If you’ve ever considered gardening at home, be it plants and flowers or fresh fruits and vegetables, you should also consider composting. Even if you don’t garden, composting at home can help make your lawn greener while you recycle common kitchen scraps.
Serious gardeners most likely already know how to compost at home, but those who aren’t shouldn’t be intimidated. You’ll be surprised at how much a basic compost pile with minimal maintenance can help you grow strong and healthy plants.
Here we will take a look at how to do composting at home, along with the benefits, best practices and things you’ll want to avoid.
What Is Home Composting?
The most basic definition of home composting is the process of decomposing organic materials over a period of time to produce a potent material that helps plants grow when added to soil.
One of the nerd-cool things about composting is it also serves as a basic chemistry lesson. Here are the four ingredients essential to composting:
- This is where the process draws its energy, producing heat through microbial oxidation. Carbon elements of a compost pile are brown and dry, such as wood or dead leaves.
- This helps reproduce organisms to oxidize the carbon. Materials high in nitrogen are green, such as plant waste, or colorful such as discarded fruits or vegetables.
- Or, more accurately, oxygen. This oxidizes the carbon and speeds up the process of decomposition.
- A small to moderate amount of water will help keep the process moving. Too much and decomposition will stop. Too little and it will take a very long time.
Once combined, the materials can start to decompose in a matter of days, if not weeks. Due to the chemical reactions, the inside of the pile will start to “cook,” spouting off visible steam. Every few days, you should turn or mix the “cooking,” or active, portions of the compost pile with the other portions, which helps keep the entire pile active.
Depending on a number of factors, such as the materials used and weather conditions, the entire process will take weeks and maybe months. The wait is worth it, however, as the pile will turn into an organic and nutrient-rich substance that makes plants of all types stronger.
Benefits of Home Composting
Whenever you hear gardeners talk about composting at home, you’ll listen to their stories about how vibrant their flowers are or how plump their tomatoes became. What you don’t hear much of is things like, “Eh, composting is OK,” or, “Composting totally isn’t worth it.”
Even the Environmental Protection Agency promotes it. Here are the four main benefits of composting, according to the EPA:
- Enriched soil. Compost adds nutrients to soil and makes plants growing in it more resistant to pests and diseases.
- Reduces fertilizer need. This is a key distinction — as opposed to fertilizer, which is made to feed plants, compost feeds the soil. The organic material packs the soil with nutrients, which plants will absorb as they grow.
- Encourages beneficial bacteria. You can’t necessarily see it, but there’s a lot going on in that compost pile. The fungi and bacteria the process produces help break the organic material down into compost.
- Reduces your carbon footprint. Since composting calls for you to keep and recycle organic materials such as kitchen scraps, these items are no longer subject to releasing methane emissions in landfills.
How Do I Compost at Home?
There are five main steps to get you started composting at home:
- Decide where to put your compost heap. If you have lots of land to work with, you’ll have plenty of options. You may consider placing the compost heap near your garden so you can easily add plant scraps and garden waste. If your yard is smaller, your options will obviously be more limited. Sunny areas are best, as the heat aids the decomposition process.
- Figure out if you need a container. Composting doesn’t require a container, and if you have lots of space to work with, you probably don’t need one. Containers are a better choice for smaller patches of land, however, because the container makes the compost pile cleaner and a bit easier to manage. There are many types of containers available, which we’ll discuss later.
- Start your pile. It’s best to create a bottom layer with carbon-heavy or brown materials, such as small chunks of wood, straw and dead leaves. This base layer helps create air pockets at the bottom of the pile, which will speed up the process. Then add organic waste from your kitchen, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, eggshells, used coffee grounds and tea leaves. Don’t use things such as meat, bones or dairy products (more on this later also). If you have a chicken coop, waste from chickens is a great way to kick-start your compost pile. Don’t use waste from dogs or cats, though.
- The decomposition process takes time, and while there are things you can do to help keep it moving, patience is a virtue here. The waiting period involves a little work as well. Once the compost is brewing, spread it around every few days, or even once a week, to keep the whole pile engaged in the process. If the weather is dry, you may need to dampen the pile with a hose, but you also don’t want it soggy. Try to cover the pile if heavy rain is in the forecast.
- One of the main purposes of composting is to create an organic and nutrient-rich material to spread across the soil in your garden, veggie patch or even your lawn. Spread the compost across the soil about an inch thick, and soon you will notice greener grass, stronger and healthier plants, and larger and tastier fruits and vegetables.
Home Composting Do’s
For beginners, it may take some time to learn which things are good for your compost pile, and which things aren’t. As with most things these days, there are handy charts and resources online that can help break down the “why” of what you should include.
Here is a relatively extensive list of everyday things you’ll find around the house you should add to your compost pile:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Shellfish shells
- Dryer lint
- Grass clippings
- Prunings from shrubs
- Garden plants
- Garden and lawn weeds
- Flowers and flower cuttings
- Pine needles
- Hay or straw
- Sawdust pellets
- Wood chips
- Shredded paper
- Chicken dung
- Tea leaves
- Coffee grounds
- Corn cobs and stalks
- Wood ash
- Any table scraps that aren’t meat, fish or dairy
Materials that are high in nitrogen, such as chicken manure and shellfish shells, work as “activators” and help speed up the entire process. Also, when making your pile, be sure not to pack it down too tightly. Remember that oxygen is a key driver, so air pockets in the pile are a good thing.
Home Composting Don’ts
Now that you know what you should add to your compost pile, here are a handful of things to avoid, and why:
- Meat and fish scraps. While this may sound surprising, considering there’s no doubt this waste will decompose, the smell of rotting meat will attract all sorts of critters, such as rats, mice, cats, dogs and raccoons. Not to mention, the smell won’t be very appealing to you or your neighbors.
- Dog and cat waste. While chicken, horse and cow manure are just fine, avoid adding droppings from your household pet because they likely contain parasites you don’t want added to your soil, not to mention the plants growing in that soil.
- Citrus peels. Older or uneaten fruits are a great addition to compost, but citrus peels are an exception. The problem is that they take a long time to decompose unless you cut them into small pieces ahead of time. Even then, the acidity from the peels could kill organisms such as worms, which aid the process of decomposition.
- Coffee filters and tea bags. While coffee grounds and tea leaves are fine, the filters and bags are often made with synthetic elements that won’t break down. They can also have chemicals that you don’t want to add to your soil. The lone exception is filters or bags made from natural materials, such as hemp.
- Dairy products. Like meat and fish, dairy products will decompose, but they’ll also attract pests and start to smell. The same can be said of bread-like products such as baked goods and pasta.
- Diseased plants. This may seem obvious, but tossing plants with diseases into your compost pile is a good way to transfer that disease to your soil. Stay away from it.
- Glossy or printed papers. Many types of paper work well for compost, but others will not, such as paper found in magazines or catalogs, printed cards or metallic wrapping paper.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid adding anything that includes synthetic ingredients into your compost pile. You want to keep it as natural and organic as possible.
What’s the Best Way to Compost at Home?
The best way to compost at home all depends on where you live. The amount of space you have and the local weather patterns can both play roles in how effective your compost pile is.
For those who use containers to compost, there are many different options. For a basic container in a small area, you might simply cut off the bottom of an old trash can and toss your compost materials inside. Containers can be a good option if the weather is cold and you’d like the container close to your back door.
Larger bins are typically better, at least three-by-three feet to give the compost room to heat up. Simple bin structures can be built using wood or fence wire. It doesn’t have to look fancy, it just has to be able to contain the compost materials. Note that because wood is natural, it will begin to rot over time.
Many serious composters use larger bins made of either sturdy wood or concrete. These often have small “doors” at the bottom for you to access compost material that’s ready to use. Some larger containers may even have three chambers, one for completed compost, one for compost deep in the process, and another for a new pile.
Finally, you may consider a compost tumbler, which is a drum-like device you place your materials into and then rotate or turn a few times each week. The tumbling activity mixes and aerates the materials, which helps speed up the process. With tumblers, batches of compost can be completed in just eight weeks or less. The tradeoff is the batches may not be as large as they would be in a bin.
The Cost of Home Composting
One of the best things about composting is the activity itself is essentially free. You can find everything you need to start a compost pile inside and outside of your house, and you can keep adding to it after each meal.
If you choose to use a container, that will be one startup cost. You may need to buy wood to put together a basic bin, or you may choose to go all out on a fancy tumbler.
The only other potential cost is time and effort, and even that is minimal. All you really need to do is turn or mix the compost once or twice per week, and perhaps spray it down to make sure it’s damp. This shouldn’t be a problem for even the laziest of gardeners.
Starting Composting Routine
Here are three things you can do to make a regular composting a routine:
- Use an indoor food bin. Place an old pail or bucket near your kitchen sink and use it to discard food scraps rather than throwing them away. When the bucket reaches an adequate level (of volume or smell), add the scraps to your pile.
- Get the family involved. Let everyone know they should throw their food scraps in the bucket. Teach the kids why some materials are good for composting and others are not. And get them to help turn or mix the compost while explaining how the process works.
- Make use of the compost. For gardeners, this is the best part — enjoying the fruits of your labor, which is essentially sitting back and waiting for nature to do its thing. If you’ve never used compost on your lawn or garden, there should be a noticeable difference once you begin.
Composting at Yalla Mediterranean
At Yalla Mediterranean, we pride ourselves on using compostable everything. This includes most elements of our meals, as well as the cups, trays and bags we serve our food in, the cups we serve our drinks in and the utensils we have on hand for you to use.
That means less waste for us, and more compost for you.
We have seven locations across California — Dublin, Fremont, Pleasant Hill, and Walnut Creek in Northern California, and Burbank, Culver City and Seal Beach in Southern California. You can also have our food delivered in each of these markets via DoorDash.
We also cater your next party or event, serving all of your Mediterranean (and compostable) favorites.
Now that you know how to compost at home, dining with us is a win-win. You’ll dine on delicious food, and also gain more fuel for your project.