How To Start An Outdoor Compost Pile – Composting is a great way to turn your kitchen scraps and garden waste into nutritious fertilizer for your garden. Our Beginner’s Guide to Composting is here to help you get started!
There’s a good reason gardeners call compost “black gold”—it’s packed with nutrients, great for nourishing your soil, and, best of all, extremely cheap (and possibly even free) to make!
How To Start An Outdoor Compost Pile
If you’re new to composting, the thought of rotting your food scraps in your backyard may sound scary, but don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with our composting guide for beginners. You’ll be ready to start your very own compost pile by the end of this article. Let’s start composting!
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Plus, it’s free to make (unless you buy a special container or tumbler) and easy to make. Let’s make compost!
Composting keeps a lot of organic material, such as food and garden scraps, out of the landfill. In a landfill, this waste generates greenhouse gases (especially methane gas). If you compost the materials instead, the methane emissions are significantly reduced,
There are many different types of composting, but we will talk here about the two basic types of composting used by most home gardeners – cold composting and warm composting. The biggest difference here is – you guessed it! – The temperature.
While there are many things you can compost, these are the organic materials you’ll definitely want to skip:
How To Start Composting
Some people suggest adding dryer sheets to a compost pile, but we typically recommend it if you know it will only come from cotton, wool, or other natural fibers. So much clothing is made of synthetics these days that in most cases you’ll want to skip the lint from the dryer.
Starting a cold composting pile is as simple as choosing a place and starting to dump your kitchen scraps. But most people are looking to start a hot composting pile, and that’s what we’re going to tell you here. A good compost pile will have a mixture of roughly equal amounts of brown and green materials and should be kept only slightly moist. How to get started with backyard composting:
You will see a lot of discussions about heat composting conditions there. You’ll hear everything from 40:1 to 1:1 ratios! And that’s largely because people confuse what they’re counting. The higher ratios you see (30:1 is common) refer to the actual atomic carbon to nitrogen ratio by weight of your material. Unless you’re in a lab and want to measure the atomic nitrogen levels in every cabbage leaf you add, it’s best to stick to the general volume ratio of browns to greens between 3:1 and 4:1. So for every single bucket From green stuff, add three buckets of brown stuff. Easy!
Starting a compost pile can be as simple as piling the materials on the ground in your yard! Indeed. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. That said, if you want to maintain your compost pile a little better (which can help speed up decomposition), or if you want to use something a little more visually appealing, here are some great options:
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When building your compost bin, try to think of the space you want to build as a cylinder or cube – you need the vertical volume to aid decomposition. So a 4ft x 4ft x 4ft bin is better than a 4ft x 2ft x 4ft bin.
There are many factors that come into play during composting. How warm is your compost pile (you will see much faster decomposition in the summer than in the winter)? Is it watered and turned regularly? Did you keep adding new materials?
The time it takes for compost to be ready depends on many things, but in general, you can expect compost in a hot bin to be ready two to four months after you’ve added the last organic matter. In a cold container, you will be able to use your compost two years or so after your last addition.
In most cases, we recommend having two compost areas or a shared container. So, you can always have one side where the compost is processed and prepared, and another side where you can actively add new food and garden scraps as you have them.
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Want to speed up composting? Bacteria are your friend! You can help your compost pile on its way by inoculating your pile with good bacteria. Do this by throwing in a handful of already rotted compost or using a compost accelerator.
You know your compost is ready when it looks, feels and smells like rich soil. There should be no visible pieces of the organic matter the compost is made of. Instead, the compost should be dark brown and crumble in your hands like soil.
The easiest way to use compost is to spread a generous layer of compost on top of last year’s soil before planting in the spring. Some gardeners choose to mix the compost layer into the top few inches of soil, but because we are soilless gardeners, we just plant directly into the compost.
When your plants need a nutritional boost, you can also use compost for side dressing. You just sprinkle the compost around the base of the plant and gently work it into the top layer of soil with your fingers.
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You can also turn compost into compost teato-feed your plants throughout the growing season. Some people spread a layer of compost on top of their soil to serve as a sort of mulch, but in our 6B growing zone our summers are too hot and dry for this to be effective.
We do not recommend it. Any food scraps that have not yet broken down can attract animals and the decomposition process will absorb some of the nutrients from the soil. It’s best to be patient!
That is, if your compost looks almost done, but the only things left are some big chunks of tough stuff – like eggshells or peach pits – you can sift the compost and use the finished compost. This is an especially common problem with cold compost piles. Just return the big chunks to the pile and use the beautiful black gold you’ve been aiming for!
You can make an affordable compost sieve by making a frame of 2″ x 2″ wooden boards large enough to fit over your wheelbarrow. Then staple on 1/2″ hardware cloth over the frame. Place the strainer over the top of your wheelbarrow, put a scoopful of compost on top of the strainer, and shake it!
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Not genuine. The compost will continue to break down slowly thanks to microorganisms, worms and other friends of the soil, but it will still be good to use for many, many years.
If your compost pile has an unpleasant smell or is slimy, it is probably too wet. Either you let it get too much water, added too many green materials or didn’t aerate the pile enough. Add some more dry brown materials and mix them well to incorporate more air pockets into the compost.
If there is too much brown material or the pile becomes too dry, the organic matter decomposes much more slowly. Add some greens and a bit of water and aerate well.
If you live in an area with particularly cold winters, expect the decomposition process to slow down significantly in winter. When the weather warms up in the spring, give your compost a good stir and it should start again!
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Cassie is a certified master gardener and the founder of. She has been gardening organically for over two decades and is so excited to answer all the gardening questions you have!
I am a certified master gardener and founder of. I’ve been gardening organically for over two decades and I’m so excited to answer all the gardening questions you have! We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products that we back. Why trust us?
Composting not only reduces waste in landfills, but it also improves your backyard at home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “compost is organic material that can be added to the soil to help plants grow.” This means bigger produce, prettier flowers and a healthier garden can come at no extra cost to you once you start saving your family’s scraps and turning them into “plant food”.
Follow our guide to composting so you can help improve the planet – and your own garden – while reducing the amount of waste you throw away. Experts from the Good Housekeeping Institute share their tips and tricks for making composting work, no matter where you live.
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Composting is an effective way to minimize the amount of waste your family sends to the landfill. Not only does this reduce the methane gas produced by landfills, which is a major factor in global warming, but it can also help control the smell of trash in your home. And the biggest benefit? You will be left with a rich fertilizer that you can use in your own garden or donate to your favorite cause.
Food waste and garden waste can be the largest percentage
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