Composting can certainly sound like a mess. Especially when you’re composting for a backyard garden. Is it going to smell? Will you be attracting rodents? How long are you going to be having a pile of trash in your backyard? That’s why you should learn how to compost for beginners.
I totally get it.
Composting gets a bad rap. But it’s so amazing for your garden. Think of all the kitchen scraps you probably throw out every month. Peeled carrots, peeled potatoes, peeled apples, banana peels, coffee grounds… the list goes on. All of that, which you could easily just throw out in your trash, has so much value that you could put to good use. In this article you’ll learn how to compost for beginners.
What is Compost?
Compost is broken down organic material that can be added back into soil to help your plants grow. Compost has nutrients that are beneficial to your garden. When you compost, you create an environment for microbes to break down the organic material into compost. By composting for a backyard garden you complete that necessary circle of life for plants to flourish.
Think of a forest that is always lush and green. No one is going out and watering that forest every day. No one is weeding or tilling it. And yet, it does perfectly fine without any intervention. If you were to step into a forest (not recommended without the proper shoes) you would see the forest floor covered in leaves and branches and twigs that have fallen down from the trees. That material will start to decompose and eventually add rich nutrients back it to the soil where it would then be absorbed by the trees.
Composting for a backyard garden is a way where we can reflect that same method of providing a rich soil for our plants, limiting (and hopefully eliminating) chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In addition to that, composting reduces food waste and lowers you’re your carbon foot print. Oh yea, and it saves you money so that you don’t have to go out and buy bags of compost.
So have I sold you yet on trying out composting for a backyard garden? Its even a great lesson for kids to learn the value of not being wasteful.
How to Compost for Beginners
Composting for a backyard garden is really low maintenance. You’ll just need to decide on the location (either an open pile or tumbler), start adding your green and brown materials, turn the material weekly, and wait a few months for some great compost. I’ll dive deeper into each of those.
When composting for a backyard garden, you have the option of having an open pile which is probably the more cost efficient option if you’re good with a hammer and you know where you can get your hands on some wood pallets. You would just need to create four walls and start piling in your materials.
You can also purchase composter (tumbler), which is what I did. Well, it’s what my dad did (Thank you!)
This is the one I have: Yimby Tumbler Composter
Tumblers are great for backyard gardeners, and they’re definitely what I recommend. Unlike having an open pile, tumblers are a bit neater. They’re lifted off the ground and sealed so they’re pest proof. Rodents won’t be able to get in. And smells won’t be able to get out. And they’re durable. I’ve had mine over a year now, and it’s good as new.
When it comes to materials there are two types you’ll want to mix in your locations. Green material and brown material. And the majority of the materials really are color coordinated that way.
Green materials are rich in nitrogen and heat the compost pile. Brown materials are carbon rich and are the food sources for the microorganisms that will be breaking down the compost pile. When creating your mix you’ll want roughly 1 Part Green Material, 2 Parts Brown Material.
- Dry leaves
- Pine needles
- Chopped tree branches/bark
- Straw or hay
- Sawdust or wood chips (from untreated wood)
- Grass clippings
- fruit and vegetable scraps
- Trimmings from perennial and annual plants
- coffee grounds
- tea bags
- crushed egg shells
You’ll want to leave out the following:
- Meat, poultry, fish products
- Dairy products
- Manure from carnivores
- Oil or fatty food
- Diseased plants
- Garlic (earth worms aren’t a fan)
You can also add a compost starter/maker. This is a blend of pellets that contain microorganisms to help the compost to decompose quickly and with the necessary organisms. If it’s your first time and you’d like a bit of a jump start you can try using Jobe’s Organics Compost Starter. You can also take shovelful of soil from your garden bed and add it to the compost pile to kick start the microbial activity. You can also spray your compost pile with a little bit of water, just enough to add some moisture, without soaking everything.
Compost = Air + Water + 1 Part Green + 2 Parts Brown
If you opted for the open location, this part will be a bit more intensive because you’ll have to use some sort of pitch fork to actually mix the material.
If you purchase a tumbler then turning will be a breeze. Tumblers spin, so you just turn them with your hands without having to actually lift and toss the material and risk getting some of it on you. Plus, if you ever watched Price is Right you’ll definitely get some nostalgic big wheel flash backs 🙂
Either way you go, you’ll want to turn your material 1-2 times a week. This helps to aerate your pile and increase the oxygen, which helps with decomposing the material faster than it would decompose if it just sat there.
Turning also helps with any odor. An odor occurs if there’s too much nitrogen (think green materials) and/or it’s too moist. Adding more brown material and turning the compost will decrease the smell considerably. When I’m out in my garden I don’t smell anything in my composter. I would have to open the composter and stick my head in to smell anything. And even then, I’ve had workouts smellier.
The amount of time will vary when composting for a backyard garden depending on your variables. However, when it’s ready it’ll be easy to tell, because you won’t be able to identify anything you originally added to the compost pile (except maybe eggshells if you added those).
Average time should be around 3 months. If it takes longer you may want to take a look at the variables used. Make sure material pieces you toss into your composters are small. Reassess your green to brown material ratio. Make sure you’re turning your material often enough. And jump start the microbial process by adding some garden soil or Composter Starter.
Do you compost? Comment below.
Happy Composting! 🙂
How to Compost for Beginners
We use a compost bin my husband made out of pallets. It works great but the tumbler has been on my wish list for awhile! I love how quickly it makes compost! Thanks for the tip about the compost starter. I’d like to try that!
Thank you so much, Jen!
I love the idea of gardening. The composting information is wonderful. I didn’t know about the tumbler. I think that would definitely be the way to go.
Thank you, Georgia! It’s definitely worked well for me so far.
Great product and if I had a garden (instead of an apartment balcony) I’d sure look at that type of system.
Thank you, Debrah! You can definitely still have a little herb garden on your apartment balcony. I’d probably skip the compost bin for now 🙂
We have had mixed results composting. I never thought to use a starter, I think we’ll try this. The ratio of green and brown is so important!
When I first started I was only using kitchen scraps instead of using a green to brown ratio. I wasn’t using any browns. Things start to get smelly fast that way. lol
We made a pallet compost bin for cheap cheap! Great guide for composting! It’s so important for organic gardening.
That’s awesome! I love composting. Instead of just throwing away stuff that I use to view as trash, I now get to put it to good use in sustaining my garden. Such a great feeling, and super cheap!