How To Start Composting: Introduction to Composting for Beginners

How To Start Composting: Introduction to Composting for Beginners

Composting provides many benefits for the gardener and the environment. To read more about the advantages of composting, please see our article from last week, The Benefits of Composting. Now that you know how incredible this one undertaking is, it's time to move on to the next step: starting a compost at your home. Thankfully, there are tons of options, so there is sure to be one that fits into your home and lifestyle.

The Secret to Composting Success

Compost is created by decomposing organic matter. Kitchen waste, yard waste, and garden materials are added to a single heap or container. When they are combined together and allowed to sit for some time, they decompose into rich, fertile soil.

All materials added to the compost pile are either rich in carbon or nitrogen. The carbon-heavy materials, also called brown matter, include dry leaves, branches, sawdust, paper bags, straw, and other yard waste. Nitrogen-rich materials, also called green matter, include kitchen waste, food scraps, and green yard waste, like fresh grass clippings.

The ultimate key to success for any compost pile is a balanced combination of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials, i.e., a healthy balance of brown and green matter.
The ideal balance is 3:1 brown to green materials.

Types of Composting

Heap Composting

This is the simplest method, but it does require a small, dedicated space away from the house. Heap composting, as the name suggests, is simply piling the materials onto bare earth in alternate layers. You'll need to keep it covered with a tarp to maintain moisture and heat requirements and keep wildlife away. Every few weeks, use a shovel or pitchfork to turn the materials and intermix them.

Heap composting is the easiest method to start with, but there are some downsides. In cold climates, where snowfall is abundant, it often isn't easy or even possible to upkeep this process. Also, because it doesn't have walls or any structure, enterprising wildlife will likely find ways into it. If you live in a suburban or city neighborhood, neighbors may consider the heap unsightly or problematic.

To learn more about heap composting, check out this article.

Bin Composting

A common choice for suburban and city homes, bin composting is done using a plastic barrel especially designed for this purpose. Many cities and towns provide these compost bins for free or at a reduced cost to encourage residents to start composting. Bin composts can't hold as much material as heap composts, but they look nicer and work just as well.

It is harder to mix the materials with bin composts, and it will take longer for the materials to turn into rich soil. On the plus side, you don't have to worry as much about critters getting into the pile.

Compost Tumbler

An efficient, low-cost, and easy to maintain system, the compost tumbler is excellent for small spaces, low-waste homes, and busy people. It doesn't hold as much as the bins or heaps, but it's much simpler to use, and the benefit may be worth it. Many people acquire several tumblers to offset the size issue. As the name implies, Tumblers are fully-enclosed rigid plastic containers on a frame that allows them to be turned via a handle on the side.

Because it is smaller and turning is more manageable than other methods, the compost develops pretty quickly and more efficiently. It endures cold, snowy winters, and it is impenetrable to wildlife. It also looks nice, so it isn't a problem in suburban or urban areas.

The biggest downside to tumblers is that they are more expensive, and you may need more than one to keep up with the waste from your home and yard.

Here is a great article explaining all the benefits of Compost Tumblers.

Food Waste Digesters

These aren't precisely composters, but they do provide a simple, fast, and easy method to dispose of food waste. After materials are added, it gets tumbled and ground into fine material. This is then buried in the garden, where it finishes the decomposing process and releases all its benefits into the soil.

As you can see, there are quite a few options when it comes to starting composting. There is no right or wrong method; it is best to choose the one that works best for your time, budget, and space.

Next week: What Goes In The Compost and How To Balance It For Ideal Results

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