This is Day 65 of the Green in 365 series!
It really is amazing to me that we can take something that we’d usually throw in the trash, pile it up together and give it air, water, sunshine, and time, and it will turn into something full of nutrients to use to fertilize our gardens.
I think a lot of times people are afraid to start a backyard compost because they’re afraid they will mess it up. They think it’s complicated, or scientific, or that you need a special bin and special indoor pail. So they get overwhelmed and just don’t start.
A few years ago a friend and I went to a seminar on composting at our library. I don’t remember all the specifics, but what I do remember is that he said that composting is fairly easy, and that anyone can do it! I took the plunge a year and a half ago, and I can attest, it is easy, at least it has been for us!
If you’re one of those people that has been holding out because you’re afraid it’s going to be too hard, I want to encourage you to just jump in and get started. Try it out, see how it works, and tweak your system as you go. You never know how easy it can be if you don’t try!
And to help you get started, I’ve come up with 5 basic, easy steps that anyone can do to get started with their backyard compost pile.
The Lazy Guide to Setting up Your Backyard Compost
1. Start collecting food scraps.
I started composting by beginning a collection of food scraps in my kitchen. You can use a bowl, a small trash can, a bucket, or whatever else works for you to collect your food scraps. You could use a special indoor compost container, but really, having a fancy-schmancy compost container is definitely not necessary!
Begin collecting food that you used to throw in the garbage, like coffee grounds and filters, egg shells, peels and scraps from produce, basically anything that’s not protein based – you don’t want to put meat or dairy into your pile.
*A note about egg shells: you may want to crush them up into small pieces with your hands before throwing them in the compost, otherwise, I’ve found, they take a really long time to break down!
2. Choose your site or container.
Once you have your food scraps, you’ll be motivated to find a place to put them. You won’t want to just throw them all away after you’ve gone to the trouble of collecting them!
So pick a place in your backyard that is easily accesible, yet still out of the way. It also needs to have access to air, water, and sun, as these help the organic matter to break down into compost.
We use an open pile compost method, with two stalls made from reclaimed wood. You can make your own compost pile or container, or buy one, whatever best fits your family and your budget. Just google compost bins and you’ll come up with lots of ideas.
3. Start your pile.
There is a “perfect” ratio of green and brown matter to add to your compost pile, but honestly, I don’t know what it is. The important thing to remember is that you need both green and brown matter to optimize your compost, and a little more brown than green is better.
Green matter is things like grass clippings and food scraps; brown matter is dry leaves, sticks and shredded newspapers. There is more that falls into each group, obviously, but these are the most basic and easily accessible.
Lots of resources will tell you to layer the green and brown matter, but we just threw ours all in together. This is the “lazy” guide, remember! So, put your green and brown matter together in your pile, and Viola! You’ve just created your very own backyard compost pile!
4. Maintain your pile.
Your pile needs active micro-organisms to break down the organic matter into nutrient-rich compost. Along with maintaining a good balance of brown and green material, your pile also needs oxygen and water. Depending on the type of pile or container you have, you’ll need to turn your pile with a pitch fork, or rotate the container, every few days to help mix the matter together and add oxygen to the pile.
Also, depending on the weather, you may need to water your compost pile. If it’s a very dry season, and your compost is getting dried out, add some water to the pile before you mix it together. If it’s rained recently, or hasn’t been too hot and dry, you probably don’t need to water your pile, just keep an eye on it.
5. Let it work!
Once you’ve built a good-sized pile, you’ll want to leave it (still turning it every few days, and watering as needed) and let it do it’s thing! You should notice as you turn it that the material is breaking down into a nice, dark soil. Within a couple months, you should have beautiful, rich compost to use in your garden!
Once you’ve built your pile up, you’ll want to start a new pile to add your green and brown matter. If you keep adding new material to the same pile, it won’t be able to work and break down into compost correctly. We have a two stall compost pile for this purpose. Once we fill one side, we let it sit, and start filling up the other side.
Once your matter is all decomposed and has turned into dark, rich soil it’s ready to be added to your garden! Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Be sure to come back tomorrow as I’ll be answering some FAQ’s that I get about our compost pile!
Do you have a backyard compost? If not, what is holding you back?
Find all the Green in 365 posts.
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Dusty Krikau says
We’ve been composting for about two years now, too. We started with a big plastic bin that had an open bottom and a lid. After about a year, our dog and realized she could dig under it and get at whatever was inside…so, we recently switched a closed rolling bin (this one: http://www.hayneedle.com/sale/rotocomposter12cubicfeetcompostbin.cfm) and have been pleasantly surprised with the results. Because it contains the heat better, it has been speeding through decomposition despite the cold weather outside. It does hold quite a bit more moisture though, so we’ve had to hunt around for more leaves than we used to in order to get it back to a happy medium, but the compost is much darker than it was with our open air pile and I’m thrilled that the dog can’t get in it anymore!
Note to other dog owners: dog waste should not go in your compost pile, if you plan to use it on any edible vegetation. It can harbor some nasty little things that can transfer into the plants. Sadly, we still have to throw that all away.
Micaela @MindfulMomma says
We are very lazy composters! We have a huge heap in the backyard, behind a tree. It’s not pretty, but it works for us! We keep a compost bucket inside for food scraps and bring them out once a week or so. We also compost our lawn trimmings and leaves. Even though it’s a very informal process, it creates great compost that we transfer to our garden beds every spring!
Sara Shay says
We are lazy composters too! But most of our food scraps go to the chickens 🙂
Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) says
Totally lazy composters here! We started about 5 years ago. I bought one of those plastic bins (Earth Machine) from our town at a huge discount. I don’t tend to it at all! I throw scraps in, when I think of it and leaves are handy I throw them in. I tried to turn it once. For me, it’s about NOT throwing the scraps in the trash. I don’t really care if I get usable compost in the end. The bin never fills up. The stuff just decomposes.