It’s taken me quite a while to get this post fully fleshed out and written, but it’s definitely one that I’m asked over and over again! If you’ve ever wondered how to start composting at home, this guide is for you. I tried to keep it as easy and informative as possible, but if you have any outstanding questions, definitely leave a comment on this post. And by no means am I an expert in composting — this post is based off of what I’ve researched, but also what’s worked for us. Climate and location are factors in how you should compost, so be sure to research anything specific to your home, too. We’re in Seattle, so our compost ‘recipe’ reflects that. Let’s dig in (pun very much intended).
My Easy (and Real) Guide To Start Composting At Home
Side note, can we talk about how hard it was to decide on photos for this blog post??? I felt silly just posting a photo of dirt or food scraps, especially when so many of my readers come to me for visual inspiration! Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…
Why you should compost
If your city is anything like ours, chance are there are already composting programs in place through waste removal services. Because we have chickens and generate a lot more compost because of my vegetable garden and yard work, we decided to also install a composter in our backyard. And by ‘install,’ I mean put in a corner of the yard… We added it when we did One Room Challenge, so it’s been about 3 years. We get asked a lot about why we compost when the city picks it up for us. My biggest reason is because it makes my vegetable gardens so much more productive. Literally, the produce I get grows bigger and tastes better! By using my own compost, I can skip commercial fertilizers, making my garden more natural and technically ‘organic.’
But we also compost as a way to make the most out of any potential food waste. America has a huge food waste problem and this is one small way we’ve decided to remedy it within our own home. Depending on which report you read, we typically throw out 50% of our food… how insane is that??? Even though I plan as much as I can, we still end up with some food waste (thankfully not 50% though). By composting instead of sending the food scraps to a landfill, we’re helping to reduce methane emissions and reduce our carbon footprint.
What to compost?
The trick to composting is making sure that you maintain a ratio of green matter to brown matter. The easiest way to think about it is that green matter is nitrogen and brown matter is carbon. Typically, the ratio that’s recommended is two parts brown to one part green. I don’t get really precise about it, but instead added based on smell. If your ratio is off, the compost will stink! But if it’s right, you won’t notice it at all.
Green matter includes:
- food waste
- grass clippings
- chicken manure
Brown matter is:
- dried leaves
- shredded paper (nothing glossy or coated)
- small sticks
We typically generate more green matter than brown, but in the fall we have tonssss of leaves. So I actually keep extra leaves in a separate bin to add as needed to balance out the ratio. If the mix is too dry, I hose it down to add moisture back in. Honestly, don’t overthink the balance too much. We definitely just threw stuff in willy nilly when we first started. The only affect that’s had is that it can take longer for stuff to break down.
What not to compost at home?
And now, what we’ve probably all been waiting for… what shouldn’t be composted at home!
- bones, meat, grease
- compostable consumer products like take out containers
- weeds — this is a big one! Basically, don’t put anything in that you wouldn’t be ok with spreading in your garden. For example, we have an invasive vine in our yard called Morning Glory. When I pull it, I don’t put it in our home compost because I don’t want to have to deal with it in my vegetable garden beds!
- dairy products
- bread, baked goods, etc
- whole eggs — long story short… just don’t do it. The smell when I went to use the compost was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
- pet waste like dog poo or cat litter
Thankfully we have the city compost, so anything that we don’t keep at home goes into that and still gets used.
How to get started composting
There are tons of different ways to compost including a worm bin, tumbler, and compost tea (also known as bokashi). Even though our yard is small, we have a compost pile that’s contained in a bin. It’s by far the easiest way to get started composting.
Technically, our compost bin location isn’t ideal because it’s under a tree and we have to deal with tree roots. But that’s the only spot we had for it, so that’s that! When choosing where to put the compost bin, make sure you’re near a water source (within hose distance)
To get started composting, start with a base of brown material like broken up sticks or straw. Then, add your food scraps. Keep adding, alternating green and brown matter and wetting each layer as you go. You should also turn your compost to accelerate the heating cycle. The idea is that you should keep turning it so that it heats up less and less — then you’ll know it’s ready to use. I usually turn ours about once a month or any time I clean out the chicken coop.
Which compost bin should you buy?
Apparently the bin we use inside is sold out, but for future reference, we use this Joseph Joseph compost bin to collect food scraps and waste. Also, I wrote a full blog post about stylish compost bins, so if you’re looking for one to keep on your kitchen counter, definitely check out that post! When choosing a compost bin, look for odor control with a filter. That helps to avoid having to take it out every day. For two people, we take this out every two days, usually.
Then to contain our compost pile, we use this compost bin that is BPA-free and made of recycled plastic. I chose it because the lid locks and helps to keep rodents out — and we all know I’ll take all the help I can get with that!
What to do with compost?
I put it in my garden! All of the microbes, bacteria, and bugs are great for supplementing my soil. I grew up in a house where my dad would get a truckload of cow manure at the start of every gardening season to augment his soil. I always though he was crazy, but now I get it!
You can also use your compost as mulch or in your flower beds. And if you end up with too much, I bet your neighbor would love some for their garden!
Do you compost at home? I’d love to know what’s worked for you and any other advice you have about how to start composting!