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Step-by-Step to Start Composting at Home

Posted by Patricia Spencer on
Step-by-Step to Start Composting at Home

More people are waking up to the fact that we as a society are responsible for a lot of waste.  As we begin to get a stronger grasp on the impacts that our lifestyles have had on the environment and our climate, many of us are starting to make better choices to reduce waste as much as possible, and in turn, give back to the environment whenever we can.

One of the top ways to reduce waste and give back to the earth is composting.  Composting is basically the process of accumulating discarded food and certain biodegradable paper products that have been used, like paper towels, and creating an environment in which they can be broken down by microbes.  This creates nutrient-rich organic matter that can be used to enrich the soil in which our food and other plants grow.

Composting may sound intimidating, as yes, it does take some work, but at the end of the day, it’s easier than it may seem.  And, it can be done on small and large scales.  Meaning, you don’t need to own a ton of farmland in order to do it successfully and make a difference.

What You Can and Cannot Compost

Let’s quickly break down the things that can and cannot be composted.

You can compost:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps, peels, and rotten fruits and vegetables
  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper coffee filters
  • Eggshells
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Sawdust
  • Nutshells (except for walnuts)
  • Tea leaves
  • Newspaper
  • Paper towels
  • Woodchips
  • Cardboard
  • Hair and pet fur

You cannot compost:

  • Meat or meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Pet waste or cat litter
  • Coffee pods
  • Baked goods
  • Charcoal
  • Fats or oils
  • Walnuts
  • Leaves and twigs of black walnut trees
  • Plant trimmings or grass (that have been treated with pesticides)

Time to Start Composting

Below are the steps involved to composting at home properly.

Step #1: Finding the Ideal Spot

Now, let’s talk about where your composting pile will go.  You will need to invest in a compost heap or bin, which can be found relatively easily.  Best to choose an outdoor area that has good draining and partial shade, which’s easy to get to, but won’t be disturbed by animals.

Keep in mind, compost heaps and bins tend to be airtight, so the smell won’t be as strong as you might fear.  Still, you may not want it immediately outside the home, since there is always the chance of attracting animals who have stronger scent-detecting noses than us.

Step #2: Building the Pile

Now it’s time to start your pile.  Generally, you want a pile that’s at least 3ft. tall x 3ft. wide.  This is large enough to retain heat, which is the key to allowing the materials to break down properly.  A 3x3 compost pile can also fit in most backyards.  Also, it’s a size that’s generally manageable for the average person.

Now that you have your pile ready to go, you can start adding materials. 

Step #3: Chopping the Food Pieces

We do want to quickly mention that it’s good to chop up any food pieces.  Basically, the smaller the pieces, the more quickly they’ll break down and compost effectively.  You don’t need to go crazy by any means but do give food items a rough chop into general bite-sized pieces if possible.

Step #4: Layering Greens and Browns

Maybe you’ve heard about the concept of layering greens and browns with composting.  This is, contrary to popular belief, not required.  But, what it will do is enable the composting process to happen more quickly, evenly, and effectively.

The idea is that you want to layer “green” compost pieces and “brown” compost pieces.  Green pieces are most food items.  Brown pieces are paper and wood items, like paper towels and sawdust, for example.

So, where do you start?  Begin with a 4-8-inch layer of brown materials that are larger in size – think twigs and tree bark.  This offers the proper foundation of aeration and drainage while still breaking down along with the rest of the materials.  After that, go ahead layering green, then brown, then green, then brown, and so on.  The thickness of the layer doesn’t need to be exact – just a generally thin, even layer of each type of material.

Step #5: Adding Water

It’s crucial to add a little water to each layer as you go.  Again, the amount doesn’t need to be exact.  But, if the compost pile gets too dry, the microbes that are breaking down the materials won’t be able to survive.  As a result, no actual composting will take place – you’ll just have a pile of garbage.

Step #6: Rotating

Rotate, or turn, your compost pile regularly.  Use a shovel or pitchfork, and simply turn the pile over every 4-7 days depending on the size, with larger piles requiring less frequent turning.  Often, as the compost matures, you won’t need to turn it as frequently.  Also, keep in mind that if you aren’t getting lots of rain, you may need to water your compost pile like you would with your plants.  If the pile does get soggy, you can add more brown materials to soak up the moisture.

Are You Ready to Embrace Composting?

Composting does double duty, reducing waste and directly feeding the environment.  And, as you can see, it’s not nearly as intimidating of a project as it may sound.  It’s just a matter of knowing your greens from your browns, and also maintaining your pile until you’ve usable compost that can be worked into soil.  You will know it’s usable when it looks like extra-dark and rich soil that has a chunky texture to it.

Unfortunately, not everything can be composted, and food waste that can’t, should be discarded in a garbage or your garbage disposal, if your sink has one.  So, if you do have a garbage disposal, don’t forget to grab GG Garbage Disposal Cleaner Pods.  These pods are eco-friendly, nontoxic, and EPA-certified.

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