How To Compost at Home For Beginners

Plastic composter in a garden - filled with decaying organic mat

When you are starting life on the homestead, you quickly learn that common food and yard scraps that most people throw away can be very beneficial.

That is certainly true with composting. If you don’t know how to compost, it’s not difficult and we can guarantee it will be well worth your time and energy.

What are the benefits?

First, you are reducing waste. Estimates say that common food and yard waste make up anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of what people throw away. That means we’re using energy and fuel to transport this waste to a landfill, potentially releasing methane gas. When we don’t have to.

But it will also help your homestead. Applying compost to your soil will make your vegetables and trees very happy and help them grow. It is free fertilizer. Now, you can purchase compost from any big box retailer or nursery, but this is free. And when you have a large garden, it certainly adds up.

If you’re sold on composting but don’t know where to begin, read on.

1. Choose the right location

The location won’t necessarily make or break your compost, but there a couple points to consider to make this easier for you. One, choose a location relatively close to the house. We don’t mean one step from the back door, but when you will be taking regular trips from the house to the compost, I like to make life easier on myself.

The amount of sun won’t necessarily help or hurt your compost, but sun increases the temperature and can cause your pile to dry out. You can remedy that by watering more frequently, but it’d be easier to just choose a different location. We recommend partial shade.

2. Know what goes in a compost

As we have said, most food scraps and yard waste can go in your compost. The eligible items are generally broken down into brown material and green material. And you can probably guess what that includes.

The most common “browns” include dead leaves, pine needles, straw, hay, twigs or bark, sawdust, wood chips and pine cones. With the browns, make sure you chop them up as they tend to break down pretty slowly.

The most common “greens” include grass clippings, fresh leaves, fruits and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, melon rinds and even Christmas greenery.

Your post can be layered, one-row green, one-row brown, or mixed, where the browns and the greens are mixed together. And we recommend an equal amount of browns and greens.

3. It’s easy to build

You can purchase a pre-made compost bin from a big-box retailer or Amazon. This will be the quickest and easiest way to begin.

But if you want to save money, this is something you can do yourself in little time. You generally want a wood frame and wood or wire sides. If you’re looking for free materials, four pallets and some type of twine or wire will do the trick.

4. Maintaining your compost

Use a shovel or pitchfork to regularly turn your compost and mix the layers. A way that people ensure they’ve reached the entire pile is to move it into a new bin. You should turn your compost about once a month. Some do it more frequently, some less. But that is a good average number.

You also need to make sure the compost is kept moist, especially in the dry summer months. We recommended a shadier area so you don’t have to water as much, but you will still need to water in most climates.

5. Using your compost

Now that you’ve put this work into your compost, it’s time to make it work for you. If you have kept a regular schedule of turning the compost, your compost will probably be ready in three or four months depending on your climate and the time of year.

Once your compost is ready, you can now add it to the soil of your vegetable gardens, trees or other plants and shrubbery. Just how much compost you should add will depend on your soil, but we generally recommend adding about one to two inches to the soil.

If you follow these easy and practical steps, you will be composting in no time. And you will be happy you did.

If you want even more in-depth prepping and homesteading information then please check out my best selling 176-page book “How To Survive The End Of The World As We Know It – Gear, Skills, and Related Know-How. It’s available in paperback and well as Amazon Kindle.

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  1. I’ve used compost for many years. I tend to avoid sticks/branches because they break down so slowly. A few years ago I moved my compost pile to a new location, where I had my old one, I planted a bush that has grown super-fast. I can only attribute that to the rich soil under where the compost pile lay. Good article M.D.

  2. MD. Great article! Love composting-here in Arizona soil is not as good up front. It can be made good with some work and by composting! We deal with rocks and compost almost all organic waste, because we have chickens we allow them to feed on and around the compost which actually makes the compost better!

    Love this !

  3. I love composting! I have a huge compost pile back by the garden and a smaller one by the house. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Nice article.

    I’ve been adding to the same compost pile for a couple of years and rarely think about turning it. My bin will get full, then a week later shrink back to about half full. It gets loads of stuff (even some items people say you shouldn’t compost). Every now and then, I get free plants from it – avocados and tomatoes so far.

    I keep a small counter-top compost bin in my kitchen, then dump it when it’s full. I also use a bowl when I’m processing tomatoes for sauce (or anything else from the garden) that gets dumped as I clean up, rather than filling up the counter-top compost bin.

    Sometimes, I dump my mini compost bin into the bottom of a flower pot. Another idea is to bury fresh kitchen scraps at the base of a bush or tree – something my mom would do.

  5. I found a roll type composting bin at a yard sale a number of years ago. When we moved to the country we mounted it between sturdy logs so I could turn it more easily. It produces beautiful soil and compost tea even after all these years.

  6. This is not how I compost. I’m not saying that this approach is wrong, but in Southern California… we do it a bit differently. I went to Wal-Mart and got a 4 dollar Rubbermaid bin. I took my trusty box cutter and put a bunch of holes in the top, sides and bottom. I have a wood chipper I got from Harbor freight. If I run one branch though that, I have half of my brown material. Then I cut the lawn. That fills the rest of the bin up with green material. My bin sets out in direct sunlight. I turn it with one of three tined gardening forks once a week for 4 weeks. Then I dump it into a black plastic bag and let it sit in direct sunlight (we get a lot of that here) for about 3 or 4 months.

    Honestly, start to finish it takes a total of about 30 minutes of work for a 4 to 6 month batch of compost. Oh, when you dump the bin into a bag and leave it, you just start over. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

  7. I’ve used compost for years. When I retired and cleared a new garden patch, I built a 3 bin compost system. I flip one bin to the next and keep the 3rd for finished compost. When I plant seedlings for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, I use my post hole digger and pop a hole about 6 – 8 inches deep. Fill it with finished compost and plant the seedling. They almost crawl out of the ground the material is so rich in nutrients.
    My compost is a combination of brown and green materials. In addition, I put in egg shells and of course, chicken feces. You have to allow the chicken poop compost over the year, keep the pile moist and try to turn regularly. But boy oh boy does it grow.
    And that’s how we do it in the Upstate of South Carolina.

  8. We have composted for years and add it to the garden. We use grass clippings,horse manure, kitchen scraps,pine shavings and trimmings from the veggie garden. Our soil has clay in it and this has helped to break up the soil as well as add nutrition . We add egg shells for calcium as well.
    Don’t toss in potato skins , tomatoes or things with seeds or you will have ” volunteer” veggies all over your garden.
    Happy gardening.

  9. I tried composting, a few year’s back but stopped after a while but the area I used now I grow potato’s in it. We have a food recycling truck, that picks up the yard waste $8.00 a month, it’s easier for me to do it that way my yard is just to small for composting. But I do like the pallet idea I will use that at my other property, plus it will make it look a tad neater, then a sprawling mound of grass.

  10. We put our compost pile (cp) at the top of the garden which was on a slight slope and keep our tomatoes in the rows closest to the cp. When the last crop was harvested the cp was spread out over the garden along with what remains from making the apple trees and a layer of leaves until spring. In the spring the pile was pulled back into a pile and the process was started over again. Since you never want to place dog dropping anywhere near a food source dad had me use a post hole digger to dig out a hole to put the waste into the ground. The dirt from the holes was placed onto the cp bringing up minerals that were depleted over the years.