Composting Basics

basic composting tips
Composting is simple enough that almost any household can do it. Use these basic composting tips to get started.

Composting is one of those simple solutions that just about every homeowner in America can implement. Take those kitchen scraps and yard trimmings and turn them into a useful soil additive.

Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

If for no other reason, the landfill space saved would make composting worthwhile. But add to this fact that composted material closes the loop on the food production cycle and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. On top of all that, composted material used in gardens or on farms improves soil structure and helps restore or replace worn out or contaminated soils.

Composting is also a great way to teach children about growing cycles and get them to learn about stewardship and recycling on the most basic level.

Composting Basics:

  • First you need a bin. These can be simple structures you build, or high-tech, single purpose containers.
  • Place kitchen or yard waste in the bin. For faster composting, shred or chop material.
  • Spread soil over pile. This layer contains the microorganisms that get the compost going.
  • Add water. The pile should always be moist, but not soggy. If it is too moist, add dry material such as straw or dried leaves and grass.
  • Allow the pile to bake or heat up for about a week.
  • If you want to speed process up, stir it. If this is too much trouble, then just leave it alone and the process will continue at a slower pace.
  • In four to five weeks, if you haven’t added more material, compost is done. It should be dark and crumbly and a bit damp. It will not smell bad.
  • Use the compost in flower beds, potted plants or even your grass.

Special Composting Tip: If you ever find you pile stinking it’s usually because it’s too wet, not aerated (stirred) or too much green material (i.e., big layers of green grass). This can almost be solved by mixing pile and adding dry material or soil.

The Cornell University has an excellent composting web site that has all the information you could ever want, from commercial enterprises to indoor bin composting.

If you’re ready to take the next step in composting be sure to read our follow-up post Composting Dos and Dont’s.

About Peter Dopulos

Peter Dopulos is an avid cyclist and the author of Where to Bike Orange County. He is also the co-host of the Long Beach radio talkshow Swoop's World and a co-founder of

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