Composting 101

Composting is very easy and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. It’s organic. It’s free. It’s natural. Compost is created when microorganisms break down natural materials and turn them into a soil-like material.

Rich, organic compost is a great treat for plants and beneficial for the environment. By starting your own compost, you’ll be saving waste from going to the landfill and practicing water conservation. According to Denver, Co Water, 100 lbs of average soil mixed with one pound of compost will hold an additional 4 gallons of water. If you’re worried about keeping your plants watered then definitely consider composting. You’ll also be substituting the use of commercial fertilizers which are notorious for robbing the soil of its natural nutrients, and killing insects and bacteria that are vital for healthy plant growth.

What to Compost

A really nice compost pile has a good brown to green ratio (3:1). Bellow is a list of what classifies brown material and green material.


*DISCLAIMER*: If you’re composting your paper towels, make sure they have not been in contact with chemicals!

Brown material consists of carbon and takes longer to decompose. Green material consists of nitrogen and decomposes faster. That’s why you want to have more brown than green- to prevent your pile from turning into a woody, mushy mess.

There are two different types of composting: cold and hot. Cold composting is when you throw different organic materials into a bin of some sort and let nature do the rest. This type of compost takes much longer but doesn’t require much attention. Cold composting is typically for people who are composting indoors.

Hot composting is typically practiced by more serious gardeners. Hot composting consists of layering moist and dry material. This allows for better aeration and only takes a couple months depending upon how big your pile is. Hot composting also takes advantage of the amount of brown to green materials there are in the pile and requires turning every so often. Hot composting is typically for people who are composting outdoors.


I chose the cold method my first year composting and still ended up with beautiful compost. Decide which way will work best for you. If you’re not that serious about gardening but want to start composting, consider the cold method.

Methods for Composting 

I hear a lot of people say “I don’t have land so I can’t compost” or “I don’t have a garden so I don’t see why I should”. Trust me, anyone can and anyone should. Compost doesn’t need to be just for plants. Remember that it’s also a form of recycling.

Where and how you live will determine the best method of composting.

  1. Compost from Compost Sites

If you’re needing more compost or are starting out and would like some compost now, you can pick up fresh compost from a compost site for free or you can purchase it from a local garden store. Some compost sites may charge- be sure to call ahead to find out.

2. “No-turn” method

Apartment dwellers will benefit from this one the most. The “no-turn” method is what it is. Food scraps go in the top and fresh compost comes out the bottom later. No turning required. You can find small ones for counter-tops at a reasonable price.

Trash cans can also be used as a compost bin if you have the space. You can turn the pile if you wish. But remember, trash cans are vertical so this may make turning a bit complicated especially when your bin reaches full capacity. If you use a trash can, be sure to drill some holes in it and put a lid on it.



3.  Compost Turners

If you do not plan on having a large compost pile, a compost turner may be the one for you. Compost turners are very popular among city folk. They help conceal the pile and also give people the opportunity to turn the pile without exposing it to the air for others to smell. This is good for those that live very close together and don’t want to stink up the air with manure. The cons to using compost turners? They are pricey. A decent one will start around $150 and sky rocket all the way to $500 or more. You can find some for less than $100 but they will be small. Think about building your own if you take this route.


4. From-the-Ground-Up Method

This method is great for two reasons. One, you can have a really big pile. Two, the nutrients will seep into the ground. This is a great method if you have a large amount of yard waste and plant directly into the ground.


An awesome benefit to having a compost pile on the ground is that you can rotate it. The nutrients from the decomposed material will leach into the ground helping to fertilize the soil beneath the pile. This is similar to crop rotation.


Tips to Consider

  • Not everything can be composted (meat, dairy, etc). If you’re not sure, do your research before adding it in your pile
  • Food scraps smelling bad? Add some soil to cover it up. Should help the problem.
  • Always have a way to keep your compost covered. This is for both indoor and outdoor composts (outdoor compost covers will usually be needed to increase temperature and to protect from any excess moisture).
  • Make sure the compost is completely decomposed before adding it to your garden/lawn


Good luck with your composting!


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