Making compost is not too difficult – it is a matter of collecting organic material (yard waste, food scraps, etc.) and waiting for them to decompose. However, there are a few tricks that will help you to make compost faster with less effort.
So, how can you make compost quickly and easily? First, turn your compost regularly with a pitchfork or rotating bin. Also, make sure to water your compost pile frequently to keep it moist. In addition, use more brown material (leaves, straw, and cardboard) than green material (grass clippings, dead plants, etc.). Finally, you can put earthworms in your compost to help break it down faster.
Of course, there are ways to get compost without going through all this work. You can buy some online or at a garden center. You can pick some up at your town’s compost site. You can even have a large quantity of compost delivered by a landscaping contractor.
If you want to make your compost yourself, then you should start off with the right location and container.
Where Should You Put Your Compost Pile?
Strictly speaking, you don’t need a container. However, having one can keep things neat, and your neighbors won’t have to look at the compost pile. Also, choosing the right location will ensure that your compost pile gets enough sun and is easy to water.
Choose a Sunny Location for Your Compost Pile
Composting works faster at higher temperatures. This is why you can turn food and garden scraps into compost within a couple months in the summer.
To speed up the composting process, make sure to put your compost pile in an area with plenty of sunlight. That way, the pile will stay warmer during the day and at night.
The compost will also stay warm later into the fall if it gets enough sunlight, thus extending your “composting season”.
When choosing a location, also be sure to pick a spot where it will be easy to water your compost pile (more on watering later).
Make it Easy to Turn Your Compost Pile
Turning your compost pile allows air to circulate, and mixes the ingredients more uniformly. This allows material to break down faster.
If you put your compost in a pile, make sure it is in a location where you can turn it easily with a pitchfork. You might want to keep the pile in one half of a designated compost area, moving the compost back and forth between the left and right halves each time you turn it over.
Stationary compost bins are useful for keeping your pile neat and hidden from view. If you get a bin with two or more compartments, you can turn the pile by moving the compost from one bin to an adjacent one. If you have three or more bins, you can maintain two piles at once: one that is “almost done”, and another that is for newer material.
A rotating compost bin also keeps your pile neat and hidden from view. However, it is much easier to turn, since you don’t have to do any work moving the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. Many rotating bins also have a hatch you can open to dump compost right into your wheelbarrow when it is ready.
You can make your own compost bin from wood, plastic, metal, and wire. Alternatively, you can buy your own online or at a garden or landscape center. Building your own allows you to customize the bin to your own yard and situation.
What Should You Add to Your Compost Pile?
Now that we have chosen a location, it is time to prepare the materials for the compost pile. There are really only three basic materials for your compost pile: greens, browns, and water.
Let’s go over what greens and browns are, along with some examples of each. We’ll also go over how to water your compost pile, and what to avoid adding to your pile.
Adding Greens to Your Compost Pile
Greens are simply organic materials that are rich in nitrogen. These materials are one ingredient in your compost pile, and are commonly found in most people’s gardens, yards, and kitchens.
Examples of greens for compost include:
- Grass clippings
- Green Leaves
- Weeds from your garden
- Tea bags
- Coffee grounds
- Crushed Eggshells
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
As you can see, most of the greens really are green. However, the only requirement is that they are rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is known as the “greening” element (or nutrient), and it helps plants to grow leaves and shoots.
You may want to make more compost than your kitchen and yard scraps can provide. In that case, ask around for extra compost greens!
For example, you can:
- Ask for used coffee grounds at a diner or café
- Go to the beach to collect some seaweed (check to make sure this is ok – you don’t want to get into trouble!)
- Ask for horse manure from a local horse boarding stable
- Ask for chicken manure from a neighbor who keeps chickens
- Ask landscapers for extra grass clippings or green leaves/trimmings
Many of these people will be happy to have you take away their extra “greens” at no cost to you! If you are entrepreneurial, you may even be able to charge a fee to remove these things, and sell or deliver your extra compost to other gardeners!
Greens are important for your compost pile, but you will generally want more browns than greens to get the proper ratio. Let’s discuss browns now.
Adding Browns to Your Compost Pile
Browns are simply organic materials that are rich in carbon. These materials are another ingredient in your compost pile, and are also commonly found in many people’s yards.
Examples of browns for compost include:
- Brown leaves
- Pine needles
- Mulch or wood chips
- Twigs and thin branches
- Tree bark
- Wood ash
- Corn stalks
As you can see, many of the browns really are brown. However, the only requirement is that they have high carbon content.
Carbon is important for plants to create energy, since sugar contains carbon along with hydrogen and oxygen.
As mentioned earlier, you will want more browns than greens in your compost pile. However, many people tend to have plenty of greens, but few browns.
In that case, you can ask around to get some extra browns. For example, you can:
- Ask for leaves or pine needles from a landscaper
- Ask for wood chips or sawdust from a sawmill owner – for more information, check out my article on composting sawdust.
- Ask for wood chips or sawdust from a carpenter or woodworker
- Gather wood ash from brush fires in the spring – for more information, check out my article on adding wood ash to your garden.
- Ask for cardboard boxes from stores like Costco or BJ’s (they have them for the taking at my local store!)
Once you have enough browns and greens to add you your compost pile, it is time to add water and speed up the process.
Adding Water to Your Compost Pile
Water is the third ingredient for your compost pile. Keeping optimal moisture levels will speed up the composting process.
There is no set rule for when to add water, since this will depend on the temperature, humidity, climate, and season. However, when you turn the pile, you can feel the compost to check the moisture level.
If the compost feels damp, then it is fine. If it feels dry, then add some water. Make sure not to add too much water, since compost that is too dry or too wet will take longer to break down.
Things to Avoid Adding to Your Compost Pile
Most of the greens and brown listed above are ok to add to your compost pile. However, there are a few exceptions you should note. There are also some items that you should never add to your compost pile. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables grown with lots of pesticides (this can harm bees and other beneficial insects in your garden)
- Meat, bones, fish, fat (these may attract raccoons or other scavengers)
- Dairy products (milk or milk products like cheese, yogurt, or cream)
- Pet feces (these may contain pathogens that are dangerous if you use the compost to grow food)
- Grass clippings from lawns treated with pesticides
- Treated wood (pressure treated wood or sawdust, for example)
- Diseased plants (plant diseases can survive a season, a year, or longer in a compost pile)
- Plants infested with pests (pests can also survive a long time in a compost pile)
- Weeds with seeds (the seeds will happily grow with your compost pile as the perfect nutrition!)
- Glass, metal, or plastic (these will not break down in a compost pile)
For more information, check out my article on composting eggshells and things you shouldn’t compost.
If you avoid these materials, your compost pile should develop just fine.
Other Questions About Composting
You may still have some questions about starting your compost pile, so let’s answer some of the common ones now.
How Often Should I Turn My Compost Pile?
The truth is, you don’t have to turn your compost pile at all. However, it will take a year for the organic material to break down into a form that the plants in your garden can use.
If you want to compost faster, you should turn at least once a week, and possibly more often. When you turn the pile more often, you introduce more air. You also mix the ingredients more thoroughly and uniformly.
When you turn the compost, feel the pile with your hand. If it is warm, then you know that the composting process is working.
With proper turning, watering, and ingredients, your compost may be ready in 1 to 3 months. In that case, you may be able to use compost from the spring to grow a late crop in the summer.
Should I Put Earthworms in My Compost Pile?
It depends on how you want to compost. If you want to take a hands-off approach and avoid turning the compost pile, then you should add earthworms to speed up the composting process.
If you do decide to add earthworms to your compost pile, you can buy them online if you can’t find many nearby. For more information, check out my article on getting earthworms to your garden.
However, if you like to turn the compost by hand, or use a rotating bin, then you might not want to add earthworms. They don’t like being disturbed, and you can injure them with your pitchfork when you turn the pile.
As a middle ground, you could have one “no-turn” compost pile that is sped up by earthworms, and another “turn” pile that you work with a pitchfork. That way, you get the benefit of earthworms in your compost (and eventually your garden) without disturbing them.
How Do I Know When to Put My Compost in the Garden?
There is an easy way to tell if your compost is ready for the garden. If it looks dark (black) and completely broken down, and smells good (like fresh earth, not rotten), then it is ready.
Ideally, work the compost into your garden soil before you do any planting in the spring.
Where Should I Keep My Food Scraps?
You might be worried about smells, insects inside your house, or pests outside your house. In that case, you can keep your food scraps in a bag or small container in your freezer.
This will prevent the scraps from rotting and smelling inside your house, and it will prevent insects from getting at the scraps. Simply take the full bag or container and dump it into your compost pile once it is full.
Hopefully, this article will get you off to a good start with your compost pile. It is hard to go wrong if you follow the advice outlined here.
If you compost pile fails to heat up, you can learn more about how to fix it in my article here.
You might also want to check out my daily garden maintenance checklist so you don’t forget any of your tasks this year.
To find gardening books, courses, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!