Composting For Beginners The Complete Guide

This comprehensive beginner’s tutorial on composting aims to support novice gardeners who may find the concept of compost daunting. But, I want to alleviate your worries by emphasizing that composting isn’t difficult or convoluted. Keep in mind, it’s simply a natural process that we can assist in accelerating.

So what is the definition of compost?

Compost is defined as a collection of plant material that is left to decay, and this provides organic fertilizer to improve the quality of the soil. I want to add that plant material refers to the manures from herbivore animals, such as cows, horses, sheep, poultry, and rabbits. Manures from carnivores should not be added to your compost.

What should I add to my compost?

compost pile under a tarp
  • All plant material from the garden
  • Fruit & Vegetable kitchen scraps
  • Cooked pasta and rice
  • Cardboard boxes from packaging (remove plastic tape and windows and shred these products)
  • Newspaper (Shredded)
  • Old stale bread, crackers, tortilla chips and crisps
  • Used Coffee Grounds
  • Used tea Bags (Minus the bag itself, as this contains plastic and does not break down)
  • Dryer Lint
  • Dog and human hair
  • Horse, Cow, Sheep, Rabbit, Poultry Alpaca and Goat manure
  • Straw
  • Hay
  • Woodchips
  • Worm castings
  • Tree cuttings
  • Wool
  • Bracken
  • Ash from burnt hardwood
  • Sawdust
  • Leaves
How To Make Compost – Composting Process – Compost Methods

As discussed, compost is a collection of waste plant material; you can add the following items to this to bring in as much nutrition to make better compost.

As discussed, compost is a collection of waste plant material; you can add the following items to this to bring in as much nutrition to make better compost.

collecting worm castings from a worm bin

What shouldn’t I add to my compost?

You shouldn’t add the following to home composts, Not because it wouldn’t compost, but for various other reasons such as health or the fact it would attract vermin.

oranges and orange peel
orange peel
coal on a fire
coal ash
  • Meat (Raw or cooked)
  • Fish
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Dog or cat Manure
  • Coffee or Tea Bags (These contain plastic and do not rot)
  • Citrus Peel & Onions ( These make the compost too acidic, killing off the bacteria and microbes)
  • Glossy or coated paper or cardboard ( Plastic contained here too)
  • Coal fire ash
  • Sawdust from treated timber
  • Large branches (they will steal the nitrogen while trying to break down)
  • Chemical fertilizers

How to Compost: Greens & Browns

Before we even think about starting our compost pile, we must know how to build it. We could throw it all in a heap and wait for it to break down, but it might take ages if you get the wrong amounts of things in your compost. Or it may turn into a slimy, stinky mess. 

cupped hands holding compost

So how do I know how much of what to put into my compost?

That is a bit more significant subject, but each component you add is associated with a color. Either Green Or Brown. Essentially greens are products that contain high levels of nitrogen. This is needed to break down the heap. And Browns which typically are a carbon source.

What’s the ideal green or brown ratio?

Ideally, you want a mix ratio of about 30:1. Let me explain this before proceeding. You may have heard the volume 30:1 regarding browns and greens when making your compost. But I want to make it clear here so there is no misunderstanding.

Too many garden people throw this figure around and don’t understand its concept. The ratio of 30:1 is not a volume ratio; it is based on the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.

So simply put, you DO NOT add 30 times more browns to 1 part green, this will never break down, and it is the number one reason new gardeners struggle when making their compost. This is why I created the Composting for Beginners guide.

So how do I know how many parts carbon or nitrogen contains?

This is the challenge. Below is a list of some of the most common ingredients used in making compost that will help you. But The terms green and brown, or carbon and nitrogen, still don’t cover what any component contains. Furthermore, All products you add will contain carbon and nitrogen in varying forms. Now you understand this; you can make sense of the information below.

cartoon light bulb

Carbon To Nitrogen Ratio In Ingredients 

First, check out the high-in-carbon products and their ratios.

High CarbonC/N Ratio
Fruit35:1
Sawdust325:1
Leaves 60:1
Shredded Newspaper175:1
Straw75:1
Hardwood Ash25:1
Shredded Cardboard350:1
pile of shredded wood chips
Tony O'Neill holding chopped leaves in a 1 ton bag
High NitrogenC/N Ratio
Clover1:23
Food Waste 1:20
Coffee Grounds1:20
Garden Waste1:30
Grass Clippings 1:25
Hay1:25
Seaweed1:19
Vegetable Scraps1:25
Alfalfa1:12
Weeds1:30
Tony O'Neill with compost ingredients

What else do we need to make the compost work?

So as you can see from the beginner’s tables composting, adding 30 times more browns to compost over a green would mean it would never break down. So use the above tables to help you. If adding weeds, it’s pretty much set. If adding wood chips and grass clippings, you would need around twice as many wood chips in volume as grass clippings. I trust this will help you understand how to build your compost pile.

We figured out what ingredients we would add to our compost pile. We know how to get the correct ratios too, but there are two other things we need to add for the whole thing to work. If you look at this as a recipe, there are four parts.

We have greens and browns, or carbon and nitrogen. The other two things we need are Air and Water. These are very important for the health of the microbes and bacteria that will colonize our compost and break it down.

Why is it important to add water to compost?

Water is one of the most essential elements of any compost. Without water, the microbes and soil life cannot breed; they need a warm moist environment to multiply. Getting the moisture levels right can speed up the drying process, and the microbes slow down. Too wet, and the microbes slow down. Here are some things to look out for, which will tell you if it’s too wet or too dry.

water your plants with compost tea

Too Wet

If your compost is too wet, the microbes will slow down. Eventually, they will die, and your compost will cease to continue to break down and turn into a smelly mess. This is one of the most significant factors when you have smelly compost.

Too Dry

  • Composting slows drastically.
  • It gets dusty rather than looking moist
  • You may get a colony of ants to move in

Like you, microbes need water to survive, and if the heap is too dry, like being too wet, the microbes start to die. Aim for moist compost when squeezed; only a few drops can be seen.

tractor turning compost piles

Why does compost need air?

As we discussed at the top of this composting for beginners guide. Composting is plant material decaying by microbes, and the microbes need food, water, and air to live; as they consume the food, they put out a Bi-product of heat, and the air allows the microbes to continue to consume food and multiply. Turning your compost for quicker results is essential as this introduces air to the pile.

What compost bin is best?

This is dependent on your preferences and budget. You could mound a load of compost on the ground and cover it with a tarp. Many people do this with significant effect. However, if you have a garden, you may not want an unsightly mound in the garden; that is where compost bins or compost bays come into their own.

DIY Compost Bins

As I have done here, you can build a compost bay from pallets; they make large bays, which is essential. The larger the pile, the more heat it creates and the quicker it breaks down. Place three pallets together and tie a fourth to the front to make a compost bin. It is that simple. This will hold about three cubic feet of compost. 

It is easy to build your compost bins from pallets. They are Free or very inexpensive to buy. The last years have been sturdy.

compost bin built from pallets

Store-Bought Compost Bins

tumbler compost bin
Tumbler compost bin
large green plastic compost bin
compost bin
black plastic double compost bin
Plastic compost bin

A much easier way is to buy a store-bought compost bin. They come in various shapes and sizes. From an actual warlock-style bin to a beehive-looking compost bin, or even a roller-style bin, they all have their uses in the garden. The latter is much easier for people with mobility issues who can not physically turn a compost pile but wish to compost. 

Whatever you decide to make your compost in, remember the golden rules above, and you will have fantastic compost to fertilize your garden.

How long does compost take to make?

This depends on several factors. Firstly the things you put in the compost and how big you build the pile, but here are a couple of tips to get fast compost for your garden.

  • Build your compost pile high.
  • Shred your ingredients as small as possible
  • Get the right nitrogen/carbon (Green /Brown) ratio.
  • Ensure you have the correct amount of moisture
  • Invest in a compost thermostat to let you know when it cools down
  • Turn the compost every time it cools down
  • Check moisture every ten days and add more if required

What to do with my finished compost?

First, let me congratulate you on making your first batch of compost. Although it looks complicated, it isn’t once you understand the fundamentals. Now what to do with it? There are so many things you can do with compost, and these are some ideas below:-

How To Make LEAF MOULD – Turn Fallen Leaves into LEAF COMPOST
  • Use compost as a mulch
  • Use your compost as part of a potting soil mix
  • Use your compost to grow potatoes in containers (Like Me)
  • Use your compost to fertilize trees and shrubs
  • Use your compost on your flower beds.
  • Enrich your soil and build its structure and water retention by adding compost.
  • Improve your soil’s soil food web life by adding billions of microbes to your garden.
  • Make compost tea to fertilize your plants. Click here to read that blog on how to make compost tea.

FAQs on Composting For Beginners The Complete Guide

How do I start composting for beginners?
To start composting for beginners, follow these steps: 1. Choose a composting method (pile, bin, or tumbler). 2. Collect kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetable peels, coffee grounds). 3. Add yard waste (leaves, grass clippings). 4. Keep a balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. 5. Mix regularly to aerate and speed up decomposition. 6. Maintain moisture and avoid over-watering. 7. Wait for the compost to mature (2-6 months). 8. Use nutrient-rich compost in your garden.

What is the best way to compost?
The best way to compost is to balance green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Layer kitchen scraps, yard waste, and dry leaves in a compost bin or pile. Keep it moist, turn it occasionally, and let nature do its work. Avoid meat, dairy, and oily items. Patience is key!

What is the simple compost method?
The simple compost method involves creating a compost pile or bin where organic materials like kitchen scraps, yard waste, and leaves are added and allowed to decompose naturally. It occasionally requires turning or mixing the pile to aid in decomposition. The compost pile needs to be kept moist but not overly wet, and within a few months, the materials will break down into nutrient-rich compost that can be used in gardens or potted plants.

Conclusion

You’re nearly at the end of this composting for beginners, the complete guide blog. Now all you need to do is to make your compost again. You already know precisely what to do. I hope this blog has cleared up any issues or challenges you face when making compost at home.

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I wish you all the best in your compost-making and gardening year. If you have any questions or need help, drop them in the comments section below, and I will get back to you.

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