How To Start Composting – What You Need To Know

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Up to 30% of kitchen waste that we throw away can be easily recycled by us. What am I talking about? Well, today I am going to talk about the easy recycling that we could all do at home to reduce our kitchen waste. In this article, I’m talking about how to start composting. What you need and how anyone can get started doing this in their own living space.

How To Start Composting

How To Start Composting. What should I do? How expensive? Which bin to buy? What Can I throw in the compost? What are green & brown layers? Can it catch fire? Can I compost indoors? Can I add dryer lint? What should I NOT compost? Is it sustainable / good for the environment? How long does it take?When is it ready / the best time of year to start? Find all these questions & more in this ultimate guide on making a compost bin or heap. Sustainable living. Eco friendly recycling of kitchen waste.

 

I’ve spoken before about the 7 Rs. 

  • Reuse
  • Repurpose / Recycle
  • Refill
  • Repair
  • Return 
  • Refuse
  • Rot

And it is the last of these that I am going to talk about today. Composting is just rotting down some of the waste products we produce.

Why Should I Start Composting?

 

As I said at the start, up to 30% of kitchen waste can be recycled, and this includes our food scrap waste.

See some other great kitchen sustainability ideas.

Some, but not all of our food and garden waste can be rotted down.

This in turn reduces waste sent to landfill. If food waste is sent to landfill, this waste rots in-between all the layers of plastic and other rubbish, and produces methane gas. Methane in turn is a cause of global warming. So by stopping sending the food to landfill, we are saving the earth from this fate.

Furthermore, the rotting down that we do at home produces lovely nitrogen rich nutrients and beneficial organisms that we can add back to our own soil. Thus enriching the soil that we can then grow our own plants in. What a win-win. 

So starting to compost really is good for the environment, whilst producing a wonderful end product that is incredibly useful for any home.

 

What Do I Need To Get Started? Is Composting Expensive?

 

Well, this is the great thing. When thinking about how to start composting you do not need to spend a fortune. Or even have a massive amount of space. You can start with a box on your balcony, or even just a pile of old leaves and plant clippings in a corner of your garden.

However, the wind and other elements may make the latter a messier way to start, so you may want to make or buy a compost bin.

 

What Type Of Compost Bin Should I Get?

 

Well, this does depend on how much compost you think you will be making, and how much space you have in your back garden / yard / balcony. You can even compost indoors.

As I said before, you could just have a compost pile in a sheltered part of your garden. But a compost bin does keep the compost matter, heat, nutrients and worms etc sealed in, and is much better at keeping a neat and tidy garden.

Some of these bins make turning over the compost easier. In order for all the nutrients to be mixed together and produce an even composting rate, you do have to ‘turn’ the compost regularly. Most guides say to turn once or twice a week, though this does depend on the bin. 

What types of bin are there out there?

Wooden Palate / Open Compost Bin

These bins are cheap to buy, or you could easily make one for pennies with old palates. But you do need space for them. The compost in them can be harder to ‘turn’, and so you will probably need a fork and some muscles. It is also best to cover over the top of them with a piece of old carpet or insulation foam to keep the heat inside the compost. 

Wooden palate compost bin

It is best to place one of these in a sheltered place in the garden, but not over any tree roots as the heap will rot down into the tree. And they can be a refuge for wildlife, including rats, so do be aware.

Upright Plastic Bin

These are also pretty cheap to buy, and because they are quite small, they do fit in even a small garden. Again because they are placed on the ground, you can get small burrowing creatures like rats and mice enticed by the warmth and the food scraps. 

Tumble Compost Bins

These look like large rotating tombola drums. Ands most come with a hatch or two into the sides. Some even come with two separate sides and hatches so that you can be using one side to compost whilst using the compost in the other half. 

Tumbling Rotating Drum Compost Bin

This is actually the type that I bought 2 years ago. They are a little more expensive, but rats are less of an issue as the food waste and compost is raised off the ground. And by rotating the tumbler a couple of times a week, it produces compost quicker and more uniformly.

Worm Compost Bin

A worm compost bin (vermicomposter) is the smallest type of compost bin. You should even keep one of these indoors, which makes them easy for every home.


 

But what they actually make is both compost and also liquid plant food. The lower half of the wormery consists of a container that collects the ‘worm tea’ plant food. You can also use the compost in the top half of the bin, but it is important to protect the active worms whilst doing so. 

This is a great article about the pros and cons of how to start composting with worms.

What Should I Throw Into My Compost Bin?

 

It can be quite confusing knowing what to throw into the bin. Maybe I should start with what NOT to add to your compost bin.

What NOT To Put Into A Compost Bin
  • Meat, fish and dairy waste.
  • Cooked food
  • Animal waste
  • Cat litter
  • glossy paper and magazines
  • blighted veg
  • too many weed seeds – unless the heat of your bin will kill them

Citrus peel is said to inhibit composting. Which is great to know, but I have never had a problem with this.

What You Should Put In – How To Start Composting Green And Brown Layers

 

Lots of guides talk about ‘green’ and ‘brown’ layers. 

The best thing to remember is that your compost should never be too wet and smelly, or too dry and loose. 

If it is wet and smells bad, that is because there is too much wet ‘green’ product in it. You need to add more brown material.

And if it is too loose and dry, there is too much dry ‘brown’ product. You need to add some green materials to the mix.

And that is the simplest way of remembering. 

By alternating green and brown layers, it does evenly distribute the biochemical activity going on in your bin. Turning mixes things up further. The below are all things that you can put in your compost bin.

Brown Layers Are:
  • Cardboard
  • Shredded paper
  • Straw
  • Woodchips
  • Shrub prunings
  • Sawdust
  • Pine needles
  • Leaves
  • Corncobs
  • Cotton scraps – such as cut up unsponges and unpaper towels

 

Green Layers Are:
  • Tea leaves
  • Coffee grounds
  • Food scraps such as fruit, vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Flowers 
  • Weeds
  • Seaweed
  • Chicken manure

Egg shells can also be added to your bin, and are neither green or brown.

How to start composting in your bin? First place a layer of brown materials such as some cardboard or wood shavings in the bottom, then add a layer of wet green products on the top, such as food scraps. Continue like this.

With the upright bins, the lower layers become compost first, and there is usually a hatch where you can remove compost from the bottom of the pile.

With the palate or open bins, turning the compost or placing in another pile as it decomposes is the way that the compost is sorted.

And with the tumbler bins the compost is evenly produced as the tumbler is rotated.

 

How Do I Know When My Compost Is Ready To Use?

 

On average it can take 2-6 months to get some good compost, depending on the type of bin that you use, and the weather.

You can speed up the process by adding manure (chicken manure is best) or adding a nitrogen based activator. 

You will know its is ready because it will look and smell sweet like the compost that you buy in the shops, although it may have more lumps in it! I like to actually mix mine in with a bit of shop bought compost, as my compost will add to the nutrients.

 

Some Frequently Asked Composting Questions

 

Can I compost indoors?

Absolutely! See the vermicomposter, which really does need to be kept indoors to keep the worms warm.  Or you could even have a small inside compost bin. However, do be aware that food waste attracts flies, so it may be best to keep it just outside your kitchen door.

Can You Compost In Winter?

Yes. The same rules apply as above for layers. The compost will heat up as all the bacteria get going. In fact it should feel hot if you put your hand into the compost. The cold temperatures outside will mean that the process is slower. But it still will start to compost. Covering your bin and keeping it insulated will help. Keep turning it regularly to keep mixing up the layers.

How Often Should I Turn The Compost?

Once or twice a week at the very least. Though I turn my tumbler slightly more than this. 

Do I Need Worms?

The compost pile and standing bins tend to attract worms in any case, so no, you shouldn’t need to add any worms. Though you can buy special worms if you feel you haven’t got any. I was amazed to see that my tumbler has worms inside, even though I have never added any and it is well off the ground!

Should I Put Dryer Lint Into My Compost Bin?

I see this a lot on my sewing forums. The answer is ‘Not Really’. 

The majority of lint in the dryer from clothes may be from synthetic fibres, and this should not be placed in a composter as it is plastic. (neither should you leave it out for the birds to make nests)

Unless you know that the lint is purely natural fibres, you should not place dryer lint in your compost bin.

Could My Compost Bin Catch Fire?

This is VERY rare. But if your compost is too dry, and is situated in full sun, it could catch alight in the summer due to being dry, very like a bush fire.

It is very unlikely that a small domestic compost pile could catch fire due to the biological heat produced. But if you are concerned, situate it away from the house and away from any building. The best way to prevent it is to keep the pile well aerated, turned well and moist to keep the heat even rather than concentrated.

Again, a fire is more likely to happen in a huge commercial compost heap than at home.

How Do I Collect My Food Scraps?

I personally do not add to my compost pile every day. Instead, I have a small indoor compost caddy with a lid. Mine has a small carbon filter to prevent smells and stop attraction of flies. 

compost caddy for kitchen

HOWEVER

Do be aware that there are plenty of places that sell “compost bin liner bags”. These are bin liners that are said to be biodegradable and compost bin friendly. 

THEY ARE NOT.

I still have several that are spinning around in the centre of my tumbler. 

These days I line my inside compost bin with old newspaper folded. And then I can just throw everything into the compost bin with no regrets. 

Also Be Aware Of Greenwashing Companies

A couple of years ago I did a post on what I though was a great idea – Compostable coffee pods. In good faith I spoke about what a good idea this was over aluminium coffee pods, and how composting them myself would be so much better for the environment.

2 YEARS ON NEARLY – and the coffee pods still have not decomposed in my domestic compost bin!

I feel a little cheated. 

Looking further into this, and it now transpires that these pods have to be professionally composted, by asking your local authority have a processor to deal with them. Not something that I was made aware of initially. Maybe I was naive. But this is definatley something you should be aware of if you think that these coffee pods are better for a green lifestyle.

I do hope that you have enjoyed my guide on how to start composting. Do you think that this is something that you will be thinking about doing in future? Have I answered all your questions or is there something I have missed? Do comment below, or let me know on my social media channels.

And please do pin this post for later.

How To Start Composting. What should I do? How expensive? Which bin to buy? What Can I throw in the compost? What are green & brown layers? Can it catch fire? Can I compost indoors? Can I add dryer lint? What should I NOT compost? Is it sustainable / good for the environment? How long does it take?When is it ready / the best time of year to start? Find all these questions & more in this ultimate guide on making a compost bin or heap. Sustainable living. Eco friendly recycling of kitchen waste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Replies to “How To Start Composting – What You Need To Know”

  1. Caz / InvisiblyMe says:

    This is a brilliant how-to guide, I love it! We compost and have done for a couple of years now. You’re right, you don’t need oodles of space or need to spend a fortune. It’s a great way to reduce waste and you get a sense of achievement from it too (or at least I do). It’s cool to see the different types of bins you can get now. I quite like the idea of investing in something new if/when we move. I can’t imagine not composting or recycling anymore. xx
    Caz / InvisiblyMe recently posted…How Much Is Too Much Water To Drink? The Dangers Of IntoxicationMy Profile

    Reply
  2. Kate Holmes says:

    Hoping for an offer on a flat tomorrow which would lead to me getting back to a garden and a fresh start including on the composting front. Great guide. Revisiting from #MischiefandMemories

    Reply
  3. loopyloulaura says:

    We have a compost bin but I wish we had a tumbling one like my dad’s and yours. I struggle with the lid so rely on hubby to open it for me! Great tips for understanding what can and can’t go in. Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories

    Reply
  4. Kirsty Hall says:

    The tumbling one looks great. I hadn’t realised so much went into it. Sounds like a great idea though. #MischiefAndMemories

    Reply
  5. chickenruby says:

    I started composting last year, at the moment there is too much wet waste in it, so i layered some cardboard in last week. I use compostable bags in my caddy, not biodegradable ones, will have to see how they’ve worked. I like the idea of lining it with newspaper though, should help with the layering.

    Reply

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