Want to know how to compost? It may sound intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy if you break it down into 5 simple steps. Composters, start your engines!
Step 1: Understand The Composting Basics
Review this composting 101 infographic from PBS to understand the end-to-end composting process…
…and then, review this infographic from The Enduring Gardener which summarizes what to compost and what to throw away.
Step 2: Set Up Your Outside Compost Bin
In our first composting attempt, we made a bin by drilling holes in a large, covered plastic bin. Failure ensued — mostly because that dang compost refused to turn itself! Someone had to get out there with a pitchfork or shovel and do that work. Not being fans of manual labor, we added scraps for awhile, attracted a lot of fruit flies, and eventually quit trying. Several years have passed since that failed attempt, and we vowed to try again. My recommendations for your outside compost bin:
- Buy a tumbling, two-section composter. We bought the Yimby Tumbler Composter from Amazon for about $100. Assembling it took a bit of effort (and was quite comical), but it works well. Two compartments enable you to start one batch of compost, and while batch number 1 gets its composting groove on, you can start batch number 2. Even I can turn the mix with a simple spin of the bin. No pitchfork required.
- Put the bin in an inconspicuous and far-but-not-too-far-away spot. You don’t want to see a compost bin while relaxing on your patio. You also don’t want to smell rotting food scraps or swat fruit flies off the salted rim of your margarita glass. You do, however, want to remember the bin is there so you can monitor its progress, add water easily when needed, and give it a spin every few days. Location, location, location.
Step 3: Set Yourself Up For Kitchen Scrap Collection
Since restarting our composting effort, I’m reminded daily of the amount of food waste we create that we can now repurpose to create happy soil. My recommendations for setting yourself up for success in scrap collection:
- Set up an inside compost container with a lid in your kitchen — and make it cute. A quick search for “compost pail” on Amazon will deliver an array of creatively fashionable choices from stainless steel to bamboo. I bought a simple metal pail with a snug lid that I keep on a windowsill close to my sink. (I’m now coveting the bamboo one I spied on Amazon. Of course.)
- Buy compostable liners for that cute pail. I discovered these liners and they are now non-negotiable for my composting success. Made of cornstarch and 100% biodegradable, you can grab the bag of food scraps and toss it — bag and all — in the bin. Composting simplified (and made a little less gross).
- When you prep and cook, collect scraps in a countertop container. Rachael Ray introduced me and many others to the concept of a countertop “garbage bowl” years ago with the debut of her cooking show. The bowl serves a few purposes: It reminds you to collect those decomposable bits. It keeps you from having the compost pail (which may be smelly) on your kitchen counter. And it makes it easy to collect and deliver scraps to your compost pail. I bought an over-the-drawer kitchen scrap container which I really like. You can use a bowl, plate, or even a paper towel to do the same thing.
Step 4: Get Into A Routine
As with many other gardening efforts, composting takes some attention. But don’t let it overwhelm you. My recommendations for getting into a composting routine:
- Empty your indoor compost pail into the outdoor compost bin once a week. This is what works for me. If you need to do it more or less frequently, set up your own schedule. The important thing is to make it a routine.
- Check, water, and turn the bin at least once a week. Again, the frequency with which you do these things will vary based on the compost contents and status. If the mix is dry, add some water. If the mix is wet, don’t. Do your best to turn the compost 2 to 3 times a week if possible. But don’t fret too much about it — see step 5.
Step 5: Don’t Worry — Let Nature Do Its Work!
I learned something awhile ago that changed the way I view composting. Back in March 2012, an Organic Gardens Network blog post introduced me to the concept of “passive composting.” I learned: “This is the no-work composting system. Toss your greens and brown together, willy-nilly, add some water once in a while (or never), aerate now and again (or never), and Mother Nature is still going to do what she’s great at; decompose.” With passive composting, you’ll have to wait longer for your garden gold, but it gives you some breathing room.
Bottom line: Do your best. You’re making a difference with your composting efforts — reducing food waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill and recycling those valuable resources to create healthy soil amendments. And hopefully you will use the outcomes to benefit your garden and grow food or flowers for your family.
We have just restarted our composting efforts, and I hope we have the patience and dedication to hang in there until we get to deliver that rich, dark, nutrient-filled compost to our garden and start all over again. I’ll keep you posted.
If I can do it, anyone can! Do you have composting tips to share with our readers?