Easy Ways to Compost at Home

By Mike Lieberman   |  12Comments|

When most people think of compost, they think of a huge heap of rotting food, dirt, flies and an accompanying horrible smell, which is why they won’t even think of composting in their homes or apartments.

Well, that is not totally true. Yes, compost is made of rotting food and dirt, but if it’s maintained properly, the flies and dirt can be kept under control, and the end result will be a resource that can help to feed and strengthen your plants and home garden.

And, by using your food scraps, you’ll also be diverting them from the landfill. One of the misconceptions about food in landfills is that it will properly decompose. However, as this waste breaks down, it winds up producing harmful CO2 and methane gases.

According to the New York City Compost Project, “The average New York City household discards two pounds of organic waste each day—adding up to more than one million tons of organic material a year.” So why toss away these things that you already have on hand that can help your home garden to thrive?

There are two ways that you can start to compost at home. One is aerobic composting, which is the kind of composting that most people think of when composting is mentioned. It’s pretty much the pile of food scraps and dirt. The reason that it’s called aerobic is because it needs oxygen to help break it down, so it must be turned so that air can circulate throughout it.

Indoor worm composting is another method. This one people tend to get squeamish about. Red wigglers are the most common worms used for this process. At a high level, the worms help to aerate the soil, breakdown the food, and their castings are great for your plants.

Here is more information on the different methods, so you can start yours at home today.

Aerobic Composting:

Find a Location For Your Compost
You can put your compost bin next to your regular garbage can, under your sink or in the corner of your kitchen. Where you put it is up to you. Location will determine the size of your compost bin.

What to Compost
Compost is made up of two parts—browns and greens. The easiest way to think of it is that browns are the dry items and greens are the wet ones. You’ll want a balance of the two. If anything, you’ll want more browns than greens.

Here is a simple, but not comprehensive list of things you can compost and likely have available:

· Fall leaves
· Shredded black and white newspaper
· Shredded cardboard packaging
· Old soil
· Stale spices

· Leftover fruit and vegetable scraps such as kale stems, celery leaves and bottoms, apple cores, banana peels
· Coffee grinds
· Tea bags minus the string and staples

The Compost Bin:Your options here are to buy one that suits your needs or to make one yourself. To make a compost bin with a 10-gallon metal garbage can, you’ll need the following:

· Drill with 1/4? bit

· 10 gallon metal garbage can
· Black and white newspaper
· Rubber mat
· Organic potting mix
· Composted organic manure
· Something to prop the can about 1-2″ off the ground to let air circulate. I used old furniture legs.
· Food scraps

· Drill holes in the bottom of the garbage can. This allows for aeration and helps the compost do its thing.
· Shred the newspapers.
· Set up mat and rest garbage can on the furniture legs.
· Put in first layer of newspapers and some of the potting mix.
· Added a layer of the food scraps.
· Sprinkle some of the composted manure.
· Cover with layer of newspaper and potting mix.
· Food layer, then another layer of newspaper and soil.
· Close up and done.

One or two times a week, you’ll have to turn the compost pile to get the air circulating and speed up the decomposition. It will take about 2-3 months for the pile to decompose and become usable compost. While you are waiting, just set it off to the side.

When you throw full pieces of food into your compost pile, it takes longer to break down and decompose. By putting your scraps in the food processor or blender first, you will help to speed up the decomposition process. Only do this with items that are soft and easily blended down.

When starting your compost bin, it’s easy to add too many food scraps. This is something that you definitely want to avoid. If you add too many greens, the compost will become too wet and produce a horrific odor. You need to maintain a balance of the browns and greens. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want any one thing in your compost to comprise more than 10% of the total.

Composting With Worms
Composting with worms is something that I was hesitant to start in my apartment for reasons that I’m sure some of you share as well. Eventually I broke down and started to experiment with them.

Much like with the aerobic composting bins, you can either buy or make your own worm composting bin. I haven’t had much success with making my own worm composting bin, so I’ve been using a store-bought Worm Factory 360. It’s been working out much better for me and the worms are thriving. The bin is tucked away in the corner of the kitchen and people don’t even notice it.

By worm composting you can get rid of more food scraps, because a pound of worms can go through three times their weight or more in a week. They also produce compost much faster than the aerobic method.

Regardless of the method you choose, it can be scaled up or down to suit your home and comfort levels. Both methods will help keep food from ending up in a landfill and help your garden to thrive. Now that you’re equipped with the basics of composting at home, when are you going to get started.

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12 responses to Easy Ways to Compost at Home
  1. Elle said on June 7, 2010

    Great info! I live in Austin, TX and have found that the farmer’s market has a bin for collecting compost. Since I live in an apartment, I just collect my food scraps in a recycled kitty litter container, and dump it there each week. They use it to make compost for the farmers. I have also noticed ads for a new company called Green Bucket Composting that will provide you with a container and pick it up each week for $182/year.

  2. What a great intro to composting! I wish I had read this a year ago! I started composting in the fall using The Green Machine Composter, which my city subsidizes. It only cost me $40 and seems to be doing the trick. I haven’t gotten any usable compost from it yet, but I think it’s because the pile wasn’t moist enough.

  3. AWESOME article, Mike!!

  4. Don’t be squeamish about the worms — they make ideal low-maintenance pets :) I’ve had mine for a few months now and am looking to expand, just need to find the best method. We look forward to using the vermicompost to enhance our garden soil!

  5. @Elle Certain neighborhoods in LA have green bins for their compost scraps. In NYC there is a stand at the Farmers Market where people can drop off their scraps. It would be great if more cities did citywide pickups.

    @Andrea Thanks. I think most cities have a programs that subsidizes compost bins, but not sure on the quality of the bins. It’s still a great program though.

    @Courtney Thanks girl.

    @Melissa I’ve finally got the worm composting down. The bin that had made wasn’t working well, but the bin that I bought (Worm Factory 360) is doing great and the worms are thriving.

  6. Mia said on June 10, 2010

    Hi Mike! Thanks so much for this helpful info. I actually put off juicing bc I was feeling so guilty about all of the compost I was tossing. I know, I know.. I’m jumping back into it full throttle thanks to you.. :)

  7. Hi Mike. I have a small indoor composter (by Nature Mill) and I produce compost year round, even in the winter. You can put it inside a kitchen cabinet or outdoors. It keeps it warm and tumbling. It’s great.

  8. If you do worm composting can you put it outside? Will the worms survive in the cold?

  9. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the great tips. I have recently moved to a new home in the Pacific Northwest and do not have a spot outdoors for a compost. Is it possible to put one in my garage? I was thinking a NatureMill for household waste and a large bin or can as you suggested for garden waste. Any tips for this?

  10. Those are really great tips. it’s always nice to learn something new and useful. In my opinion the key to successful composting at home is putting the right materials in your composting bin. Your compost bin is like anything else with living materials in that it needs moisture, food and it needs to be warm. These are the things to remember when you are taking care of your compost bin. It is easy and fun to do composting at home with your family.

  11. Thanks, I was just planning to start my own garden and wanted to compost but didn’t think I would be allowed in my community. Lots of wild animals. I have a fantastic picture of a bobcat in my back yard. So glad I can do this inside. I think the worms would be my best bet. Brings back memories of my sister and I catching night crawlers to sell to fishermen. :)
    Marlene A Hibbard

  12. Hooray for composting! As all early backyard food growers learn quickly is yard and food waste become your friend! There is another method that allows you to ferment your food scraps-ALL OF THEM-meat, dairy, fish…without the odor! The best part is after fermentation, you get to give your garden soil some major love/nutrients and increase the beneficial micro-organism population. It’s called Bokashi Composting, simply add Bokashi to the food scraps every time (about a handful), ferment, bury, and GROW! From scraps to black gold in one month. Plants grow healthier with 2-3x the yield, more resistant to pests, and your neighbors wont think you’re starting a commune from the smell of a compost pile gone bad. Bokashi can be added to any compost pile to accelerate the breakdown…It’s fantastic! Love you dearly Kris Carr XOXOX Check out my website if you like at “Made with Love in Tempe, AZ”