matter.

What Makes Good Compost?

The best compost is made from a good balance of “greens” and “browns.” This will ensure the proper nitrogen to carbon ration in your finished product.

The more varied ingredients you add to your compost, the higher the nutritional diversity of your compost will be as well.

What Is A Compost Pile?

A compost pile is an open heap of compost that rests directly on the ground.

Unlike a closed compost bin or other more advanced composting methods, a compost pile has direct access to the sun, rain, and outdoor decomposers and microorganisms.

A compost pile is the easiest way for beginners to get started composting.

Is Compost Fertilizer?

No, compost is not fertilizer. Unlike fertilizer, which is designed to feed a plant, the purpose of compost is to enhance the soil directly. This doesn’t mean that compost can’t be used as fertilizer, however.

Compost contains many of the necessary minerals and nutrients that plants need and can be added directly to plants to help support their growth.

You can also use compost to make compost tea, which can also be used to fertilize plants.

Is Compost Soil?

No, compost is not soil. Compost is a soil amendment that can help enhance the quality of soil but isn’t soil in and of itself.

Soil is made up of a matrix of materials, including rocks, sand, minerals, and organic materials.

Compost is just the organic material portion of what soil is made of.

Can Compost Be Used As Soil?

Since compost isn’t soil, it shouldn’t be used as soil. Trying to grow plants in pure compost can cause some issues, such as a nutrient burn.

Compost on its own also drains water quickly and can easily dry out.

Compost should be mixed with topsoil before being used for planting.

In Summary

Making compost at home is an easy and fun way to build up your soil, increase your garden’s productivity, keep trash out of the landfill, and even do your part to benefit the environment.

Best of all, home composting is completely free! Whether you have a lot of outdoor space to work with or live in a small, urban apartment, you and your plants can still take advantage of this incredible natural resource.

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.