composting how to

Composting 101: An Easy Composting How To Guide

The Outdoor Apothecary is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

composting how to

Making And Using Compost

Making homemade compost is easy with this composting how to guide. Learn how to make, use and care for effective compost that will boost plant growth in your garden, while helping you be more sustainable!

Making and using compost is one of the best things you can do for your home garden. It’s also good for the planet since it keeps usable material out of the landfill and it improves the soil structure.

Compost is the nutrient-rich material left behind after organic matter decomposes. It will feed the soil, promote good drainage and air circulation, prevent soil compaction and erosion, and it will attract earthworms to your garden.

Compost is a gardener’s best friend and it’s easy to make at home. This composting how to guide will answer several questions about making and using compost.

Where To Put Compost Bin

You don’t need any fancy bin or container to make compost. A pile on the ground in the backyard will suffice. A dedicated space or container for placing food and yard waste that is out of the way is ideal.

This can be a bucket with a lid under the kitchen sink or a 3-bay bin outside for holding raw organic material in different stages of decomposition. It doesn’t matter how big or how small, just get started recycling food waste on some level.

Put the receptacle in a convenient location so you will be more inclined to use it.

composting how to

What To Put In The Compost Bin?

Most organic material is suitable for putting in the compost bin.

  • Kitchen scraps like vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and leftover food items.
  • Yard waste like grass clippings, leaves, small twigs, and dead garden plants. The yard waste should be free of chemicals, pests, and diseases.
  • Shredded newspaper and cardboard are also good. Use black and white printed paper only and tear the cardboard into small bits.

What Not To Put Into The Compost Bin

  • Do not add dairy products. They will sour and create a foul odor.
  • Do not add meat scraps. They will attract animals and also create a foul odor.
  • Do not add used kitty litter or any kind of pet excrement. Farm animal manure is great for adding to the compost pile or composting by itself.

Animal-Based Compost

Excrement from animals, except dogs and cats, can be used to create animal-based compost. Chickens, cows, horses, rabbits, and earthworms leave behind nutrient-rich, organic droppings that will promote healthy soil after it’s composted.

Animal manure can be added to a compost pile that contains other organic materials or you can create a separate pile just for animal waste.

A pile of animal manure does not have to be turned as typical compost does. Just pile up the manure and leave it be for 4-6 months. It will become dry, crumbly, and odor-free so it’s easy to incorporate into garden soil.

composting how to

How To Build A Compost Pile

When the organic material is piled correctly the center will become hot. The heat will ‘cook’ the organic material and kill any weed seeds, and pest eggs, and the heat will repel all pests that attempt to get into the pile.

Create layers of brown and green organic material to promote faster decomposition. Begin and end a new pile with a layer of brown material. The green organic material will go in between the brown layers.

The ‘brown’ material is things like dead leaves, small twigs, shredded paper, dead plants, and animal manure. Brown material supplies carbon to the pile.

The green material is things like kitchen waste and fresh grass clippings and they supply nitrogen to the pile.

Oxygen is needed to promote the fast decomposition of the material by bacteria. Oxygen is increased in the pile by adding some large pieces of organic material and by turning the pile regularly.

Moisture is the last ingredient needed for the pile. Keep the compost as moist as a wrung-out sponge so the bacteria will multiply and actively break down the materials. If you have a prolonged period of rain and the pile becomes overly wet, add some brown material and turn the pile. The brown material will absorb excess moisture and turning the pile will increase the airflow. A wet, soggy pile or organic material will stop decomposing and start stinking.

The pile can be created over a 10-day period. The goal is to have everything decompose at the same rate so stop adding new material on the tenth day. If you continually add more waste it will decompose at different rates and cause odor and pest problems.

Turning The Compost

The compost pile must be turned regularly so that materials at the edges are brought to the center of the pile. This will increase the oxygen in the pile and speed up the decomposition process.

Wait for 2-weeks before turning a newly built compost pile for the first time. This will allow the center of the pile to heat up and begin decomposing.

Turn the pile once a week after that, working the outside into the center. It will take about 3-months for the compost to be ready for garden use.

After turning, cover the top of the pile with new brown organic material to prevent pests and odors. Save used potting soil for this task so the top of the compost and the used potting soil will be recycled.

Avoid Pests In The Compost

No one wants a stinking pile of organic waste that attracts pests near their home. If a compost pile is built correctly and turned frequently, it will not attract pests or emit an odor.

You can also add an extra layer of pest protection by placing wire mesh or hardware cloth on the ground under it. This will prevent burrowing rodents from chewing through the bottom of a plastic or wood bin.

composting how to

Common Problems And Solutions

There are relatively few things that can go wrong with a compost pile but just in case you encounter one, here’s the solution –

  • If the organic material is taking too long to decompose, you didn’t layer it correctly. Dumping everything into a pile without layering will eventually result in compost but it will be a long, slow process. The pile will also produce an odor and attract flies.
  • Adding too much grass at once will smother the pile and stop the decomposing process. Stack the cut grass nearby and use a little to cover the top after you turn the pile.
  • Don’t cut everything into small pieces. The pile needs oxygen to decompose and small pieces of waste congeal together and block the airflow through the pile. Use both large and small pieces of organic material so pockets will be created in the interior of the pile that will promote good airflow.
  • Use different kitchen, garden, and yard waste items to create your compost pile. By starting with a good variety of items, you’ll get a more diverse group of nutrients and good bacteria in the finished product.


This is a method of composting that uses worms to speed up the decomposition process. The compost pile is made the same way with the layering of green and brown material. Once the pile is made, earthworms are added to the pile.

The earthworms tunnel their way through the pile, eating the organic materials and eliminating nutrient-rich castings. Their tunnels create channels for water and air to flow through freely and their castings are rich in nitrogen.

Earthworms can be purchased from a garden supply center. After the initial purchase and introduction into the compost, they will multiply rapidly and are a major asset to both the compost pile and garden.

Ready To Use

When the majority of the compost has turned blackish-brown and crumbly it’s ready to use. Get the compost ready to use in the garden, flower bed, or lawn by putting it through a sifting process.

Place a piece of chicken wire on top of a wheelbarrow and shovel the compost on top of the chicken wire. Large pieces that are not quite ready will be caught by the chicken wire and the rest will fall through into the wheelbarrow. Recycle the large pieces back onto the next pile of compost you create.

composting how to

How To Use Compost

Now that you’ve made it, it’s time to use it.

  • Apply 4-inches of compost on top of garden soil and turn it under to the depth of 6-inches. Water the garden soil thoroughly and wait for at least 24-hours before planting seeds or seedlings.
  • At planting time, add 1-cup of compost to the bottom of the planting hole.
  • Creating a growing medium for container gardens that is 3/4‘s potting soil and 1/4 compost.
  • Seeds can be started and plants can be grown in compost alone, without soil.
  • Use as mulch around seedlings to help the soil retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
  • Use as mid-season plant food. Place a cup of compost around the plants as a side-dressing of nutrients to keep them well-fed during the growing season.
  • Scatter compost on top of the lawn to feed the lawn and help prevent soil compaction.
  • Make compost tea to feed and hydrate the plants in one step. This nutrient-rich tea is a great way to stretch a small amount of compost and make the garden plants happy.
  • To make compost tea (you can use manure tea the same way) place 1-cup of compost in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Place the bucket in the sun and let sit for 3-days to steep, then use the tea to water plants. This is excellent organic plant food for vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and houseplants.
  • Animal-based compost can be used the same way as compost made from kitchen and yard waste. Incorporate it into the soil before planting to increase fertility and drainage. Use it as mulch and/or side-dressing to prevent weeds and feed the plants.

Benefits Of Compost

Compost provides many benefits to your garden plants, flowers, and lawn. It’s a sustainable product that is eco-friendly, free, and easy to make. If you’ll put in a little time, and effort, and give up a small space, homemade compost will provide these benefits:

  • It will keep all your plants well-fed without polluting the soil or nearby water source with chemicals.
  • Compost will transform poor, infertile soil into good, nutrient-rich soil that is capable of supporting plant life.
  • It will prevent soil compaction and promote good soil drainage. If you have areas within your landscape that are compacted and don’t drain excess rainwater well, the problem can be fixed with the addition of compost.
  • Adding compost to your garden will improve the soil structure and texture. Sandy or clay soil can be turned into loose, crumbly, fertile soil by adding compost.
  • The compost will also help prevent soil erosion caused by wind and heavy rainfall.
  • Dry barren soil will be made fertile and moist so it won’t blow away in high winds. Heavy rainfall won’t wash away the soil because compost promotes good drainage and will allow the excess rainwater to drain away rapidly.
  • Compost promotes a bio-diverse subculture under the soil that will improve vegetation above the soil. Beneficial microorganisms and earthworms will thrive in soil that has been amended with compost. As these organisms work their way around under the soil they leave behind tunnels and air pockets that allow air to circulate. Water drains away quickly through the earthworm tunnels so plant roots won’t drown.
holding a plant in your hands

Compost Is A Good Thing

There’s nothing bad that can be said about compost and the benefits it provides for the garden.

Compost is made from stuff you would otherwise throw away. The odor and pest problems can be stopped before they even start with proper layering and turning.

If you don’t have space outdoors for a compost pile, you can make compost with a countertop bin. No one will ever suspect what the bin is silently doing on or under your kitchen counter.

Compost can be donated to community gardens if you don’t have a home garden. Some areas will even accept the organic scraps at the landfill or other recycling locations and make the compost to give to the community.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s clear that making and using compost is one of the best things you can do for your home garden. It’s also good for the planet since it keeps usable material out of the landfill and it improves the soil structure. Use this composting how to guide to help you get started.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top