How to Start a Compost: One Mama Shows Us How



Coffee grounds, nut shells, fruit and veggie scraps, and even a wrapper off a stick of butter


To start composting or not to start composting, I've been wringing my hands over this decision. Luckily, one mama's simple "how to" compost tutorial is helping me to fret less and plan a compost solution that works for our household.






Last week, I interviewed CafeMom mommyfairyqueen on how to start a compost, putting all my worries on the line. The outcome? I'm no longer worried about giving it a try. I got my husband on board, and I think we're going to go for it.




Here's the "how to compost" interview with mommyfairyqueen:

1. How long have you been composting? Why did you start? 

I started composting a little over ten years ago. I am a firm believer in "what comes from the earth should be given back to the earth," so I started my first compost pile. I grew to love my compost more as I started growing more in my yard and gardens.

2. What are the advantages of composting?

You get fantastic "gardener's gold" for beautiful landscapes and vegetables while reducing the waste in already overtaxed landfills. Compost helps your soil to retain water, helps reduce erosion, provides all the "plant food" your plants could ever want, and enhances plants' ability to resist problems with insects and diseases.

3. What do you need to get started with basic composting? Do you need a special container? 

You only need kitchen scraps and some newspaper (or other dry material). We keep an old coffee container with a lid on the counter to put our scraps in. I also use an old yogurt container with a lid for meat, fat, and dairy scraps for our underground composter. Special containers are not needed.

There are many "styles" of composting from the basic heap in the backyard to fancy expensive bins. With a worm compost bin, the apartment dweller can compost as easily as the farmer. The most popular style is a basic cage built from chicken wire or scrap wood to "contain" the heap. Your compost pile should be located where the most "waste" is generated and where it will be most used. I have mine by my vegetable garden beds.



Yard waste and kitchen scraps in a bin constructed from free scrap wood pallets


4. What can be composted?

Basically anything organic. Materials are divided into two categories: green material—consisting of your kitchen scraps, fruit and vegetable trimmings, and freshly cut plants, herbicide/pesticide free grass clippings; and brown material—this is your egg shells, coffee grinds (and paper filters), dried leaves and plants, straw, paper torn into strips or hand sized pieces (I dump my paper shredder in the compost), and pizza boxes torn up. If you have access to it, manure from horses, cattle, birds, and rabbits all make good additions to the pile. My girls love to take any worms they find to their "new home" in the compost bin.

5. What cannot be composted? 

I don't recommend composting meat or dairy products, very fatty, sugary or salty foods, manure from omnivorous animals (such as dogs or cats), chips or sawdust or ashes from treated wood, and grass or other clippings treated with herbicides or pesticides. The meats, dairy, fatty/sugary/salty foods, and manures can be composted in an underground composter or "solar" composter, but it isn't recommended that the resulting compost be put on anything consumed by humans as these things can all carry harmful pathogens.

6. How much maintenance does a basic compost require? How often do you need to tend to it?

Layer green and brown vegetable matter and keep it barely moist. It doesn't get simpler than that. Now, some people like to stir the pile regularly and that is great to mix up the materials you've thrown in and even break some things into smaller pieces to help them rot faster, but it is not necessary.

7. Will the compost attract a lot of bugs or rodents? 

You might see some flies if the compost is too wet or you didn't mix in the kitchen scraps when you dumped them, but they don't get too bad, and their maggots are actually beneficial to the breaking down of the materials. If you see lots of ants your heap is too dry so it just needs a good soaking with the hose. As long as you avoid meat, dairy, very fatty and sugary foods, and manure from omnivores you shouldn't ever have rodent issues.

8. Will the compost smell badly?

If you have a good balance of "green" and "brown" materials, the pile should smell earthy like dirt. If you notice your pile starting to smell, add some "brown" material like newspaper. The only time I really notice a smell from my compost is the day or two after adding a few bags of fresh lawn clippings. This provides a ton of nitrogen and can get a little stinky, but it quickly goes away after mixing the pile a little and adding some dry materials. You really want the earthy smell though. If it is too dry, you won't smell anything. If it starts to stink it might be too wet and again adding some brown material should help.

9. How do you know when compost is ready?

Compost is ready when it is dark in color, moist yet crumbly to the touch, and has an earthy smell to it.

10. What can you do with the finished compost?

Compost can be worked into the soil in your vegetable garden, herb bed, in your potting soil, and around trees, bushes and flowers to give them a nutritional boost.



Gardener's gold


Thanks so much, mommyfairyqueen. This interview really took the mystery and the worry out of composting.


+++ What about you? Do you compost or do you think you'll try to start composting soon?


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