When you hear the word “composting,” you probably imagine some earthy, crunchy individual piling up all their food in the backyard like a crazy person. If that’s true, it may be time to rethink your perception of composting, friends.
Composting is an eco-friendly way to dispose of food and lawn waste in a way where it will safely decompose and ultimately improve your plants. Your garden wins, your trash wins, the environment wins — are you seeing all the winning that’s happening here?
But, if you don’t know where to begin, never fear! In honor of Earth Day, we’ve got your beginners guide to composting right here.
Step #1: Figure Out How to Best Store Your Compost
Where you store your compost will depend greatly on how you live. If you’re a country dweller, or even if you live in a suburb and have some kind of backyard, go bin-less. This essentially means that you have the lawn space to just choose a location in your yard and pile the compost there.
If you’re an urban composter, however, you probably don’t have sprawling fields or even a yard to speak of. Don’t fret, you can still compost if you live in the city.
You’ll just need a composting bin, which could be a regular recycling bin, a wire bin, or even a particular composting palette bin. Whichever bin you choose, just know that composting piles should be roughly 3 x 3 feet to be the most effective.
Step #2: Gather Your Tools
Again, this will depend on where you live. If you’re residing in an apartment where the small compost bin is on your balcony, you may only need some gloves to transfer waste and a small gardening shovel to turn over the compost (which we’ll get to in a second).
But if you live out on a farm and need to haul pounds of waste a day, consider using a wheelbarrow and investing in a larger pitchfork for your inevitably larger compost pile.
Step #3: Begin Growing Your Compost Heap
It’s time to start your heap! To compost in the most effective, eco-friendly way, make sure you’re composting the right things. As a general rule, if it came from a plant, you can compost it.
More broadly, you can compost egg shells, shredded paper, leaves, lawn clippings, dryer lint, and all manner of fruit and veggie scraps. Avoid at all cost composting animal or human waste, animal-based products (meats or yogurts), glossy paper, and chemically-treated wood.
Think of composting as a giant, gross sandwich – you want it layered and even. In order to do this, the general rule of thumb is one part “green item” to every 15-30 part “brown item” per layer. Green items are food wastes and lawn clippings while brown items are coffee grounds and shredded paper.
You’ll know you’re layering effectively and including the right parts of green and brown items when your pile generates heat as it decomposes.
Step #4: Keep Your Compost Moist
Although it seems a bit counterintuitive, a flow of moisture throughout your compost pile is crucial. If you do not do this properly, your compost will begin to smell very, very bad. The key to watering your compost is to keep it moist but not soaking wet.
Climate should be taken into consideration. If you live in a warmer part of the world, your compost will dry out and begin to smell more quickly, so you will need to water your compost more frequently than someone in a cooler part of the world might have to.
Step #5: Turn the Compost
As mentioned earlier, an important step is turning your compost. This is essentially just using a gardening tool or pitchfork (again, depending on where you live and size of your pile) to sort of fold the pile in on itself.
Doing this increases the oxygen flow within the compost and helps break it down more quickly. You can turn your pile as often as once a week to only a few times a month, but the more you turn, the more quickly your pile will decompose.
Step #6: Wait
The easiest part: waiting. Make sure to monitor your pile as the weeks go on. Water your pile for moisture once a day and turn at whatever frequency you’d prefer.
Make sure there are no smells or animals coming around because if there are, something has been added to the pile that shouldn’t have been added, or you need to water more frequently.
Once your compost has broken down, you should be able to pick up a handful and smell a rich, earthy smell with zero garbage. At this point, you can sprinkle your compost into your garden soil. This will give an extra, nutrient-rich boost to your garden and give you a fuzzy feeling knowing you’re an eco-champion.