What do you need to start home composting?
Are you interested in composting at home but not sure where to begin? Composting is incredibly simple and requires just a little planning and some small purchases to get set up and started.
Every household produces food waste like banana peels, coffee grounds, onion skins, apple cores and citrus rinds. If you’ve been tossing all this compostable waste into the trash, your kitchen likely starts to smell foul regularly, even though you frequently take out your garbage. There’s a better way. Repurpose your waste and keep it out of landfills by turning it into nutrient-rich soil you can use to grow your own plants and food.
Composting is good for the environment because it keeps food waste out of landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Approximately ⅓ of food worldwide is wasted and created 63 million tons of wasted food in 2018 alone. Only 32% of wasted food was kept out of landfills through measures like composting in 2018.
When food waste makes it to a landfill and becomes buried under layers of garbage, it’s unable to decompose properly because decomposition requires light and oxygen. It breaks down instead through anaerobic decomposition, which produces methane as a byproduct, a potent greenhouse gas that traps 25 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide does.
Compost also serves as rich humus for your plants and lawn and can replace chemical fertilizers in your garden.
What food scraps can you compost?
Start with fruit and vegetable scraps like the tops of strawberries, the ends of asparagus, the skins of kiwis and potatoes. You can also compost eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds and old flowers.
Store your kitchen scraps in a kitchen compost bin prior to adding them to your actual compost. Kitchen compost bins come in various styles to suit your aesthetic.
This copper bin has a rustic style, while this wood and stainless steel bin holds an impressive amount of compost and can be used to match wood and silver finishes in a kitchen. You can also select a bin that fits over a cabinet door to save space.
Your bin can live on your counter, near where you prepare food. Use charcoal filters to keep your bin from smelling like rotting food, or you can store your compost scraps in your freezer to keep them from creating odors in your kitchen.
What shouldn’t go in my compost bin?
To avoid attracting rodents and other wildlife to your compost bin, it’s a good idea not to compost meat, bones, fish and oily cooked foods.
Note that just because a piece of packaging like the bowl from your take-out says that it’s compostable doesn’t mean it will break down in your at-home compost heap. These materials often require an industrial composting process to decompose.
Master the layering of greens and browns
All compostable scraps are either carbon-based “brown” materials or nitrogen-based “green” materials. The secret to healthy compost is maintaining a balance of carbon and nitrogen, or browns and greens, in your compost.
Green scraps are nitrogen and protein-rich and allow microorganisms to thrive in your compost pile, leading to decomposition. Greens include food scraps like fruit and veggies, kitchen waste, leaves and grass clippings.
Brown scraps are carbon-rich and include matter like dried leaves, branches, stems, wood, shredded brown paper and newspaper, coffee filters, eggshells, egg cartons and corn stalks.
How to layer greens and browns
Healthy compost needs more carbon than nitrogen because too much nitrogen will restrict airflow and create a soggy, smelly heap that can’t decompose. Aim to have about ⅓ green materials and ⅔ brown materials.
Shred your browns by tearing or cutting them with scissors as much as possible before layering them in your compost to promote a light and fluffy compost body and allow oxygen and water to flow freely through your compost. This promotes aeration and decomposition.
How to make compost at home
Heap composting is the most budget-friendly way to compost because it requires no bin and is simply a pile of scraps on the ground. This option works well if you have ample yard space and likely won’t work well for you if you share a yard with multiple people or lack outdoor space.
Your heap should sit on a pile on the bare ground rather than concrete to allow worms and other insects and organisms to colonize it. Place your heap somewhere with partial sunlight. Ensure your heap location isn’t in standing water.
To improve aeration, ensure that your bottom layer of compost is made up of durable brown materials like twigs and straw. Then layer in greens alternating with more layers of browns. Ensure that you have a majority of brown materials to prevent sogginess, but layer in plenty of nitrogen-rich greens to allow microbes to break down your compost.
Cover your compost with a tarp to retain moisture and heat in your compost heap and prevent rain from completely soaking your compost.
Turn your compost with a shovel once every 2 weeks for aeration. If your compost heap is extremely dry, add a little bit of water.
Tumblers and bins
Compost bins are containers that house your compostable materials to allow them to decompose. The most straightforward compost bin is simply a large container that houses your brown and green materials while they decompose. These bins are enclosed on the sides and the top, with a removable lid to allow you to dump in the waste. The bottom is typically open to enable the material to sit directly on the ground.
Simple bins are typically relatively inexpensive, but they can be difficult to turn and sometimes take multiple months longer for compost to decompose.
A more efficient option is a compost tumbler, which consists of a large barrel sitting atop tall legs with a handle that allows you to spin and tumble the waste within the composter drum. Rotating the barrel mixes the compost inside, which speeds up decomposition by keeping the microbes in the waste actively feeding.
The drum also maintains a high internal temperature, which speeds up the process of composting and allows you to compost year-round, even in cold months. These bins also prevent odors and rodents from accessing or eating through your bin, making them a good choice for composting in a residential area without much yard space.
Don’t have access to a yard or indoor space? You can compost indoors using worms. Vermicomposting requires minimal space and simply requires a bin in which you throw your food scraps and some worms to turn them into soil. Worms create nutrient-rich, black soil free from debris which is great for growing vegetables and flowers.
Vermicomposting bins come in a variety of styles. This worm factory includes four trays for compost but can be expanded up to eight trays, making it a versatile option for any household size. Some hardwood worm farms have the aesthetics of a modern piece of furniture and come with convenient drawers for accessing your compost.
Keep your vermicompost in a spot in your home with a consistent temperature to ensure your worms are comfortable. Don’t place your worm farm directly next to a heater, oven or AC unit or vent. Worm compost units typically produce no smell, so you can keep it in your kitchen to easily throw in food scraps or store it somewhere like a closet.
Follow the instructions which come with your worm farm for how to begin composting, as various units have slightly different setups. Purchase red wiggler worms separately.
Your worm farm will likely come with worm bedding, but you can also purchase it separately. You should spread some soil on top of the bedding in an even layer to make your worms feel more comfortable in their environment.
Best home compost bins
Top compost bin
Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter
What you need to know: This is a convenient and efficient option to quickly create compost in your yard.
What you’ll love: You can easily tumble your compost by turning the chamber. It keeps heat and moisture contained for fast compost decomposition. The thick plastic and tall legs make this compost bin inaccessible to wildlife like rodents.
What you should consider: A bit pricier than other compost bin options.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top compost bin for the money
What you need to know: This is an economical option for someone who wants to create compost in their yard and doesn’t want to invest in a closed bin.
What you’ll love: It’s very easy to assemble, can be used freestanding or anchored into the ground and is great for yard waste such as grass trimmings.
What you should consider: It won’t deter critters, keep out rain or keep in heat, so you’ll need to cover with a tarp for optimal performance.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
110 Gallon Garden Composter Bin Made from Recycled Plastic
What you need to know: This is a suitable bin for someone starting out with outdoor composting who wants to house their compost heap to keep it contained and deter critters.
What you’ll love: It’s easy to assemble, has a simple and attractive design, is large enough to house all of your compost and includes a convenient door on the bottom to harvest your cured compost.
What you should consider: Some users have reported that this bin has thin plastic and can be eaten by wildlife.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Evelyn Waugh writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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