Composting for Beginners: How to Turn Food Waste into Nutrient Rich Soil

Imagine turning your everyday organic waste into a valuable resource for your garden! Composting is an eco-friendly way to enrich your soil with essential nutrients while reducing your environmental impact. This natural process transforms food scraps and yard waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment called compost, which is loved by gardeners for its dark, crumbly texture and earthy aroma.

composting for beginners

In our composting for beginners guide, we’ll explore the basics of composting, including its benefits, different types, and suitable materials for creating compost. We’ll also guide you through the composting process, from setting up your pile to using the finished product in your garden. Let’s dive into the world of home composting and learn how to make your garden thrive while doing something good for the environment!

Basics of Composting

What is Composting

Composting is a natural process where organic materials, like leaves and food scraps, break down into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or mulch. It’s a controlled, aerobic (requires oxygen) process where microorganisms decompose materials, resulting in a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling substance called compost.

Learn More: How an Ancient Practice Became an Environmental Movement

Benefits of Composting

There are several advantages to composting that contribute to a healthier environment and improved quality of your gardening soil. Some benefits of composting include:

Reducing waste: By composting, you can recycle your yard and food waste, which diverts a significant portion of your household waste from landfills, reducing methane emissions.

Soil enrichment: Compost enhances soil structure, texture, and fertility, supplying essential nutrients for plant growth and promoting healthy root development in your garden.

Water retention: Incorporating compost into your garden can help improve soil water retention, reducing the need for frequent watering and preserving your valuable time and resources.

Suppressing diseases and pests: Using compost can protect plants from various diseases and pests, encouraging healthier and more vigorous plant growth.

Supporting the circle of life: Composting organic waste at home directly returns nutrients back to the soil and supports the natural “circle of life,” as intended by nature.

By practicing composting, not only do you reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable environment, but you also enhance the quality and productivity of your garden. Give composting a try and enjoy the rewards it brings to both your green space and the environment.

Types of Composting

Whether you have a small backyard or live in an apartment, there is an approach that suits your needs. Let’s explore the world of composting and discover the right method for you.

Backyard Composting

If you have outdoor space, backyard composting is an excellent option. You can use a compost bin or a simple pile to break down organic waste like leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps. Make sure to mix green materials (rich in nitrogen) and brown materials (rich in carbon) regularly to encourage decomposition while maintaining proper moisture and aeration.

Apartment Composting

For those with limited outdoor space or living in an apartment, don’t worry, there are still composting options for you. Use a small, enclosed compost bin specially designed for indoor use. These bins are generally odor-free and can be placed discreetly in a corner or under your kitchen sink. Remember to add only suitable materials, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells, to prevent unpleasant smells and pests.

Learn More: How to Make Compost in An Apartment Without Worms


Vermicomposting, or worm composting, works great for both indoor and outdoor composting. In this method, you’ll use red wiggler worms in a specialized bin to break down your organic materials. The worms consume the waste and create nutrient-rich vermicast. Vermicomposting has many benefits, including faster decomposition and the ability to handle a wider variety of materials.

Read more: Fun Facts About Earthworms


Bokashi is a Japanese composting method that makes use of anaerobic fermentation to break down organic waste. In this process, you’ll mix your kitchen scraps with a bran-based inoculant containing beneficial microorganisms. The sealed container enables the anaerobic process to occur, resulting in nutrient-rich compost material in just a few weeks. You can use the end product in your garden or further compost it in a traditional bin or pile.

Trench Composting

Trench composting is a simple and low-maintenance method that can be done directly in your garden. To create a trench compost, you’ll dig a trench approximately 1-2 feet deep and fill it with kitchen scraps and other suitable organic materials. Be sure to cover the trench with soil and let the materials break down naturally over time. This method enriches the soil and can be an effective way to add nutrients to your garden beds.

Materials for Composting

Ever heard of green and brown materials? Let’s demystify these terms once and for all:

Green Materials

Green materials, or nitrogen-rich materials, are crucial for a successful compost pile. They provide the necessary nutrients for microorganisms to thrive. Here are some examples of green materials you can add to your compost pile:

  • Fruit and vegetable peels
  • Citrus rinds
  • Melon rinds
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves and paper tea bags
  • Old vegetables that aren’t suitable for eating anymore
  • Houseplant trimmings

Brown Materials

Brown materials, or carbon-rich materials, are necessary for the composting process. They supply food for microorganisms to consume and digest. Here are some examples of brown materials to include in your compost pile:

  • Twigs and branches
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Dry leaves and plant stalks
  • Straw and hay
  • Wood chips and sawdust

Materials to Avoid

Certain items should be avoided when adding to your compost pile, as they can cause unpleasant odors or attract pests. Be sure to avoid these materials in your compost pile:

  • Meat, fish, or dairy products
  • Oil and grease
  • Chemically treated wood or sawdust
  • Coal ash
  • Plants suffering from diseases or pests

By using a balanced mix of green and brown materials, and steering clear of inappropriate ingredients, your compost pile will turn into rich and nourishing material for your garden plants.

Composting Process

Setting Up Your Compost Pile

To start your composting journey, choose a shaded area with good drainage. Layer different types of organic materials:

  • Brown materials (e.g., dried leaves, straw, or small branches) provide carbon
  • Green materials (e.g., grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or coffee grounds) provide nitrogen

Alternate between brown and green layers to support decomposition. A 3:1 ratio of brown to green materials helps maintain a balanced compost.

Learn More: Where to Put a Compost Bin

Maintaining Your Compost Pile

Check your compost pile regularly for moisture and aeration. Turn the pile every few weeks for even decomposition and oxygen introduction. Keep these points in mind:

  • Keep the pile moist, but not too wet, by adding water as needed
  • Maintain a balance between brown and green materials for optimal decomposition
  • Monitor the temperature – a well-functioning compost pile should feel warm to the touch

Troubleshooting Common Issues

It’s normal to encounter issues with your compost pile. Here are solutions to common problems:

Unpleasant odorAdd more brown materials and turn the pile to increase aeration
Pile not decomposingAdd more green materials, water, and turn the pile to introduce more oxygen
Compost is too wetAdd more brown materials and turn the pile to facilitate better drainage

By carefully setting up and maintaining your compost pile, you’ll create valuable fertilizer for your plants and contribute to a healthier environment.

See also: How to Stop Fruit Flies in Compost Bin

Using Finished Compost

When is Compost Ready

To ensure the health of your plants, it’s essential to know when your compost is ready for use. Finished compost, also called humus, should be dark, crumbly, and have an earthy smell. Unfinished compost can harm your plants if incorporated into the soil too early. To determine if your compost is mature, look for these characteristics:

  • Dark and crumbly texture
  • Earthy smell
  • No recognizable food scraps or plant materials

How to Use Compost in Your Garden

Using finished compost in your garden can improve the health of your plants and the quality of your soil. Here are some ways to use compost in your garden:

Improve soil structure: Mix finished compost into your soil to enhance its structure and health by adding organic matter. This improves moisture retention and nutrient availability.

Container gardening: Create a homemade potting mix using equal parts compost, vermiculite, and topsoil. This well-draining mixture is perfect for container gardening and potting starter plants.

Top dressing: Apply finished compost as a top dressing on your garden beds to feed your plants and enrich the soil. This method requires the least amount of time and effort.

Read More: Can You Plant Directly Into Compost?

Compost tea: Brew compost tea by steeping finished compost in water, then applying the liquid as a foliar spray or soil drench. This technique offers a quick nutrient boost to your plants.

By using finished compost, you not only benefit your plants but also reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. With these tips, you can make the most of this valuable resource in your garden.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is composting good for the environment?

Composting is good for the environment because it reduces the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills, which reduces methane emissions and promotes healthier soil by providing nutrients for plants and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

What can be added to a compost pile?

You can add a variety of materials to your compost pile, including:

  • Greens: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, fresh grass clippings, and plant trimmings
  • Browns: dried leaves, small branches, straw, hay, sawdust, and cardboard
  • Other materials: eggshells, wood ash, and shredded newspaper

Avoid adding meats, dairy products, oily foods, and pet waste as they can cause bad odors and attract pests.

How do I start a compost bin?

To start a compost bin, follow these simple steps:

  1. Choose a suitable location for your compost bin, preferably on bare soil or grass.
  2. Create a layer of bulky materials (e.g., small branches) at the bottom for aeration.
  3. Alternate layers of greens and browns, and moisten each layer with water.
  4. Cover the top layer with a layer of browns to control odors and pests.
  5. Turn the pile every few weeks to incorporate air and maintain the ideal temperature.

What are commonly made mistakes in composting?

Common mistakes in composting include:

  • Not maintaining the right balance of greens and browns
  • Letting the pile become too wet or too dry
  • Not turning the pile frequently enough
  • Adding inappropriate materials, such as meats, dairy products, or oily foods

What are the essential steps in composting?

The essential steps in composting are:

  1. Gather the appropriate materials (greens, browns, and other materials).
  2. Create and maintain a diverse, well-balanced compost pile.
  3. Ensure proper moisture and aeration.
  4. Turn the pile regularly for efficiency.

Can I use worms in my compost?

Yes, you can use worms in your compost. Vermicomposting is a method that involves using red wiggler worms to break down organic materials. This type of composting is ideal for indoor settings, especially if outdoor space is limited.

How do I choose the right compost bin or tumbler?

To choose the right compost bin or tumbler, consider the following factors:

  • Size: Pick a bin that fits your available space and the amount of compostable materials you produce.
  • Material: Compost bins can be made of wood, plastic, metal, or ceramic. Choose a durable material that suits your needs and preferences.
  • Ventilation: Select a compost bin with adequate ventilation to maintain proper aeration.
  • Accessibility: Ensure that your chosen bin has an easy-to-access opening for adding materials and turning the pile.

What is a 3 Bin Compost System?

The 3-bin compost system is an efficient method that employs three separate bins for composting. In the first bin, fresh organic waste like food scraps and yard clippings is collected. The second bin serves as the stage for turning and aerating the compost. The third bin is where the finished compost matures.

This approach ensures a continuous composting cycle: fresh waste fills the first bin, the second enhances the compost’s aeration, while the third stores and matures the finished compost. It’s a well-organized and sustainable method for managing organic waste.

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