How to Compost: A Guide for Every Gardener

hands with soil and holding a seedling

Composting nourishes the soil and help minimize your carbon footprint.

  • Composting allows you to create rich nutrients that you can put back in your garden.
  • The most successful compost will have multiple layers of organic material.
  • Through composting, you can reduce your carbon footprint and increase the health of your garden.

We all have learned that we leave a carbon footprint on this ever-shrinking earth. Your carbon footprint is a way to measure how much you might be negatively impacting the earth. The goal is to minimize your footprint as much as possible. We do that by avoiding single-use plastic containers, repurposing items and recycling them. Composting fits right in with these.

Let’s Take a Class: Composting 101

seedling illustration divider

Composting is assembling ingredients together in the correct balance to cause organic material to decompose, forming humus-rich compost. Let’s break it down. Your compost heap can use any plant-based material. The used coffee grounds and tea bags with the paper can be added to your pile. The peels from the squash or potatoes or cucumbers should be included. Apple cores and banana peels can go in.

Any part of a plant can go in your pile. From your yard, you can add the grass clippings and leaves in the fall. All the plants from your garden can be added when they finish producing. You can even add used paper if you shred it first.

That is one of the secrets to making compost. Size is everything. The smaller the pieces when you put them in the compost bin, the faster they will decompose. You can pull the tomato plant out of the ground after the last tomato is picked and throw it into your compost pile. It will take at least a year to decompose.

compost pile with colorful food scraps

If you take the time to chop it up into smaller pieces, you will have compost much sooner. If you don’t have a lot to chop up, you can just use your garden clippers. If you have a lot of material, like during fall cleanup, you might want to use a hedge trimmer or a hand saw.

The two ingredients in your compost are nitrogen and carbon. The easy way to remember this is carbon is the brown material like fall leaves, straw, and dried plant material and paper. Nitrogen is the green material like fresh grass clippings, lettuce leaves, and even weeds. You want to have about twice as much brown material as green.

Layer your compost material, starting with a layer of brown, then green, and continue alternating until your compost bin is full. Water each layer as you add it so that the material is damp, not soaked. Add a shovel or two of garden soil to provide the microorganisms that will break down the material.

Tip: Do not put animal products like bones, meat, or any fat in your compost. Also, avoid dairy products. These will attract pests, including the neighbor’s dog, as well as wild animals and flies. It also can cause your compost to smell. A good compost pile should never have an unpleasant odor. Eggshells are fine. Also, don’t try to compost biodegradable plastic cups in a home compost bin—they take way too long to break down. Take them to your municipal composter.

Make Composting Easy with Help from Park Seed!

seedling illustration divider

Frequently, the compost bin is constructed in a square 3-5 feet tall. You will need some type of structure for your compost to “cook” in, and, yes, it does get hot as a byproduct of decomposition. It is not surprising for the material to be steaming when you turn it. Turning is the process of mixing the material as it starts to break down. You want to kind of fluff it up. It adds oxygen to your pile. The easiest way to do this is with a garden fork. The more often you turn your pile, the faster it will turn into compost. Once a week is ideal.

If this sounds like a deal-breaker to you, there is an easier way. Park Seed offers a barrel-type container for you to make compost in. The Compost Wizard Starter Kit includes everything you need to start composting. All you have to do is turn the crank to mix the materials. No shovel or fork, and no heavy lifting! When your compost is ready to use, you simply roll the compost bin to the location you want to add compost to. It’s clean and completely contained, so you don’t have to worry about keeping pests out.

raised garden beds with fruit and vegetables

Composting: What’s in it for me?

seedling illustration divider

Did you know that as much as 60% of landfill waste is organic material that could have been composted? If everyone would compost even a portion of their organic waste, it would make a huge difference in the lifespan of a landfill site. Landfills release methane, which is very damaging to our environment.

The immediate result of composting is you have provided yourself with a material that will replace some if not all the chemical fertilizers you may have been using. When you improve the soil in your garden by adding compost, your plants will grow better, and you will have higher yields.