There are many ways to make compost but this is the easiest way. All you need is a bin, a mixture of brown and green waste, and a little bit of time.
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.
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 generally safe to use.
However, most industrial compost is made up of peat, an unsustainable material dug up from the ground, and there is also the threat of lurking neonicotinoid pesticides. This year I purchased some bagged compost and through 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.
Making 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 of 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 do’s 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 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
Compost is best used as a mulch. Spread it several inches deep over soil to keep down weeds and nourish the soil. Worms will be attracted to it and bring it down into the earth naturally. When it comes time to planting, you can sow seeds or plant seedlings directly into the compost. You can also use your homemade compost to fill raised beds, 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.