The Best Composting Starting Guide

The Best Composting Starting Guide

One of the easiest and cost-effective ways to reduce our biodegradable waste is composting. Not only is it amazing for our gardens, but it is also good for the environment. I started composting a long time ago and, although at first, it was a learning process, now that I have got a system I can just rely on it. Today I will help you do the same with a complete guide on how to compost.

Remember that composting is not a one-day procedure. It will take a few weeks for your compost pile to become an actual ingredient you can add to your soil. But once you have it… It will be amazing! All your hard work will pay off and you will have a perfect compost

What can you add to your compost pile?

Any biodegradable component you add will help your compost and your garden by adding variety.

Things you can add at will

  • Grass clippings
  • Tree leaves
  • Vegetable food scraps (coffee grounds, leftover salad, peels, skins, etc)
  • Black and white newspaper
  • Printer paper
  • Disease-free yard waste
  • Cardboard
  • Vegetarian animal manure (like cows, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, tortoises, hamsters, etc)
  • Wood shavings, sawdust
The Best Composting Starting Guide

Things you can add but must be checked beforehand

  • Non-vegetarian manure (dogs, cats, humans too!). These feces can carry pathogens and your compost will need to get very hot in order to get rid of them. If this is not possible or just does not happen, then you must consider just not adding them. Also, if you are using the compost for food plants, avoid them.
  • Food scraps with some animal products - but without meat, fat, dairy and bones. These are not harmful for your compost but it can attract unwanted pests that are hard to control. Eggshells, bread, noodles can attract raccoons, possums, rats. Eggshells must be washed before putting them in, too.
  • Color newspapers, magazines, and catalogs. Sometimes, colored paper comes with a thin layer of wax over it. This can prevent it from composting well. To help it, you can shred the paper and then add it to the pile.

Things not to add to the composting pile

  • Diseased yard waste. If a plant in your garden dies from a disease and you add it to your compost, you will make the compost a carrier of that disease and then all plants you fertilize with it will get infected.
  • Meat, dairy, bones. Although these are compostable, pest animals will damage your bin to get to them, because they are too enticing. They could also carry unwanted diseases. It is best to just throw them away.

How to start a compost pile?

The easiest way to start your own compost pile is to get some compost and then add new material in. This is called a starter and it is best to save some from your last pile and add it to the new pile. This will revitalize it and help it be ready faster.

If you do not have any previous compost and cannot borrow from a friend, then you should start your pile on bare earth. Put down a layer of straw to help with airflow and drainage.

The Best Composting Starting Guide

When adding composting materials to the pile, add them in layers. Go with dry and then moist layers, alternating them as you go along. Green manure or any other nitrogen source helps activate the pile. 

If you live in a very dry area, water occasionally. If not, rain should be enough to keep it as moist as it needs to be. It should not be sodden, though, so it is best to cover it with whatever you have on hand (like wood, plastic sheltering, carpet scraps). This will also retain heat, essential for the bacteria to grow.

Every time you can, turn the compost around with a pitchfork or a shovel. This will aerate the pile. Air is essential for composting to be successful and it will also accelerate the process.

Do I need to buy a composter?

This depends on where you live and the amount of space you have readily available to keep your compost pile in the ideal conditions. Commercial composters offer some features like rotation, which can make your job easier.

Rather than buying a composter, we recommend you set up two piles in your garden if you have the space. This way you can have a “ready” pile and one that is “new”. You can add all the stuff to the new one until the other is ready. When that one is all used up, you will have the “new” pile ready for the garden.

The Best Composting Starting Guide

We also recommend you set up a small composting bin under the sink, where you can throw away all the food scraps you will include in your composting pile later on. If they are already separated from the rest of the trash, it is easier to add them.

A good compost pile should be 3x3x3 feet.

What about the nitrogen to carbon ratio?

Do not let these technical terms stop you. The reality is that composting is not that hard or scientific. If you have grass clippings, then your ratio will be just fine. If you feel that there is a lot of greenery in your pile, just add some paper in. It is all about balance.

Extra tips

What do you need for your compost to be successful and be ready faster? A higher surface area. This does not mean a larger composting area, but a higher surface area of the material that you add into your composting pile.

This is the key for the fastest turnaround you can achieve, around 6 weeks. Higher surface area means more oxygen pockets throughout the pile that help bacterial growth.

To achieve this you will want to cut up your food scraps, lawn mow your leaves. Just basically cut everything up very finely. But not too much. If you overdo it, it will have the opposite effect.


Without enough oxygen, you will increase the amount of anaerobic bacteria in your compost. This smells like methane - basically, gross - and it will take so much longer to be ready. A healthy compost should not smell and should not be slimy. 

What do you think? Are you going to start your own composting journey? Tell us below!

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