The Easiest Way to Make Compost
Don’t stress about making compost, it’s not hard! The easiest way to make compost doesn’t even require you to turn it or do any extra work. All you need is a compost bin, a mixture of brown and green waste, and a little bit of time.
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The easiest way to make compost is by keeping it simple and using what you already have. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different methods and ideas out there that have really over-complicated the process. It also doesn’t help that there are purists who insist on specific ratios of ingredients, additives, temperatures, and “essential” equipment. On the other hand, there are amazing compost instructors who make compost in a simple way but on a scale that many home gardeners aren’t able to replicate.
In my home garden, I create compost in a way that’s easy, small scale, and uses basic equipment and materials. The kinds of things that you’ll have too. Follow my few simple guidelines and you too can reap the rewards of homemade black gold for your own organic garden.
What is Garden compost?
Compost is organic material that has been broken down by microbes, fungi, and other creatures into a rich brown material. When I say organic, I mean that it’s of plant or animal origin, not necessarily certified ‘Organic’. Non-gardeners would look at it and say that it’s dirt, but it’s so much more than that. Compost is soil-food. It’s filled with everything that soil organisms need to live and they in turn help nourish plants. Compost is also direct food for plants and crops like pumpkins will practically suck it up. By creating and using it in your garden you’ll create a nutritious medium to grow fresh organic produce.
Bagged Compost has its Downsides
Many beginner gardeners could be forgiven for thinking that compost only comes in bags. Compost is a huge industry and mountains of it guard the entrances and back lots of many a neighborhood garden center. The compost inside is invaluable to urban gardeners but also for seed sowing. It’s sterile, contains no weed seeds, and is generally safe to use.
However, it can be expensive and most industrial compost is made up of peat. Peat is plant material that degraded into the ground hundreds and thousands of years ago and harvesting and using it is destructive to the environment. There is also the threat of lurking neonicotinoid pesticides. This year I purchased some bagged compost and it poisoned my tomato plants. It’s really destroyed my trust in bagged compost. It’s far better for the environment and safe for your garden to make your own.
Make Garden Compost Using the Cold Method
If you pile up a lot of moist plant-based material then it forms the right environment for microbes to start breaking it down quickly. This generates a lot of heat and can make compost very quickly. We’re talking at least 4×4′ of material here and it needs a decent amount of nitrogen-rich material too. It could be a compost pile or a pile of not-fully dried hay in someone’s barn. You’ll occasionally hear of the latter actually catching fire and burning said barn down.
The easiest way to make compost doesn’t use this method. It instead uses the cold method. There are different microbes at work and it takes longer but the end result is almost the same. The main difference is that hot composting kills weed seeds and pathogens. Cold method compost can sprout volunteer tomato plants and may not be suitable for seed sowing in modules.
The Easiest Way to Make Compost
If you have lawn clippings, eat fruit and vegetables, and have cardboard in the house you can make compost. Begin with a standard-sized composting bin, or an ordinary rubbish bin (garbage can) with the bottom cut off. Place it in an area that’s out of direct sun and preferably sat on the soil. If there are trees or shrubs nearby they will grow into the bin so in that case, put a board under the bin. Next, fill the bin. It can be done all at once or over a long period. In my case, I add a little every few days.
Layer brown waste and green waste in the bin (more on that below). Make sure that it’s a good mix of stuff and not a big layer of any particular material. If you stuff your bin with grass clippings it will begin to rot down, get soggy, and suffocate anything that might be living inside it. It basically becomes a putrid mess. For good compost to form, the bin needs:
- Brown (carbon-rich) waste and Green (nitrogen-rich) waste
- Air / Oxygen
- Watch the video below to see exactly how I make my compost.
Greens & Browns
Garden compost needs materials rich in carbon and nitrogen to form. Carbon-rich materials are called your ‘Browns’ and nitrogen-rich materials are your ‘Greens’. There’s a lot of discussion on what the correct ratio is for each to make compost. In my experience, you don’t need to think about it too much. If you look inside your bin and see brown waste, add a layer of green next, and vice versa. The more kinds of materials the better! That good mix will create air pockets, moisture, and the right environment for microbes and organisms to eat their way through the waste and create compost.
Green Waste includes
- Grass clippings
- Green leaves
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Manure from herbivore animals (rabbits, cows, horse, chickens)
Brown Waste includes
- Sticks and twigs
- Cardboard and paper
- Wood chips
- Autumn leaves
The Don’ts of Making compost
So far I’ve given you the dos of the easiest way to make compost. Now for some things you shouldn’t do or add. These are very simple but important points that will make or break your compost-making adventure.
- Don’t let your compost get too dry or too wet. It should be moist but not dripping.
- Don’t add clods of dirt or turf. Stack these up on their own under a tarp to break down into top soil.
- Avoid adding toxic things to your pile. No cat litter, human or carnivore poo, chemicals, toilet paper, feminine hygiene items, etc.
- No cooked food or meat unless you want your bin to become a rat hotel.
- Don’t add diseased plant material
Turning the compost pile
It will take between 9-12 months for your waste pile of greens and browns to become compost. It mainly depends on how warm it is outside, and if it’s the right moisture level inside. Most compost bins have a latch at the bottom that you can use to have a peek at its progress. If you open it up and see lots of lovely brown crumbly material, it’s time to turn the compost pile.
I show how I turn mine in this video and it’s really quite simple. Lift the bin off of the pile. The top of the pile will likely have a lot of material that hasn’t broken down yet. Take it off and set it aside. The gorgeous brown compost below will be a little compacted so use a fork to turn it and give it some air. You can use the compost immediately but it will be even better if you let it sit for a few weeks. This gives time for new insects and worms to break it down a little more.
How to Use Compost in the Garden
Compost is best used as a mulch. Spread it several inches deep over the soil to keep down weeds and nourish the soil. You do not need to dig it in either since worms will be attracted to it and bring it down into the earth naturally. That’s basically how lasagne gardening works to create beautiful soil for growing vegetables in. When it comes time to plant, you can sow seeds or plant seedlings directly into the compost. You can also use your homemade compost to fill raised beds and planters, and to pot up young plants. It really is an invaluable asset to your organic garden.
If you found this piece useful, have a browse of the other gardening tips here on Lovely Greens. There are a few ideas just below, and plenty on my YouTube channel too. Make sure to subscribe while you’re over there.
I’m new to composting and read so much that it can be like falling down the rabbit hole, this article is so uncomplicated!! I bought a composting bag and have been layering, all was going well until I’ve went a bit heavy with fruit and I’ve ended up with fruit flies. Loads would come out as soon as I opened it..To combat this I’ve layered with leaves, I’m too scared to open it, it has been nearly 4 weeks, must be 2mths since I’ve started using the bag it is full and it’s not been turned.. I’ve taped the flap at the bottom as seen some flies come out the other day.. I’m hoping will the flies die off in winter, is there anything else I can do? Help is greatly appreciated I have some in the house too!
Open it up Kerry, and make sure that insects, invertebrates, and worms can get inside. They’re important in the composting process and will help speed things up. Flies and other insects are part of nature and recycling waste :)
I started a pile 22+ years ago using this method. I now have upwards of a couple of yards. I just piled weeds, leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. (no grass clipping, I let return to the lawn). Don’t turn it, rely on rain for moisture, don’t worry about the ratio, do add the occasional soil clod (for the microbes). Great compost.
Okay, so I just haven’t gotten to doing an actual compost bin. I’ve only just dug a hole in an empty spot in the garden and dump eggshells, tea leaves, and veggie scraps in it, cover it up and on to the next spot. Whenever I plant something, I dig the hole a bit deeper than it should be and throw whatever scraps I have in the bottom, cover with a bit of dirt and then plant. I don’t generate a whole bunch of stuff because I don’t have a big family. Just as I was getting the soil nice and loamy in my last yard, we moved . . . starting it all again!
Hi, this was great article! I have started a compost in a plastic bin, right now I turn it with a shovel but it’s not easy. I would like to get one of the bins you have. Where can I purchase one? I live in central Texas.
Please, help with any comments or suggestions. I’m sure I’m missing something in the compost.
I’m sure you can find them for sale on Amazon ( https://amzn.to/2XLcfpr ) if you can’t find them locally.
Get three same sized pallets, line them weed fabric, and join them with screws or scraps of wood. Using anything except, cooked food, grease, e.t.c. start your pile, stir about once a week in spring or summer, once a month when it’s cool. Wet it each time you turn it. If you can get some chicken litter, rabbit droppings, cow or horse manure to add to it, it’ll ramp it up. It’ll take a little while but we’ll worth it.
Where are you located? I want to become a competent gardener. WE lived in Phoenix, AZ and retired in Western NC. It is so beautiful here. and with sufficient rain we can have compost
Isle of Man