Your Guide to Composting at Home

Give your plants some love, keep your trash can fresh and save your garbage disposal some work — all by using scraps you’d normally toss out. And who doesn’t want to be a little kinder to the environment? 

Learning how to compost at home isn’t as complicated as you may think. Let’s start with the basics.

What Is Composting?

Composting is taking biodegradable kitchen and household scraps, those normally destined for the landfill, and speeding up nature’s decomposition process to create nutrient-rich soil. Win, win. 

What Can You Compost?

Think green and brown: green (nitrogen-based) and brown (carbon-based) materials. Keep your ratio at about 1:2 green to brown to maximize the breakdown process and get your compost ready for use even faster.

Compost these:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Grass and plant clippings
  • Leaves and straw
  • Small pieces of wood, sawdust (from untreated wood) and bark chips
  • Shredded newspaper and junk mail
  • Teabags
  • Flat beer
  • Wine corks
  • Paper cartons or containers (no plastic coating)

What Shouldn’t You Compost?

Certain things can attract pests and make your compost pile stinky. Avoid these:

  • Bones or meat
  • Dairy products
  • Fat, oil or grease
  • Treated wood
  • Animal waste
  • Yard waste treated with pesticide or herbicide

What’s the First Step to Composting at Home?

First, decide whether you want to compost in a container or au natural. If the former is for you, get a container large enough for at least a 3-foot deep pile. If you have the space, consider multiple containers for compost at different stages. Use one to keep ready-to-use soil on hand, with another for new scraps.

A container isn’t necessary when you’re first learning how to compost at home. Just start a pile! Select a spot with access to water that receives moderate sunlight. An area that’s too sunny will dry out your compost too quickly, but some sunlight does speed things up. Also consider proximity to areas where you hang out frequently or where kids play.

What’s the Composting Process Like?

Once you’ve gathered enough material to start composting at home, layer your green (typically wet) and brown (usually dry) materials. Too much green material and your pile will be a soggy mess. Too much brown and it’ll be too dry. Water the pile — enough to keep things moist but not soaked — and mix it up. Your compost will start breaking down.

About once a week, turn your pile to provide oxygen. This will keep material from rotting and will help it “cook” faster. Your soon-to-be compost should feel warm in the center. Slap on a glove and check, or use a thermometer to ensure the center is roughly 130 to 150 degrees.

When your compost is cool, dry and crumbly, it’s ready to make its way to the garden. Spread up to 6 inches in your flower beds or plants boxes, and watch your garden flourish.

Can I Compost in My Apartment?

The size of your home shouldn’t impact your ability to begin composting. If you live in an apartment or just want to start small, try your hand at countertop composting. This is the perfect way to dispose of coffee grounds, eggshells and kitchen scraps without the commitment of a full outdoor compost pile.

Purchase a countertop composting bin or a container with a secure, tight-fitting lid and ventilation holes. Choose an accessible but out-of-the-way spot, and pick up a charcoal filter to limit the smell.

When you’re ready to start using your container, remember: no meat scraps, fat or dairy. Crush, shred or tear up the material you’re adding, and stir the compost thoroughly and often. If your mixture becomes too wet, add saw dust, shredded newspaper or paper towels. Just like with an outdoor mix, your compost is ready to use in the garden when it’s dry and crumbly.

Helping You Grow

Composting is an enriching process — for your family and your plants. Remember: Your Farm Bureau agent is here for you from seed to harvest.